The Carbon Elephant in the Room for Sustainable Events
Kyle DeWeerdt
Kyle DeWeerdt
2 February, 2023 min read

The events industry is getting serious about sustainability. Four in five event professionals say their organization takes sustainability into account when planning meetings and events. But concerningly, the majority of attention often goes to waste reduction, water use, recycling and selecting locations with green building standards. While these areas certainly deserve attention, many are missing a ‘carbon elephant’ in the room: attendee travel. Travel to and from events can account for upwards of 90% of total emissions. Addressing it will be vital to making meaningful progress toward our global climate goals.

Related reading: A Guide to Using Carbon Credits for Net-Zero Events

Reducing Emissions from Travel

It’s time to shift our focus from the things we can easily see, like waste, to the unseen – emissions from travel. Fortunately there are several ways to address these emissions. Organizers seeking to reduce emissions from attendee travel can start by planning their event in a central location to the majority of their audience. For example, hosting a business meeting in San Francisco when your entire workforce is distributed on the east coast might not be the best option. Finding a location that requires less distance traveled per attendee on average, and makes use of available mass transit like trains (which typically have lower carbon emissions per passenger) will drastically reduce the overall carbon footprint of your next event.

Hosting an event online is another option, but not always a viable alternative. Virtual and hybrid events (at least half of attendees tuning in virtually) can connect people across the globe without them actually crossing the globe. Although not all events will be suited for these formats – and not all potential attendees will want to engage this way – it remains one of the most significant methods of potential reductions.

How Carbon Offsets Are Used

After taking steps to reduce emissions from attendee travel, organizers can explore carbon offsetting as a method to compensate for remaining travel emissions. Carbon offsetting is the process of investing in projects that remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions like afforestation, avoided deforestation, direct air capture, improved forest management, renewable energy projects, and more. By purchasing carbon offsets, event organizers can effectively neutralize the emissions produced by attendee travel.

Calculating Travel Emissions and Their Cost

Before purchasing carbon offsets, event organizers should first understand their attendees expected emissions. Some hosts ask their attendees during registration. For example, “Will you fly, drive, or take the train? From where?” That information can then be plugged into an emissions calculator like the one the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides to get a more exact figure. In cases where you can’t collect this information in advance, organizers may have to approximate based on the number of attendees and average distance traveled. Once you have an idea of the volume of emissions you’re dealing with, you can compare your options among the different types of carbon offsets available today.

Organizers should expect to pay anywhere between $20-50 per credit, which accounts for offsetting one metric ton of emissions. To put that in perspective, an event with 100 people flying round trip from New York to Los Angeles would require approximately 112 carbon credits to offset, or about $2,800 (at $25 per credit). Event organizers sometimes cover this cost for their attendees, include it in ticket prices, or create a sustainability sponsorship option for their exhibitors.

Examples of Carbon Credits in Sustainable Events

NCX carbon credits have been used for business conferences, a major marathon, and even an LPGA golf tournament. Buyers choose NCX because the carbon credits they purchase create benefits to forests, communities, and wildlife habitat. Event organizers can customize their purchases for a geo-specific impact, backed by family forest landowners across North America. This allows event hosts to craft a sustainability message showing the attendees how they support local forests, as well as the landowners and wildlife habitat in the event’s region.

Organizers should consider the carbon elephant in the room, travel, as they plan their next event. Many options exist to reduce these emissions, and carbon offsets can be used to address the remaining and unavoidable carbon footprint. Choosing a local offset option can also give a boost to your event experience by telling a story of the positive impact on communities and natural resources closest to your attendees.

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about the author

Kyle DeWeerdt

Kyle DeWeerdt

Kyle is the Manager of Demand Generation at NCX. His work is focused on growing awareness for natural capital solutions by helping to educate and engage sustainability leaders in projects that further their, and our our planet's, goals.