Catherine Grinyer

December 1, 2021

The Carbon Footprint of Virtual Events

Virtual events have existed for a while, but they have seen a significant growth in popularity as a result of the pandemic. Accessibility and inclusivity is at the forefront of our minds when planning our clients virtual events, but recently, we have begun to consider climate change and the carbon footprint of virtual events.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint ultimately relates to the Carbon Dioxide emissions directly or indirectly produced by an action; in this case a virtual event. A bigger carbon footprint means a bigger contribution to global warming and a bigger risk of climate change. It is the responsibility of everyone to become more aware of their carbon footprint and how they can reduce it.

Carbon footprints in virtual events

There are multiple benefits to virtual events. In terms of accessibility, they can remove the physical challenges presented by in-person events in regard to venues and travel. On the surface, going virtual appears to be an obvious way to reduce the carbon footprint of your event. They remove the element of mass catering, waste, accommodation and most importantly travel; all of which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

So how big could a carbon footprint of a virtual event really be and what factors affect it? The truth lies in technology. Factors related to data storage, data centres, manufacturing, the use of servers, websites and even sending emails are all linked to high carbon emissions. This is because they all involve energy usage. The premise of a virtual event relies entirely on electricity. Additionally, a virtual event such as an awards ceremony, relies on things like prizes being shipped out to winners which itself uses energy.

What about hybrid events?

You might think that the solution to reducing the carbon footprint of your virtual event is to go hybrid. This involves a mixture of in person and virtual elements. Though it may not seem it, this could actually result in a bigger carbon footprint because you are not only producing the emissions relating to an in-person event, but also adding the extra factors relating to the virtual elements.

Working out your carbon footprint

The first step to reducing the carbon footprint of your virtual event is to work out what it actually is. You can do this using an online carbon footprint calculator. This will allow you to input factors relating to your event to give you an idea of the CO2 emissions likely to be produced.

How can you reduce the carbon footprint of your virtual event?

The events industry is taking initiatives to introduce policies that will improve the sustainability of events. Associations like Positive Impact are providing free support for smaller businesses to help them reach the goal of being carbon neutral. The internet accounts for over 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Taking the steps below could help to incorporate behaviours that will ensure your events are as carbon friendly as possible:

1.  Offset your carbon emissions: If you have used a carbon footprint calculator you will have worked out your carbon emissions. From here you can essentially balance this amount out by donating to projects that are giving back to the planet. This is something you can incorporate into your event by allowing attendees to vote for their favourite project.

2.  Make use of technology you already have as opposed to buying new.

3.  Choose a green hosting company: there are tech platforms like Microsoft Teams available which are 100% carbon neutral. Ensure any platform you choose is also WCAG compliant to keep your event accessible.

4.  Provide your attendees with tips to be more carbon friendly ahead of the event: things like encouraging attendees to participate on a smaller screen, turn off webcams when not needed, compress files, delete unnecessary emails and schedule screen free breaks.

5.  When integrating the above actions into your virtual event it is important to consider accessibility and the resources that your attendees have access to. Give all attendees enough notice and support to ensure they can fully prepare.

No event is perfect, there will always be ways to be more carbon friendly, but a virtual event is definitely a better option when it comes to sustainability. The decision to go virtual will depend on various factors including the purpose of the event, the number of attendees and where your attendees are based. We can help with any of your virtual or in person event enquiries. We are improving our knowledge to ensure that we can make your events more carbon friendly as well as accessible and inclusive.

 

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