'You have to walk the walk' - Kai Hattendorf on Net Zero Carbon Events

Deep Dive / 
Kai Hattendorf DEEP DIVE template


JL For those who don't know and there will be some, because this is a sprawling, multi-faceted industry, can you give us a bird's eye view of the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative.

KH Sure, happy to. The Net Zero Carbon Events initiative is the collective effort of the global events industry, to make sure that our sector can do its part in that important journey to net zero to combat climate change. It is by now the most global, the most inclusive initiative our industry has ever seen, and that is fitting in many ways, because the challenge we are facing is not limited to any geography or industry or segment of our sector. The global discussion around the climate crisis, climate change, the changing weather affects each industry that we serve as the event sector, and each individual working in the sector, or working in any of the sector that we work for, so quite frankly, that can't be a bigger topic that will need a more united answer. And that's what  Net Zero Carbon Events in essence is all about.

JL So ‘events ‘covers planners, venues, agencies, organizations that hold events that wouldn't necessarily think of themselves as part of the meetings industry, for example, like associations. It's open to practically anyone who is involved in organising meetings and events.

KH Yes, the beauty is, sometimes we complain that the term events or meetings is so unspecified. Here, we're using that to the advantage. If you're a corporate event manager in a huge corporation, you can connect; if you're a wedding planner, you can connect; if you're an international trade show organiser, you can connect; if you're a venue, you can connect, and if you're a supplier to the sector you can connect. If you are involved in the production or delivery of events, you can connect.

JL Individuals as well as organizations?

KH Predominantly organizations, but all the materials that are being produced are widely available also for individuals.

JL So there's a Pledge underpinning the Net zero Carbon Events initiative. What's that?

KH Yes, the Pledge is how it really all started. The Pledge essentially is a document that every company or individual working with the initiative can sign to commit to the targets of the Paris Climate Accord to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions for the events they're responsible for by fifty per cent by 2030, and to become net zero carbon events-wise by 2050, at the latest, in line with the science of the day. The Pledge also includes an obligation to record, to measure, and to report the progress, regularly, because what you can't measure, you can't track. And if you say you want to get to fifty per cent of something, you need to know what your baseline was and what you're reducing. So, the targets of the pledge are really in line with what almost all governments around the world have signed onto under the Paris Climate Accord, and it is not particularly different from similar pledges in other industries, from travel to fashion, to name a few. The world needs to walk in lockstep to achieve this, and therefore the targets are aligned, and therefore the pledges are in many ways, something that many of the customers of our events industry are sharing as well as targets and are therefore pushing us to achieve anyway.

JL So you have a Pledge? People signing up to commit to reducing their missions by fifty per cent by 2020, and then reaching zero by 2050. What's the mechanism that helps them get there?

KH: The Roadmap is the 'how do we get there'? It's the plan. And it gives you the timeline and the milestones to achieve and identifies the areas where we can make progress and how we can make progress. We have eight Work Streams backed by 500 businesses across the global events sector filling this Roadmap with practical actions that are being pursued or implemented somewhere in the world and are being shared in the spirit of allowing others to just take that wheel, instead of re-inventing it, and applying it themselves.

JL Give us an example of a work stream and some practical solutions it has come up with.

KH There are two works streams around waste, because one focuses on F&B and one on general waste. We all know that one of the biggest factors that we can directly influence as event organises is what is left over after an event. What goes to landfill, what is being re-cycled in which way, and the 20th Century answer, in most cases, was landfill - carpets being thrown a way, booths being de-constructed and food just being thrown away. The working group working on that is coming up with measures to replace carpet with recyclable carpet or reusable carpets, or with carpet alternatives. In most cases, if you go to a trade show post-pandemic, you will find that they don't use carpets. Stand construction. Big, big topic. Stand construction systems replacing individual stand build. It's a very logical step towards reusing materials. You see big companies who exhibit around the world coming up with stand designs that are sustainable, dismantled, transported, and reused or build based on existing modular systems in the first place. So that's one significant example where working group is under way to provide all these examples and advance best practices.

JL And that would reduce emission because materials aren't being produced in the first place. They're not being wasted and not being re. They're being re-used or not being used at all.  That's where the carbon emissions bit comes in?

KH A tree you don't have to cut down to build a booth, is a tree you don't have to cut down, and, even worse, wood that you don't have to burn after a show because you haven't used it to build a stand at the show, because you didn’t have to fell the tree. You see where it's going.  

JLBut it's all focused on carbon? It's not a broader sustainability piece. Everything has to result in the reduction of carbon emissions in those work streams…?

KH This is why it's the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative. This is not the answer to all things sustainability. It can't be and it shouldn't. Lots of elements of the wider sustainability conversation are cultural, political, and societal. Inclusivity means very different things in different parts of the world. But the carbon question is ultimately science.  Carbon emissions are generated out of every event. It's physics. So, it's a segment where standardization can make a difference in a global way. And that can be applied in Asia, as well as in the Americas, in Europe, as well as in the Middle East, whereas other elements of the wider sustainability discussion will need different culturally adapted implementations and interpretations to be successful.

