Whether large or small, events such as conferences and conventions can have an impact on the environment. Leaving a carbon footprint is unavoidable, since travel, accommodation, catering and other activities all result in greenhouse gas emissions. There are, however, ways of reducing an event’s impact on the environment – as Sanlam Employee Benefits (SEB) has shown with the recent Sanlam Benchmark Symposium held in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Francois Adriaan, Sanlam’s head of corporate affairs, says the company wanted its annual symposium to be “as carbon neutral as possible going forward, in line with Sanlam’s overall sustainability strategy.
“According to the Living Planet Report 2012, produced by the World Wildlife Fund in conjunction with the Global Footprint Network, it takes 1.5 years for the earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb the carbon dioxide waste they produce each year. By 2050, humanity will require an equivalent of 2.9 planets to support the ‘business as usual’ assumption.”
Adriaan says Sanlam’s objective is to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 15% by 2015. “By aiming to host a carbon neutral event, we wanted to show how reducing one’s carbon footprint doesn’t need to be complicated – it starts with simple behavioural changes, which can go a long way towards meeting reduction targets.”
SEB commissioned Carbon Calculated – which measures and tracks greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, electricity consumption and other resources for a variety of organisations – to calculate the emissions associated with the symposium. To ensure the event was carbon neutral, emissions that could not be avoided were offset through investments in two projects benefitting local communities as well as the environment.
Andrew Cole of Carbon Calculated says delegate travel to the event was found to be the largest contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions. “This is to be expected with an event of this nature. Emissions also resulted from the transport of equipment, and electricity and paper consumption.”
To mitigate the carbon footprint resulting from the activities related to the symposium, SEB chose to invest in a carbon offset project, Basa Magogo, in Johannesburg focusing on the reduction of indoor smoke pollution. The project introduces a new combustion method to communities that reduces the amount of coal consumed, effectively lowering harmful emissions and improving livelihoods at the same time. SEB also invested in a community-based organisation near Stellenbosch involved in livestock farming methods which minimise the emission of carbon dioxide. The project, Ezibusisweni, emphasises “mob grazing”, which entails frequently moving cows and chickens on a piece of land to increase soil fertility and restore grasslands, and in so doing, sequester carbon. The project employs 35 people.
Cole says event organisers worldwide are increasingly becoming aware of the carbon intensity of their events and are proactively planning to reduce the resultant carbon footprint. He commends SEB for taking the initiative to measure the event’s carbon emissions and taking steps to ensure carbon neutrality for similar events in the future. “The company has shown great initiative with this effort, making clear to clients the need for a collective effort to address the threat of climate change and more thoughtful management of non-renewable resources.”
Adriaan says plans to host a carbon-neutral event should be drawn up well in advance, with everyone involved aware of their roles and responsibilities. “We wanted to show with the Sanlam Benchmark Symposium that proper planning to ensure an event is ‘green’ can go a long way to ensuring the overall carbon ‘bill’ of the event.” He adds that event organisers, marketing staff, sub-contractors, suppliers, service providers, caterers, venue owners as well as people attending the event should all be on board to ensure the event has minimal impact on the environment.
Cole recommends that companies and event organisers first focus on ways to reduce their carbon footprint before embarking on retroactive plans to offset any carbon footprint they generate. He suggests the following:
- Car pooling and public transport: Provide information to event attendees about available public transport, including schedules for buses and trains. An option is to incentivise car sharing, potentially organising it formally through an outsourced partner. A company-branded shuttle could also be made available from a location close to public transport.
- Minimise paper usage: By reducing the use of paper, companies have an opportunity to make an event more interactive. If paper must be used, print on both sides of the paper.
- Bottled water: Replace bottled water with jugs filled with chilled tap water served and available in self-serve glasses.
- Set building: Electricity consumption could be minimised by reducing the number of days required for set up and breakdown. Ideally, any sets that are constructed should be repurposed in some way following the event.
- Catering: In considering the catering menu, reduce the amount of meat offered, in particular, red meat, which holds a large amount of carbon per tonne. Where possible, partner with a catering company that understands “green” eventing and its importance.
- Recycling facilities: Prominently display recycling containers at or near the event, preferably in areas where attendees gather during breaks.