A Guide to Using Carbon Credits for Net-Zero Events
Julia Strong
Julia Strong
5 October, 2022 min read

For many organizations, events are a major component of sales, marketing, and customer engagement strategies. Events increase brand awareness, promote important causes and widen professional networks. As a whole, the event industry is expected to grow 11.2%, reaching $1.5 trillion by 2028.

As the industry grows, so do its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A recent study from Nature Communications suggests that the annual carbon footprint for the global event industry is roughly equivalent to the yearly GHG emissions of the entire United States. That’s more than 10% of global CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, attendees are searching for more sustainable experiences. 73% of global consumers said they would definitely or probably change their consumption behaviors to reduce their impact on the environment.

To meet these demands, organizers must first take steps to set clear sustainability goals, quantify their event’s emissions, and reduce them wherever possible by considering the location(s), materials used, and catering options available. Some emissions are unavoidable, like those from attendee travel and shipping materials to the location, but carbon credits provide organizers a tool to address these unavoidable emissions. Events that have carbon neutral or net-zero emissions goals can leverage offsets from NCX to reach them.

With NCX, carbon credits do more than just offset emissions that are difficult to reduce otherwise. Buyers can customize their purchases for geo-specific impact sourced from family forest landowners across North America. This allows event hosts to share a sustainability message that shows the customer’s impact specific to the event’s region, as well as the wildlife habitat which is enhanced through the protection of our treasured forests. For example, see how GreenBlue offset their SPC Advance 2022 event in Atlanta with NCX to support family forest landowners across the Georgia and surrounding states.

Sustainability at Events

Considering the format and locations

Event organizers have several tools at their disposal to decrease an event’s environmental impact. Of those tools, some of the most impactful are the choices made early in the planning process: the format and the locations.

Hosting an event online is one option made all too familiar by the events of recent years. Studies show fully virtual events have the potential to shrink emissions by 94%, while hybrid events (at least half of attendees tuning in virtually) could reduce emissions by 66%. Not all events are suited for these formats and not all target audiences will want to engage this way, but it remains one of the most significant methods of potential reductions.

For in-person events, a large share of emissions comes from long-distance air travel; 10–20% of participants with the most polluting trips can contribute 20–70% of the total transportation-induced emissions. To address this, organizers should consider a location central to a majority of the target audience’s geographic distribution, especially one with widespread public transportation networks. Another method to reduce travel-based emissions is planning regional events in multiple locations instead of a single, international event. For example, a two-site conference in North America and Europe has a reduction potential of 25–50% in travel related emissions compared to a one-site conference in North America.

Choosing a space

One of the main drivers of emissions in the space chosen is energy use. Organizations aiming to host more sustainable events can seek out venues that use sustainable event standards like ISO 20121 or use green building standards like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), BOMA BEST, Green Globes, or BREEAM. Some of these organizations have even put together helpful guides on selecting green event spaces.

In general, event organizers should consider spaces that source their energy from renewable sources and offer on-site recycling. If possible, consider holding an outdoor event during the day. Not only does it use less energy, but it can also be cheaper than renting indoor space.

Temporary use materials

Events that involve signage, booths, attendee passes, and catering risk stacking up single-use materials quickly. Organizers should set a materials policy that focuses on sourcing compostable, reusable or recyclable materials, and extend their policies to on-site exhibitors. When possible, avoid printed materials and use digital event applications.


Reducing emissions from food and beverage can largely be done by choosing vegetarian and vegan options. Most event space providers like hotels and convention centers will only source their food from wholesale retailers, but when possible, choosing local providers can cut even more emissions from transportation. This also focuses your menu on things that are in season and can reduce costs.

Travel and transportation

Emissions from attendee travel and transport of event materials can be the single biggest contributor to an event’s overall carbon footprint. When considering travel options, driving alone and short (domestic) flights are the most carbon-intensive. Taking a train instead of a domestic flight could reduce your emissions by 84%. However, breaking down categories of flights shows their emissions depend greatly on route length.

