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Our Top 10 Event Decarbonators

April 1, 2012

Last month, Elizabeth and I introduced our list of “Top 10 Decarbonators” for meetings and events at the MPI Northern California Chapter’s Annual Conference and Expo. It is a follow up to our green balloon experiment from last spring, where we calculated that a mega event, like the world cup, would generate enough carbon dioxide equivalents to fill 280 billion balloons – that’s the equivalent of enough Olympic size swimming pools to cover Sweden ten times! This top 10 is intended to work as a set of guiding principles for how to reduce the carbon impact of meetings and events.

The Top 10 List

#10 Work with your partners: Both planners and suppliers can benefit from collaboration to decarbonate events, and it’s the basis of why the APEX/ASTM standards rely on both planner and supplier participation. Planners need the commitment of suppliers to provide low-carbon choices for everything from food and beverage to energy sources. Suppliers need planners to support initiatives through selecting lower carbon choices and educating event participants about reducing their carbon footprint.
#9 Get Creative with Transportation: Transportation is the most significant contributor to an event’s carbon footprint. To help manage this: encourage participants to walk, ride-share or use public transportation and choose destinations that are in proximity to the majority of your attendees or with good “lift” (lots of direct flights). On the creative side, make walking part of the cultural experience: check out how the Storyville Stompers Brass Band in New Orleans help move delegates between venues.
#8 Turn Up The Tech: Hybrid meetings, those that combine face-to-face and virtual elements can help reduce travel related emissions, and making more participation possible. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that students exposed to blended learning (combining face-to-face and online elements) learned better than those exposed to only one method. Mobile applications can also reduce your dependence on carbon intensive products, including printed materials.
#7 Regenerate carbon storage capacity: Carbon storage (or sequestration) is the process through which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in carbon sinks, like forests, oceans and soil. As an example, carbon dioxide is absorbed by trees, plants and crops through photosynthesis. When we cut down trees to (for example) to make paper for event guides, we reduce the earth’s carbon storage capacity. While planting trees is not a perfect solution, it is a practical way of helping to increase carbon storage.
#6 Be flexible: Increasing your flexibility is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. For example, rather than committing months in advance to a specific menu, leave flexibility with the chef to find the best low carbon options at the time of your event.
#5 Measure, Manage and Report: Harvard management guru Peter Drucker once said that “What gets measured gets managed”. I’m personally fond of Sauder Professor Daniel Skarlicki’s variation: “What gets measured gets done.” The Global Reporting Initiative’s new Event Organizers’ Sector Supplement provides guidance for how to go about measuring and reporting sustainability initiatives for events.
#4 If you’re going to splurge… make it count: There are some amazing things in this world that I believe are worth the carbon. Really great Belgian chocolate, Kona coffee, New Mexico Green Chile (I fly it in twice a year, and look for it every time I’m in the US). Save your carbon splurges for something you really love and savor it.
#3 Offset what you can’t avoid: Carbon offsets are a great second step after first reducing your carbon consumption. They work as a financial tool where the reductions by one party are purchased by another to compensate for carbon usage. Just watch for good quality offsets.
#2 Consume better: When making choices of what to consume, look for better choices such as hybrid vehicles for your transportation needs. Look as well for lower carbon choices such as field-grown produce over greenhouse-grown produce. Exceptions can be made to this rule though depending on the type of energy used by the greenhouse – as an example, see this project by Offsetters at Sunselect Produce Limited in Aldergrove, British Columbia.
  #1 Consume Less: Our number 1 tip for decarbonating your event is to consume less. A 2011 report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. I’m always astounded by the amount of wasted food and tossed paper at events. Let’s reduce the size of our shopping carts and start using less of everything: water, paper, energy, food etc. And, let’s not forget… using less also means spending less!


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