On average, a one day physical event produces 170kg of CO2 emissions, over 5 tonnes of refuse waste and uses 36,000 pieces of paper – fact. This is not really big news anymore as travelling, printing collateral and the sheer amount of food wastage that happened at every traditional conference (back in the day when they were allowed) was colossal.
Here is another fact, a 6 hour virtual conference held over Zoom has generated 66 times less emissions than if it were held physically. And given how 2020 has played out, you can imagine the amount of conferences that were in a similar format that reduced CO2 emissions, food and paper wastage.
There is no denying, virtual events are the greenest solution that we have at the moment and with countries continuously pressing on policies to change consumer behaviour and industry practices, it is the way forward. However, hosting a virtual event doesn’t mean 100% sustainable, but how can we get there? Read on to find out how you can change that.
Calculating the sustainability of a virtual event is a little more tricky, as you have to consider completely different measurements such as length of computer use and data network usage.
What is the virtual event impact on the environment?
1. Computer life cycle emissions
Every computer that you buy has a lifecycle, and over its lifetime the longer you use it the more time you have to offset those emissions that are needed to produce it like raw materials, and the use of it like electricity. Every manufacturer has a declaration page on their environmental impact, and you can find out how much CO2 your computer is emitting over its life.
As an attendee or an organiser of the conference you have to use a computer to set up and attend the event. Which means that you are using the machine that was produced and you are using electricity to keep the machine running. The manufacturers can use less damaging resources to power their production like water and electricity from wind and also produce machines that can last longer and are repairable. Attendees and organisers of the event can power their machines through clean energy providers, so perhaps choosing one that can supply electricity to your home through sustainable sources is a good option to make your event more eco-friendly.
2. Network data transfers
With every virtual event you are likely uploading a lot of data throughout the days and weeks coming up to your event. For every upload and download, you require bandwidth (rate of data transfer) to do that. In the virtual conference hosted by International Journal of Environmental Studies, 64% of emissions were used by network data transfer – the highest contributor of all.
Ensuring you have a stable and fast internet connection will always enhance your virtual event experience. As a sustainable conference producer you might want to consider compressing your video and audio files that could save you time during upload and use less bandwidth. Handbrake is a good, free and open source tool for compressing audio and video files.
3. Server energy consumption
If you are using a virtual events platform then it is likely hosted in the cloud. Every time you login, click on a button, access video chat – that information gets sent and is processed in the cloud in a data centre probably in a field somewhere. A lot of companies like Amazon’s AWS and Google Cloud are doing their bit to make sure their operations are as sustainable as possible. AWS, for example, is already taking steps to reduce their impact by lowering the amount of water they use and use electricity generated by their wind and solar farm projects.
It’s a factor to consider, but not something you might think about when choosing a platform provider. For example, you might think of asking the question where the data centres are based for GDPR reasons but you might not question if those data centres are sustainable. At iVent, we use AWS data centres which are running on wind and solar power generated electricity.
4. Room lighting
When in the day you attend the virtual event also matters. If you are attending an event late in the evening or even at night you are likely to have a desk lamp on, maybe some other lights in the room and probably even have heating on as (depending on where you are) it can get nippy.
As an attendee or an organiser just be mindful of the lighting that you have on. If you are presenting or are in a video chat then you would want to look your best so lighting is essential. But if you are just browsing the event and chatting away in a networking lounge then perhaps some extra light is not needed. Again, switching to a green energy provider here could also help with lowering your carbon-fueled energy consumption.
5. Pre-event online meetings
According to reports in the International Journal of Environmental Studies, 19% of the total emissions from a virtual event were taken up by pre-conference planning meetings. The impact here falls on the software owners like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to put better infrastructure that has less of an impact on the environment.
Perhaps, something you could do to be more mindful is to have less frequent meetings and make them count. If it’s not needed perhaps turn your video off so you are using less bandwidth as well.
6. Search engine queries and website visits
Another contributor to environmental impact at virtual events is the searches and visits to external websites. Not something you think about during a physical event, right? At your virtual event you might have external links going to exhibitor websites, attendees might be looking up LinkedIn profiles or searching about the latest topic they just discovered. All of these searches use bandwidth to access that information online. It’s a small percentage, only around 11% of computer use during the conference accounts towards overall emissions and part of that is search engine queries and site visits.
Perhaps one thing you can do is use a sustainable web browser – yes, you heard that right there are sustainable browsers out there. Ecosia is the most popular choice for the environmentally-headed attendees, as they plant a tree for every search you do using the Ecosia browser. Maybe something to consider as part of your engagement strategy?
7. Plant trees
Speaking of planting trees, you can also do that. There are many sites like Tree-nation where you can support tree projects around the world and create initiatives within your event for people to do certain actions so that you can plant trees and offset all the little things that have an environmental impact like offsetting electricity used by each attendee.
At iVent, we are on a mission to build a sustainable event future where you can host an event without having to think about the environmental costs. We have recently launched our iVent Forest and for every new event you host with us, we will plant trees on your behalf.