Companies are now taking a closer look at how their event strategies impact the planet. An American Express survey on the future of event travel found 79% of respondents noted that their organization emphasizes sustainability in planning meetings and events. Virtual events are a great way to incorporate sustainability into your marketing and events strategy by reducing travel, waste, energy usage, and more. 

Virtual events are not simply an alternative to in-person events when in-person activities are restricted. They are an avenue to meet education, brand awareness, and sales objectives effectively while minimizing your environmental impact. 

In addition to environmental benefits, virtual events also have substantial strategy and accessibility benefits. For example, limiting the travel required to attend an event reduces your carbon footprint while expanding your reach and making it easier for people with disabilities or family obligations to attend your event. 

Learn about the environmental benefits of virtual events and how to reduce your carbon footprint while still hitting all of your event objectives: 

Reduced CO2 Emissions 

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, emissions are at a record high – and this isn’t good news for the planet. Increased CO2 emissions lead to global warming. Global warming has disastrous effects, including changes in precipitation patterns, storm severity, sea level, and more. These changes pose a threat to wildlife and humans. 

Birmingham University found that a one-day physical event can produce up to 170kg of CO2.  

The University of Michigan also published a virtual event case study which showed that virtual events created 66x less greenhouse gas emissions than an equivalent in-person gathering.  

Pivoting to virtual events allows you to reduce your carbon footprint in a variety of ways: 

Eliminating Travel 

Large in-person events such as major conferences and tradeshows can draw crowds from all over the country and even the world. In terms of event reach, that’s impressive, but it can be detrimental to the environment. Air travel can be responsible for up to 70% of the emissions produced by an event. In combination with air travel, car travel to an in-person event is also a significant source of CO2 emissions. 

Emissions from air travel pose a major threat to our environment. The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations’ aviation agency, estimates that carbon emissions from air travel will triple by 2050. Air travel for events, vacations, and other purposes declined heavily in 2020 due to the pandemic – and this was great for the environment! In the 2020 Emissions Gap Report, the UN noted that there was a dip in emissions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they emphasized that a low-carbon recovery and reopening is necessary to make a lasting difference. Do your part by continuing to minimize business travel by hosting and attending events virtually. 

Reduced Energy Usage for Temperature Control, Lighting, and Equipment 

29% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from generating electricity. Most of this electricity is used in homes, offices, and factories to power heating and cooling systems, lights, computers, refrigerators, and cell phones. 

The energy usage required to maintain comfortable temperature control in a large event center can be significant. Many conferences or events are held in the summer, leading to high levels of air conditioning usage. Conferences also use a lot of energy through lighting, powering projectors and audio systems, and the technology and appliances needed for event production and catering. 

Virtual attendees may still use AC or heaters, but they’re likely heating or cooling in smaller areas such as their home or office that they would already be using temperature control regardless of their event attendance. The same is largely true for lighting and computer usage. Allowing or encouraging attendees to access the virtual event on smaller screens like smartphones or tablets can also reduce energy usage. Be sure to use a virtual event platform, like Social27 Virtual Event Platform, that can be accessed on mobile devices.  

Creating Less Waste 

A study conducted by Birmingham University found that a one-day physical event can produce up to 5.5 tons of refuse waste. Many conferences or events last several days, and the refuse waste adds up each day. This is a lot of disposable waste that ends up in a landfill. 

Many in-person events use single-use plastics and paper items such as disposable cups, utensils, and plates when providing food or beverages to attendees. This creates a lot of waste, whereas virtual event attendees typically use their own standard washable cups and dinnerware. 

Virtual attendees can also view and download event materials such as agendas or information packets rather than requiring printed versions to save paper, saving even more paper 

How to Make Your Events Even More Environmentally Friendly 

The environmental benefits of virtual events are quite vast, but there are still opportunities to improve sustainability within your virtual event strategy.

There are many meaningful changes that you can make to your event strategy to reduce your environmental impact:

Reduce Energy Usage Where Possible  

Virtual events produce significantly lower carbon emissions and waste, but they do still produce some. Look for opportunities to reduce energy usage to make your virtual events even better for the environment. 

In their case study, the University of Michigan found that network data transfer emissions accounted for 64% of emissions created in a virtual conference. Network data transfer emissions come from the energy used to upload and download data.  

Allow and encourage attendees to turn off their cameras and mics when they’re not in use. Keeping cameras on may seem like a good idea for promoting connection during the event, but keeping them on all the time does use significantly more energy. Being on camera for long periods during events can also be mentally taxing and lead to higher rates of Zoom fatigue

Go Hybrid If You Want an In-Person Component 

Not ready to go fully virtual? Try Hybrid

Hybrid events allow you to host an in-person gathering for local attendees, while still reducing travel and CO2 emissions by letting attendees further away join virtually.  

If you choose to go hybrid, try to serve food and beverages with reusable or compostable cups, straws, utensils, and plates at the in-person portion of the event to keep refuse waste to a minimum. You can also arrange to donate unused food and snacks to a local shelter or nonprofit to reduce food waste. 

Look for event venues that are accessible via public transportation to reduce car travel for those attending the in-person component of the event. 

Also, remember to think before you print. If you’re taking the hybrid route, your in-person attendees can still access the virtual event site. That means they can view the event schedule and download resources from the virtual event platform from their computer, or their mobile phone while at the in-person portion of the event. Direct them to do this rather than printing these resources out and handing them out to everyone.  

Eco-Friendly Gift Items 

When it comes to mailing things to your virtual event attendees, consider the environmental impact. Virtual gift bags are a great alternative to physical packages if you’re looking to save money on shipping and reduce your carbon footprint. You can opt to pay extra with many shipping services to offset your carbon footprint.  

If you want to send physical swag gift bags, include items that are reusable and environmentally friendly. Send reusable grocery bags, metal straw packs, or high-quality reusable water bottles with your logo on them. Send ethical fair-trade coffee and a reusable branded mug or coffee cup for attendees to enjoy from home on the morning of the event. Gift bags are fun – but make sure that you’re sending items that will be used continuously rather than thrown away. 

Contribute to the Environmental Benefits of Virtual Events with Social27 Virtual Event Platform 

Reduce your carbon footprint without compromising on event quality by hosting an event on Social27 Virtual Event Platform. 

Book a demo today to learn how you can meet all of your event goals while meeting your organization’s sustainability objectives.