JL Is the onus on people who have signed the Pledge to join a work stream? Or can they sit back and look at the workings of the work stream as it were, and take information from it? What's the relationship between the people who have signed the Pledge and the work streams?

KH The whole process is open for participation by everyone who is within the initiative. There's no barrier to entry, and that's super important because we're working with United Nations, and they want to make sure that no one is excluded. So, you don't have to ‘pay to play’. You can join the initiative first, and just, as you say, sit back and benefit from the outcome. If you can help us fund the work, we encourage you to do so. The pledge includes a phrase that you're working ‘with the initiative’.  It can mean you can take the results and work with it. It can also mean, if you have experts, you designate the time of these experts to be involved in the work streams and help drive things forward. So, the level of activation is up to every single entity. To avoid the whole initiative being dominated by some major players or major interests, we’re also capping the maximum amount of money we're taking from one party. To make sure we're not solely funded by one or two huge owners, who would probably bring some interest…

JL You'd be open to accusations of lobbying...

KH Exactly, So it's a very, very open initiative. So again, you can can just take the materials and apply them and that is hugely beneficial. If you can help fund it, help fund it. If you have the capacities to be involved in the work stream, so in the review of the work of the work team, because all of these go to iterations of reviews to webinars, give time, give resources, give your gift, give your insight and knowledge to help us come to the best solutions.

JL Is there anything in the framework or the initiative that prevents organisations sort of piggy backing on this, and in effect green washing their organisation?

KH That will become apparent because the organisations who signed the pledge sign a commitment to report on their progress.

JL That's binding, that commitment…?

KH That's binding. You have to sign the pledge. You have a year to get your ducks in a row, and you should better start reporting. The report can be, ‘We don't have all the data yet, but here is what we have’ right. But you need to start reporting. You need to start walking the walk. And I'm sure given the attention the topic has across the industry, that if you were to sign and not do anything, and say at every opportunity that you've signed this, some people would ask you, ‘where is your report? where's your progress report?’

JL Would you expect there to be some kind of peer pressure within the framework itself? Do you see a bit of self-regulation going on?

KH We will see, because the end of 2023 is when we expect the first players to report. We are seeing the first members reporting a few days ago. IMEX, for instance, released the reporting of their show in Frankfort last year, and their tracking Vegas as well, so we're beginning to see the examples and the first members of the Net Carbon Events community publishing these. The rest of speculation. So if you and I have this conversation in the first quarter of 2024, we can probably look at it and say, ‘Oh, look at this much. Pick up. There were those who needed to be reminded and there were those who weren't aware they should do that. And I don't know. There may be a few who didn't read that part and thought they wouldn't need to do it’. I don't know. What I do know is everybody who is interacting with the initiative gets the messaging, gets the, gets the deliverables, and gets all the materials so that everybody can act and I'm ever the optimist. I see the energy. I see the momentum, and when I am at industry gatherings, and we discuss the topic, there's a lot of support and there's a lot of understanding that this is something that needs to happen. A lot of backing from the respective leaderships. I see that trickling down into action within the respective organisations.

JL Just another question on the work streams. Just for clarity, people can, in effect, pick and choose which work streams they belong to, depending on, depending on their own operations and where they see, they might be able to reduce emissions most effectively. Is that how it works?

KH: You can raise your hand and join every work stream, but predominantly we need the people in the work steams who can  help the work streams in their work. The outcomes will be there for everyone to take right. So, as we were discussing the waste work stream earlier. If you have a waste management model in your venue that you've rolled out and you have experiences with that and want to share that It makes sense for you to connect with the work team. If you are planning to build a venue and want to know how best to design the back of house to facilitate waste, no need to be in the work stream now, because you can work with the outcome of the work stream, right, then, you should probably get into the energy works stream, and say, ‘here are my plans for the venue I want to build, and here is what we are planning based on what we know currently about the whole venue being energy sufficient or zero  carbon, by design’. So whatever insights you have there, if you're at that point of a project can be very beneficial to that works. So, you have to see where you are in your respective business, and then you will have one or two areas where you will have knowledge that is worth sharing or bringing into the groups. And we encourage you to do that.

JL Where does aviation come into this? There's a transport stream. Does that include aviation? Or is aviation somebody else's responsibility?

