Over the past couple years, much of the conversation around virtual and hybrid events has been about public health. But online events have other advantages and benefits too. For instance, virtual events have much smaller carbon footprints than live events. They’re inherently more sustainable because they happen online. If sustainability is important to your company culture, it’s worth your time to consider a sustainable virtual event format.
Why Are Virtual Events More Sustainable?
In-person events have huge benefits for everyone involved. They get your brand or product in front of attendees while providing invaluable networking opportunities to those attendees.
Unfortunately, in-person events also use significant amounts of energy and produce large volumes of waste and carbon emissions.
Of course, this doesn’t mean physical events have to go away completely. There are lots of ways to make events more sustainable and less of an environmental concern. But by far the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions and improve event sustainability is to convert a live event into a virtual one.
A virtual event’s carbon footprint is lower for a wide range of reasons:
No travel. All forms of motorized travel produce greenhouse emissions, but air travel produces the most. Small, local events don’t typically mean lots of air travel, but larger national and global events do.
When everyone attends a conference or meeting online, they don’t have to travel anywhere, so there are no carbon emissions generated by virtual event travel.
No physical waste. Another significant sustainability benefit is that virtual events don’t generate physical waste. Physical waste is produced in many different ways at a live event. For instance:
- Printed marketing materials such as brochures and business cards
- Disposable swag like plastic totes, keychains, or promotional pens – There are more sustainable swag options out there, but many exhibitors still give out low-quality swag that ends up in the trash.
- Waste from packaged food and beverages, registration/ID cards, printed tickets, and other items
None of this is needed in a virtual event experience. It’s even possible to provide digital swag, rather than sending physical items to event attendees.
No additional energy usage. Almost every element that goes into making a corporate event happen uses additional energy. Lighting and temperature control at the venue, plus exhibitors’ electricity needs, add to the tally of resources used at a physical event.
Again, almost none of this additional energy is used when the event is held online. Virtual events do use a little energy, and attendees generate additional carbon emissions by streaming and downloading event resources. But the total resource expenditure is much less than for a physical event.
How Much Can a Virtual Event Save?
It’s hard to quantify exactly how beneficial for the environment it is to hold a virtual event, rather than a live one. The University of Michigan’s College of Engineering has managed to illustrate the benefits. The research team performed analyses and created a framework to tally carbon emissions generated by virtual conferences. They used this framework in a case study to show that virtual events produce much less carbon emissions than live events.
They analyzed a May 2020 virtual event held by the AirMiners, a carbon removal networking community. In the case study, the research team found that the virtual conference generated 66 times less emissions than if the event had been a live one.
Other data from the University of Michigan shows that even a small, local event could save up to 90% in emissions if held online instead. And the savings increase the bigger the event is: A 5,000-person international conference can reduce emissions by around 98% by going virtual.
Not Ready to Go Fully Virtual? Consider a Hybrid Event
Maybe you don’t feel that converting a live event directly into a virtual event is best for your attendees or your event. If you’re not ready to take your existing live event into the virtual sphere, why not go hybrid instead?
A hybrid event lets you hold your live event as normal, while providing a virtual attendance option. The more people who attend online, the lower the event’s carbon footprint will be. Meanwhile, those attendees who really want the live experience can still enjoy it. If your new hybrid format proves a success, you can gradually improve on the virtual experience with each successive event. Over time, you can encourage more people to attend online. Whether or not you ultimately convert to a fully virtual event, you’ll still be reducing the overall carbon footprint.
Reducing Your Virtual Event Carbon Footprint Can Be Rewarding
There are many benefits to holding a virtual event. Going virtual often means more people can attend, from a greater range of locations and companies. It also means a much lower carbon footprint and a more sustainable virtual event.