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17 Jun 2021

The evolution of the events industry in a net zero future

Luke Baker

The event industry continues to be hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. No other industry is so fundamentally built around human interaction, whether it be crowds providing the magic touch to a sporting event or attendees wandering a trade-floor looking to do business. 

And pre-covid the industry was no slouch either coming in at a whopping $1,135.4 billion in size globally. According to Eventbrite there were pre-covid 1.3 million business events held each year generating £45Bn in spend.

As every industry is doing, however, some difficult questions are having to be asked around the environmental impact that sits alongside such stellar financial numbers. To do this let’s take a look at the fundamentals of an event and the various activities around it. 

It's now time to introduce our new pretend trade show called ‘The Green Show’. This fictitious trade show is a big one, it attracts 70,000 attendees and 10,000 exhibitor companies each year. The attendees and exhibitor delegates make up a whopping 100,000 people in total. We’ll hold it in Germany in one of the Messe’s where there is plenty of room. 

So what do we need to think about when thinking of the environmental impact of the Green Show? We’re going to take a look at an event not just from the event organisers impact but the actual event and all its participants. In carbon reporting terms this would be referred to as including all three scopes of emissions. So let’s get started! 



First thing is getting everyone to and from the event itself. Having had a look at some of the biggest industry trade shows the participants come from around the world, one website claimed 109 countries, the other over 100 countries. Let’s say that the show is 25% domestic, 25% the rest of Europe, 25% Americas and 25% Asia.

This is going to involve a range of modes of transport. Let’s start with the most emission heavy, that of flights. A return flight from New York to Munich is 1.81 tonnes of CO2e and Hong Kong to Munich is 2.52 tonnes of CO2e. To give some context, the average footprint of an individual in the U.K. is 12.7 tonnes per annum. You can see the transport footprint below:

Transport emissions breakdown:

25,000 attendees - Hong Kong to Munich (flight) - 2.52 tonnes CO2e = 63,000 tonnes CO2e

25,000 attendees - New York to Munich (flight) - 1.81 tonnes CO2e = 45,250 tonnes CO2e

25,000 attendees - Europe to Munich

25,000 attendees - Germany (local)

There are probably some additional emissions from transporting individuals to the event and back each day but let's leave this one for simplicity sake. 

So that makes a footprint of 110,790 tonnes of CO2e for travel. 




Next up is accommodation, let’s assume 20,000 of the participants at the event can sleep in their own beds, so no need to worry about them. That leaves 80,000 who will need somewhere to stay. The real additional environmental impact here is the washing of towels and sheets that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It’s around 2.4kg CO2e for a load of washed and dried sheets and/or towels. If we assume 3 people will cause 1 additional load of washing that gives us an additional 64 tonnes CO2e.

Of course, on top of this comes additional water requirements, but we will be focusing on emissions only in this example.

So the big day has arrived and we walk into the Green Show. Let’s take a look at the stands.  

Exhibition Stands

Each of our exhibitors will need a stand and will purchase a range of stands varying in size:

5,000 - 3x3m stands

3,000 - 4x5m stands

1,000 - 6x8m stands

1,000 - 10x12m stands

If we start from the ground up, let’s take a look at the carpet for each of the stands. Most are nylon carpets made from fossil fuels. The average carbon footprint of a square metre of nylon carpet is between 8 and 21 kilograms, we’ll take the lower end of this range for nylon carpet at 8kg CO2e. So for our exhibitors, that’s another 2,184 tonnes of CO2e. This is probably as a number too low as we are not taking into account the emissions from transporting the carpet to the event and the emissions from disposing of the carpet afterwards also.

Next up is the stands, to keep things simple each exhibitor will have a modular twist banner set-up and standard furniture. The banners are made out of polyester with an aluminium frame and the furniture is made with an aluminium frame, wooden top and polyester banner. We’re going to make some assumptions here around the total materials used to produce each stand that you can see below:

5,000 - 3x3m stands - Polyester - 1kg; Aluminium - 3kg; Wood - 3kg

3,000 - 4x5m stands - Polyester - 2.5kg; Aluminium - 6kg; Wood - 7kg

1,000 - 6x8m stands - Polyester - 5kg; Aluminium - 9kg; Wood - 12kg

1,000 - 10x12m stands - Polyester - 9kg; Aluminium - 16kg; Wood - 20kg

The average carbon footprint for aluminium is 11.5kg CO2e for each 1kg of aluminium. For polyester 5.3kg CO2e are emitted for every 1kg produced. And for wood because it is a carbon store we’ll assume this is 0kg for simplicity sake. 

