One of the most critical questions IMEX encounters during the planning and operations of their iconic annual tradeshows in Las Vegas, Nevada and Frankfurt, Germany, is how to convene thousands of attendees from across the globe, while balancing a responsibility to do so sustainably, and ensuring that environmental impacts are mitigated to the greatest degree possible.
This commitment has led to more than a decade of work across venues and suppliers around the topics of waste, water, energy, supply-chain, social equity and social impact. Of particular interest to many planners and attendees in 2022 is what can be done to account for and manage their carbon footprint.
IMEX initiatives and efforts in this domain may provide inspiration and a roadmap of ideas for those teams seeking to apply practices in their own conferences, meetings and events.
Carbon accounting is inherently different than other components of an event’s environmental footprint. For example, the weight of recycled material can actually be weighed on a scale, in ideal circumstances, or be tracked and reported through detailed venue hauling records. Emissions on the other hand, are always “modeled” and are essentially science-based estimates.
A Place to Start
Another unique feature of carbon accounting across nearly every industry is that there is significant variation around what emissions sources are included in an emissions inventory. The closest universal guidance many organizations operate from is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which advises, at minimum, that a company measure and report on the fossil fuel emissions of its company facilities as well those of its owned vehicle fleet, such as trucks.
When we apply this concept to the world of events, this would translate to venue and hotel fossil fuel emissions and supplier freight transport. If you are looking to embark on a first-time carbon footprint, starting in these categories will keep you aligned with general accounting best practices and setting these baselines is an essential part of measuring-to-manage. IMEX began here and many teams are surprised to learn that IMEX America has been measuring its carbon footprint all the way back to 2011.
Since your venue and hotels are the domains your team will have the most ability to directly influence or control, your team could prioritize selecting a site that is generating or sourcing renewable energy for its onsite operations. These are the very kinds of questions and considerations that the IMEX team has had with their venues over the years.
For example, the electricity that powers Messe Frankfurt for IMEX Frankfurt 2022 is 100% renewably sourced through German utilities, while for IMEX America, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center draws a significant portion of renewable energy from both the MGM Mega Solar Array as well as those atop the Convention Center roof itself. In both cases, a venue’s energy mix or willingness to purchase renewable energy credits for your event could be a compelling reason your event might contract with a particular venue.
When convening an in-person event, people will need to get there, and will ultimately incur travel-related emissions along the way. While it can sometimes be difficult to directly reduce attendee travel, given a planners’ limited control, some options are on the table. One the most strategic decisions your leadership team can take is locating your event near the bulk of your attendees. For example, the centralized geographical proximity of Frankfurt to locations throughout Europe is unparalleled and offers numerous reduced emissions transportation options for reaching the Messe Frankfurt venue. This relative proximity to IMEX offices in Brighton UK allows a large contingent of IMEX staff to conveniently travel to the event via rail, with initial estimates projecting a 78% reduction in fossil fuel emissions compared to the full team flying from London.
Carbon & Choices
Attendees will also need to eat at an event, and numerous studies continue to find that vegetarian and plant-based meals require lower greenhouse gas emissions to raise, produce or manufacture. At IMEX Frankfurt, the team has highlighted “low carbon” options across its menus event-wide, to help educate and inspire around this emerging topic. For example, did you know if everyone at IMEX in Frankfurt ate just one plant-based meal in place of meat during the conference, it could save the emissions of an average fossil fuel vehicle driving around the Earth’s equator, twice!
Similar to food choices, your team’s decisions around attendee gifting and appreciation items can have surprising emissions accounting implications as well. The less things your event “makes”, the less emissions impact from upstream production and transport. For example, by eliminating the IMEX tote bag, an item historically offered as part of the onsite experience, estimates indicate this action alone can reduce carbon emissions by about 61 metric tons of CO2e per year.
The Road to Decarbonization
While emissions and events can sometimes feel like a somewhat theoretical topic, the more we peel back the layers, opportunities for taking meaningful action are often more immediate and tangible than they may first appear. Questions such as: “Where are we meeting?” “How are we getting there?” and “What we are eating and sourcing?” have tremendous implications on not only reducing an event’s carbon footprint, but also on taking significant strides forward for the industry as well.
We all hope to see you at IMEX Frankfurt or IMEX America in 2022 and can’t wait to share more about sustainability initiatives in progress and those being planned for the future.
Find out more about IMEX’s approach to sustainability and what you can do to help in Frankfurt here.
Eric Wallinger is director of sustainability at MeetGreen where his focus on resources and the environment is complemented by 20 years of experience in event and conference planning and delivery. He is excited to have collaborated with the IMEX team’s sustainable event initiatives for the past five years, including IMEX Frankfurt 2022.