KH Well. First of all, that is, I don't know the elephant in the room or the jumbo jet or pick a metaphor of your choice. If you have an international event between sixty and eighty per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that belong in the wider sense to that event, come from travel. This is what is known as Scope 3 for the events. Because Scope 1 is what you can directly influence. If you are a show organiser, you can decide to be plastic free, in everything you can directly touch. There’s Scope 2, which is things you don't directly do, but can influence as an organiser. You can pick a venue that can supply you with 100 per cent regenerative energy. That’s Scope 2. How your customer travels to an event, what your customer does outside of the event is Scope 3. So, technically you can say that's up to the airlines. Obviously, it's a joint responsibility somewhat, so you need to have dialogue. You need to have conversation. And this is why it is important that we have this initiative on the global level with the UN backing, because the UN can facilitate this dialogue with the airline industry, with the hospitality industry, and what we can then discuss in our work stream is how can we design events to minimize gas emissions from travel? How can we encourage attends to use carbon lower, carbon free means of transport. How can we encourage them?

JL: You can incentivise rail travel, choose where you hold your meeting. That kind of thing.

KH: You make a good point about where you hold your meeting because that goes very quickly into the very core of your business casing and your business design. A lot of the value of events is that they connect people from different countries, markets regions, so the internationality and the exchange that generates is a huge asset. Obviously, it comes at the cost of more people traveling from further away. So how do you balance the value? You provide the value proposition between global event and regional events, local events, and national events right. So, there's a lot of discussions that comes into that, and this just shows how deep this whole conversation and discussion really goes into every aspect of events.

JL Yeah, it's incredibly complex when you start to try and unpack all the different facets of an international meeting, and who's responsible for what. So how many people have signed the pledge so far?

KH I think we have four hundred ninety-something. So depending on when you go live with our conversation, we may or may not have passed 500. Let's say round about 500.

JL That's sounds like a decent milestone. Do you have a target? Or do you have any kind of ambition in terms of how many pledgees, if that's the right word, you want?

KH Not by numbers but by relevance, and a small local event organiser is just as relevant as a huge corporation’s corporate events division, because it's about having a truly global group of businesses enforcing this. I think we started with a hundred in Glasgow, and we didn't do any PR. We were just working away after that, and despite that, within six months we had reached 300. And by the time we got to Sharm el-Sheikh, we were around four hundred, and now we’re five hundred. So, there's a trajectory and it continues to grow. And as an initiative, there's no business plan, or numerical growth targets. There are relevance targets. This is the approach from our sector that is backed by the United Nations. This is the approach for our industry to find our own answer to the climate challenge. If you wish, it's our opportunity to come up with a solution that is so good that we don't need to be regulated into something. If what we would use is good enough, it will affect or become a global standard. And we are involved with the ISO and the others to have that strategic dialogue about industry being able to lead the way towards low carbon and then zero carbon events.

JL Because regulation will come if the industry doesn't change its ways?

KH Regulation is already here, in many markets. And if you just look, many Brazilian cities could not celebrate carnival because of extreme weather conditions. Boat shows get cancelled because of typhoon warnings. So, the impact climate change already has today on our everyday business is no longer anecdotal.

JL Are there any regional discrepancies in terms of who is signing the Pledge or are some parts of the world lagging others?

KH I wouldn't say lagging. But again, every market, every region, every culture is at a different point in the climate conversation, and also at a different point in the implementation, and that mirrors what you see at the global COP conference. You have markets who are very eager to commit to technical net zero very early, by using offsetting, and to real net zero by 2040-2045. There are other major markets who were struggling to make a first commitment towards becoming net zero at all. If you look at the way the conversation has evolved at the Global Climate conference level of the last three or four or five years, those countries who are hesitant to have a target date have all announced target dates and this target dates are shifting closer towards present day. So, this is a conversation, and it is an evolution, and it is the process.

I've had many conversations where some organisations or venues were telling me. Why should I sign the pledge because I will be there by 2030. Your pledge is not good enough, and I tell each one of them you should sign the pledge to help the others get there faster, and then they do, because it is about helping each other to get there as an industry. So yes, there are markets who move faster because they're already further down the line and it's easy for them to commit to something that they have already, in some cases achieved having off the emission. It is more difficult for other markets who look at that and say where to get started. How to get there.

JL Turning to COP 28. Obviously, the initiative was launched at Glasgow, and then you had your seat at the table in a Sharm el- Sheikh last year. How are you involved in COP28 in Abu Dhabi?

KH: We'll surely find again an excellent group of people to represent the industry. If I asked again to be part of that, I'll be more than honoured. But hey, we now have 500 companies and you've had that tall German there twice, so there are many others and it's a collective effort. But what we need to bring to Cop 28 is the result of the work streams. After the 'What' with a Pledge and the 'How with the Roadmap, it is the 'how exactly'. And here is what we do and here is our first report. I could imagine some members of the initiative who have produce their first reports, to invite them to be at the table at COP28 to give some examples from the implementations of the work streams to show how they make a difference. Initially, it was important to bring us to the table and then back up that with what we were delivering, And now it's about showing the measures. I think it'll become more tangible as we go along.





Latest Magazine

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