We’re also going to assume everyone has bought brand spanking new stands for this event from a single local company for one use only. If we add all this up it gives us an additional 807 tonnes of CO2e.

To transport all the stands to the event and take them away we’re going to add transport emissions of 10 artic lorries for 20 miles from the venue. Artic lorries can carry around 26,000kg so if we do it on weight that’s around 6 lorries. They achieve around 7.9mpg so we’re looking at an additional 0.3 tonnes CO2e. 

The reality here is that this CO2e number can increase dramatically with international exhibitors transporting stands from their domestic markets and multiple stand providers being used increasing transport emissions. The successful implementation of the renting of stands from local providers to the venue using recyclable materials can reduce this dramatically.


What else?


What other carbon emissions are coming from the Green Show that we haven’t mentioned so far? First of all, we have 100,000 people to feed over 3 days. Our carbon footprint per day from food can vary between 7.19kg CO2e for meat eaters and 2.89kg CO2e for vegans. This means we have an additional 867 to 2,157 tonnes of CO2e over the three days depending on everyone's diet. Clearly with food however this is not an additional emission as the 100,000 participants would all have eaten anyway, so we will disregard this. This would not be the case however if food is left to waste. Being able to predict consumption patterns throughout the day is vital in avoiding this or where possible facilitating food pre-orders from delegates and attendees.

For ease of calculation, we are going to assume accommodation for the event is largely within walking distance from the venue. Finally, we will also assume there is no additional merchandise and flyers produced by exhibitors. This is a pretend green show after all.

So at this point, we’ve captured an estimated carbon footprint of the Green Show. And adding this all up we see the following.

Flights - 109,650 tonnes CO2e

Cars & Trains - 1,140 tonnes CO2e

Accomodation - 64 tonnes CO2e

Stands - 2,991 tonnes CO2e

Total - 113,845 tonnes CO2e 

That’s the same as 261,000 barrels of oil consumed or the home energy of over 13,000 homes for an entire year. To sequester back that carbon you’d need to plant 1.8 million sapling trees that would need to grow for 10 years.

Observations & Potential Action

What immediately stands out is the significant impact flights have on the carbon footprint of such an event. If we were to restrict the event to domestic participants only, the transport emissions would move down to 1,360 tonnes CO2e. So the number one question is how events can reduce transport emissions?

One option is to look at the emissions from flights and how these emissions can be reduced. The problem with aeroplanes is one of physics, to get a plane in the air needs a lot of energy currently not available from batteries like cars. The most promising alternative is the use of green aviation fuel. This type of fuel is produced using plant crops and waste streams meaning the emissions from the fuel are from that carbon taken in from the plants. This fuel can reduce plane emission by 30-60%. That’s still a huge chunk of emissions however for the Green Show.

Another option is booking essential trips with companies like Goodwings who will offset the travel emissions of an individual or a business’ entire trip through certified, nature based CO2 removal projects like tree planting. For business leaders who need to be physically present at an event this can be an acceptable solution whilst technological developments of the aviation sector catch-up.

Finally technology can play a significant part also in reducing emissions altogether. Covid-19 has helped accelerate this technological development. Digital platforms like Glisser and Grip AI are helping participants immerse themselves in events without leaving their home or office. Whether it’s using the latest AI technology to recommend relevant people to meet over video or streamed sessions from the comfort of your desk these emerging technologies are providing a new way to participate in events. 

What’s more, the emissions are significantly less. The CO2e emissions are around 160g per hour for video conferencing and 36g per hour for streaming videos. That means over a 3 day event a participant's emissions move from a potential 2.52 tonnes (flight from Asia) to 4.8kg CO2e, which is a 99.8% emissions reduction.

As we continue to progress out of the global pandemic will the event industry be moving towards a new digital future? The consensus seems to be that the industry is moving to a more hybrid model where in-person and digital attendance is available. What’s less talked about is the origin of the people attending virtually, what is for certain is that the home of origin of these participants will dictate the footprint of the industry going forward. 

Carbon emissions calculations are complex and we’ve made various assumptions along the way. This article does not aim to be a source of truth but simply to open up a discussion around the emissions of events.

Reset Connect supports businesses to achieve their sustainability goals and success through collaboration. If you’d like to learn more about how the events industry can transition to net zero you can join our webinar here as part of our programme for London Climate Action Week.

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