A tale of two scenarios: How do we make an unsustainable industry, sustainable?

Sustainability /  / 
How do we sustain a currently unsustainable industry Photo Credit: 123Ref

The global business events sector cannot return to ‘business as usual' if it’s to become a genuinely sustainable industry, according to a new report.

The ‘How to move to a more sustainable business events industry in the United Kingdom’ report by William Thomson of Gallus Events uses two scenarios, the business as usual scenario and the sustainable events transition scenario, to outline two possible futures for the events industry.

Looking at environmental, economic and societal factors including attendee and stakeholder travel, goods transport, food waste and energy consumption, the report posits that if physical business events continued to grow, with domestic and international audiences continuing to travel to in-person events, it would be likely the event industry would miss the 2030 net-zero interim target. 

In the business as usual scenario, event venues and event infrastructure will continue to be built, putting a strain on resources. But by 2040, the modelling suggests physical event attendance will fall as a result of companies striving to reach net-zero targets. This reduction in delegate travel and physical attendance will have a knock-on effect on event venues that aren’t booking as much business, seeing venue closures. 

With little climate intervention, by 2050, the globe is headed towards two degrees of global warming with sustainable technologies such as carbon sequestration and electric planes not yet effective enough to maintain pre-2030 travel habits. As a consequence, people are choosing to prioritise social and family contact above work, which is now mainly a remote activity with AI, robotics, and automation replacing many manual jobs. 

By this point, the scenario suggests, the industry's value in the UK dropped to 50 per cent of base year value, and the industry will find itself in a precarious position.

However, based on the sustainable events transition scenario, which focuses on demanding climate action from larger organisations, putting emphasis on reduced delegate and stakeholder travel, and transitioning towards a virtual events industry, event planners can play a major role in the green economy. 

The sustainable events transition scenario encourages all event stakeholders to make immediate changes, including venues implementing 100 per cent renewable energy for all operations, implementing waste to landfill policies, and implementing water and energy-saving strategies across their complexes.

The scenario also highlights that if by 2040 most companies have moved their events to a virtual format, with their non-negotiable in-person events moving to a regional format, the business events industry would be a leader in transitioning to a green economy. 

As a result of the decrease in physical meeting attendance, cities would be forced to redirect funds intended for infrastructure to other areas. The senario suggest funds could be spent on climate mitigation, concentrating on nature-based solutions that created a buffer for severe weather events. 

In this scenario, following major uptake in industry-wide sustainability campaigns, most delegates will choose to attend events remotely and those who do travel would use low/zero-emissions methods. As a result, resource use including textiles for carpets and furniture, vinyl and plastics for signage and promotions, and wood and metal for exhibition stands, could be reduced by up to 80 per cent. 

The report concludes that while it’s ‘human nature to socialise and to exchange ideas’ the unavoidable issue with large physical events is that they are ‘resource-consuming gatherings’. 

The report recommends that to achieve a sustainable transition, the UK events industry has to greatly increase the number of virtual and hybrid events and the number of virtual attendees while scaling back the number of physical events and physical attendees. It also must de-prioritise the international visitor. 

Read the full report with full references here

Holly Patrick
Written By
Holly Patrick
Reach Holly on
A desire to travel led Holly Patrick to the business meetings and events world and she’s never looked back. Holly takes a particular interest in event sustainability and creating a diverse and inclusive industry. When she’s not working, she can be found rolling skating along Brighton seafront listening to an eclectic playlist, featuring the likes of Patti Smith, Sean Paul, and Arooj Aftab.

Latest Magazine

Looking to the Future in Dubai
Looking to the Future in Dubai
A Meetings & Incentive Travel sponsored supplement
Read More