On any given day, prior to the pandemic, there were many physical corporate events that were taking place, ranging from conferences, workshops, internal company offsites, team building, etc. Many of these have switched to virtual events but we are seeing more and more physical slowly coming back. The challenge is that many of these events do have a carbon footprint ranging from the utilities that are consumed, food consumption, waste, travel, etc. Our Head of Marketing at SEC, Vincent Chow shares his insights into the trends, obstacles and solutions of making green the new gold standard for the marketing and events industry.

Good business is no longer enough: the market’s demanding a green approach.

In the modern business environment, companies’ favourable reputations are “no longer just about their profitability,” says Vincent. Now, both potential collaborators and potential consumers increasingly consider the ways in which a company is “trying to contribute to the environment and also to society within their business.” In other words, sector expertise is no longer enough to close a sale or attract new clients: companies also must prove their commitment to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals as the right course of action for a sustainable business.

Smart Energy Connect’s mission is supporting customers’ successful implementation of decarbonisation strategies, from adopting renewable energy solutions to leveraging the latest sustainability technologies. Yet, no matter how comprehensive companies’ in-house strategies are, businesses inevitably encounter “a certain level of unavoidable carbon emissions,” Vincent explains. Flights for business meetings is one such example of an accepted, and often non-negotiable, carbon-emitting norm. Less often discussed, but of paramount concern to marketers, are the carbon emissions generated by one of their most vital publicity vehicles: events.

Travel, venues, publicity: the practicalities of going green

With our hope of life returning to “normal”, there is a likelihood of international speakers and audiences flying in from locations across the globe, on-location transport, large-scale venues and audiovisual systems to be powered, reams of publicity collateral to be printed and accommodation and comprehensive catering services to bed provided, traditional conferences, symposiums and trade shows are by no means low-carbon affairs. We have certainly seen a dramatic shift towards online events during the 2020 pandemic, and there will be a time where physical events will re-emerge. With the urgency to reconsider our relationship with the natural world continually increasing, it’s vital that marketers find greener alternatives.

The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has, of course, somewhat forced marketers’ and event organisers’ hand: limitations on travel and new social distancing guidelines have turned almost all gatherings virtual. Almost overnight, emissions due to attendee travel and event space hire plummeted, presenting both organisers and attendees with an intriguing question: could virtual events still generate the engagement, leads and conversions we’ve come to associate with ritualised in-person gatherings?

Previously, many marketers had considered “face to face discussion or engagement” to be a prerequisite for achieving goals and generating sales, Vincent acknowledges. Yet, the recent rise in webinars and virtual trade exhibitions has proved that the offline can go online, with positive results. Of course, it’s long been noted that the future of society lies largely in digitalisation, but recent events have led these tendencies in event planning and marketing to “erupt much faster than whatever we expected,” Vincent says. The technology and tools are already on the market, he adds; in his view,

“it’s marketers’ prerogative to leverage them effectively.”

Entirely virtual events are an obvious greener solution but still aren’t feasible under all circumstances. For necessarily in-person events, Vincent recommends that marketers verify “whether the venue itself is green or not,” looking into venues’ track records on sustainability. There are innovative, climate-conscious solutions to be explored in the realm of publicity collateral, too. “Frankly speaking,” Vincent notes, “the social network digital promotion chain available on the market nowadays promotes organic reach, much more than hard copy does.” Digital publicity can often exceed reach expectations, far outperforming traditional brochure and leaflet methods. Promotional materials are another area ripe for reconsideration: attendees and speakers respond well to gestures “more meaningful” than disposable pens, mugs, certificates and so on, Vincent adds.

Instead, why not plant trees on attendees’ behalf or offer them carbon credits to offset their conference travel?

Traceable, transparent, quantifiable

For marketers announcing climate-conscious events, true transparency and accountability are indispensable. “The green message itself is already attractive,” Vincent explains, but attendees, collaborators and sponsors alike are increasingly conscientious in assessing “whether it’s just a gimmick, something that you put on paper or in a slogan, but is actually not achievable.”

Consumers and partners want to see quantified process evaluations and tangible results, rather than be swept along with greenwashing promises.

“Trackable data, records, or methodology is important to the customer,”

Vincent notes, meaning marketers should make traceability and transparency the focus of any climate-positive event strategy. For marketers themselves, Vincent continues, that means ensuring they’re collaborating with “reliable and trustworthy” suppliers or distribution chains. For marketers dealing with consumers, it’s fundamentally about showing them where their investment’s end impact lies. Many initiatives have begun offering tree planting to offset their consumers’ carbon emissions, Vincent notes, but provide a noticeable lack of transparency: how can they actually prove where, when and by whom these trees are planted, or what impact they actually have? “It’s not traceable,” Vincent says, leaving consumers uncomfortably wondering exactly where their carbon offsetting contribution goes.

There are, however, more viable options: verified carbon credits, he continues, are an “ideal tool” to address this traceability conundrum. CLP’s carbon offsetting infrastructure provides businesses with carbon credits that are assessed, audited and approved by a third party. As each credit carries an individual serial number, they can also be traced back to their origins via a complete overview of their recorded transactions. This system also safeguards transparency across carbon credit sale and resale; by tracing the series numbers, Vincent explains,

“you can ensure that once the carbon credit arrives at the end-user, it will be retired – it can’t be resold again.”

Making low-carbon an event industry norm

Trend-aware marketers will have realised that the future of events is green. Now, it’s about taking tangible steps in that direction. CLP is engaged in a cross-sector collaborative project to develop a “low-carbon event label,” Vincent shares, with the hope of having this low-carbon stamp become as non-negotiable a requirement in event organisation as health and safety regulations. Essentially, businesses will utilise CLP’s emissions calculator to estimate a given event’s carbon output, purchase the required carbon credits to offset those emissions, then be able to label their event as certifiably low-carbon. While supplied by CLP, the carbon credits will, naturally, be verified by an external third party, SGS.

Green: the new norm in events and marketing

Synergy between marketers is vital to make green the new norm for event planning. The near future is promising, Vincent notes, as traction behind green events and marketing continues to build. Now, it’s about “building up momentum”, Vincent says, as with a “small contribution, added together, marketers can contribute to a better world.”

Will your next event go green? Calculate and offset its emissions here.