Here are a few examples of the CO2 equivalent emissions per-passenger kilometer traveled:

A horizontal bar graph showing carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per passenger kilometer traveled for varied methods of transportation

Applying carbon offsets

Event organizers must first take steps to set and communicate their sustainability goals, quantify their event’s emissions and reduce them wherever possible by considering the location, materials, and catering options available. Attendee travel, and the shipping of event materials, can be offset using a calculator like the one the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides.

What does this look like in the real world? NCX credits were purchased for SPC Advance 2022, where the events team collected attendees’ travel information during registration to calculate and apply a carbon fee to the event tickets. By asking the city and state that attendees will travel from, along with the method they’ll use (airplane, train, personal vehicle, bus, etc.), GreenBlue could more closely measure the carbon associated with this category to offset emissions with NCX carbon credits. The credits purchased for SPC Advance also had a local impact, supporting family forest landowners across Georgia and the surrounding states. Read more in the case study.

Whichever method you choose to calculate your total emissions, the process of procuring carbon credits is straightforward, but the benefits can come in multiple forms. Event hosts should consider what type of carbon offset they want to use, and what tangential benefits that offset might have like local impact on surrounding communities, supporting wildlife habitat, water quality, or fire risk reduction.

Ensuring quality in your offset choices

Brands must carefully consider the options available once they’ve decided to offset. A few dimensions commonly discussed when determining the quality of carbon credits are additionality, leakage, and durability (or permanence).

To reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, carbon offsets must provide a quantifiable benefit to the climate that would not have happened without their intervention. This is what climate experts call additionality. At NCX, we’ve adopted a fine-scale, dynamic approach to additionality where we base our carbon credits on detailed, data-driven, acre-by-acre forest analysis. This approach better captures the variability in carbon content across the landscape. Over time, the results are a more accurate and trustworthy estimate of additionality. Learn more in our baseline model of harvesting behavior.

Leakage is defined as efforts made to reduce emissions in one place simply shifting emissions to another location or sector where they remain uncontrolled or uncounted. Traditionally, forest carbon programs have dealt with this by taking standardized deductions to account for these shifts across timber markets. Currently, NCX is using leakage deductions that are aligned with industry standards.

Permanence refers to the planned duration of carbon storage, and the “reversal risk” of the credits due to factors such as wildfire or unplanned harvest. At NCX, we only deliver ex-post credits, meaning the promised climate impact has already been verified with measurement and monitoring. This is made possible by our annual contract length and a concept called tonne-year accounting, which allows us to quantify offsets on an annual basis.

Traditional, long-term projects use buffer pools, where offset credits from individual projects are set aside into a common buffer reserve which functions as an insurance mechanism in case some credits are reversed before the credit duration is over. The problem with this approach is that reversal risk is greatly increased in years 40-100 in long-term carbon credits, particularly as climate change makes catastrophic wildfires and other natural disturbances more common. A short project term coupled with a robust measuring and verification system increases certainty that buyers are paying for real, immediate climate impact.

Each of these areas deserves a great amount of consideration and careful inspection outside of the overview presented here.

Ready to start offsetting your event’s emissions?

In this urgent decade of our climate emergency, now is the perfect time to create a plan for your next event to become carbon neutral.

NCX is proud to connect event organizers with landowners across North America for local and immediate climate impact. All NCX carbon buyers get access to a customized impact dashboard to help tell their story to their event attendees, employees, and stakeholders. These dashboards highlight the impact made, landowners supported, and habitats of local wildlife enhanced.

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about the author

Julia Strong

Julia Strong

Head of Business Development
Julia has worked across the non-profit, public, and private sectors to advance positive impact at the intersection of climate change, natural resource management, and finance including at The Nature Conservancy, the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, Blue Forest Conservation and New Forests. Her background is rooted in conservation, environmental science, and business. Julia earned her MBA-MS in environment and resources with a focus on land use from Stanford Graduate School of Business. At Stanford, she co-led GSB’s Sustainable Business Club, co-founded the GSB’s business, climate, and innovation summit, and partnered with The Natural Capital Project and the InterAmerican Development Bank to advance investment in nature-based solutions. She earned a BA in environmental studies with a focus on biodiversity conservation from Yale University.