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10 Steps for Reducing Your Event’s Carbon Footprint

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Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA
Director, Sustainability
Green Meeting Industry Council

There are lots of easy ways to start reducing your event’s carbon footprint. Here’s a list to get you started.

10. Work with your partners: Both planners and suppliers can benefit from collaboration to reduce carbon emissions. Planners need the commitment of suppliers to provide low-carbon choices for everything from food and beverage (such as less meat and dairy) 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 can be 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 and include entertainment or local points of interest on your walking routes.

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. Mobile apps 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. Look also for venues with a green roof.

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: The Global Reporting Initiative’s Event Organizers’ Sector Supplement provides guidance for how to go about measuring and reporting sustainability initiatives for events. My "go-to" tool for calculating travel-related emissions is the Flight Emissions Calculator at www.offsetters.ca. They use emissions factors provided by UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in its "2013 Guidelines to DEFRA / DECC’s GHG Conversion Factors for Company Reporting." They also apply a radiative forcing factor as recommended by Oxford University and UK DEFRA and an uplift factor from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, "Aviation and the Global Atmosphere" to take into account non-direct routes.

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. I fly in New Mexico Green Chile twice a year (and look for it every time I’m in the U.S.). I recommend saving your carbon splurges for something you really love and then savoring 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. 

1. Consume less: The best way to reduce your event’s carbon footprint is to consume less. I’m always astounded by the amount of wasted food and tossed paper at events. Let’s 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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