Sustainability is one of the most important topics of our time and naturally also occupies the MICE industry. How does an event become climate-neutral? This question is also on the mind of Stephan Meier from the Munich-based consulting agency ClimatePartner. Together with his team, he wants to help companies and their clients to protect the climate. A conversation about feasibility, future challenges and CO2 offsets.
Mr Meier, what exactly does a climate partner do?
A true partner should take responsibility for the climate impacts he or she causes. As a rule, these are mainly the greenhouse gas emissions that occur in business operations, in the production and sale of products and in the provision of services. As ClimatePartner, we work with companies and organisations that feel this responsibility and want to do something about it.
Which companies do you advise?
Originally, our first client focus was on companies in the printing industry. Over time our work has expanded to include more and more sectors. Currently, we support a wide range of industries such as food and beverages, textiles, hygiene and household goods, but also events such as congresses, trade fairs, exhibition centres and hotels and related service providers. Basically, we help all those who seriously want to take responsibility for their emissions.
In contrast to a single product, many different aspects play a role in events such as trade fairs, congresses or conferences. How can this industry become climate neutral?
Yes, that's right, there is the event location, for example a trade fair or congress hall, the event implementation, i.e. technology, furniture, catering and so on, and of course the participants with their journeys and overnight stays. For all three aspects, the aim is to record the emissions generated, reduce them as much as possible and offset the remaining emissions through certified climate protection projects.
When choosing hotels, you can look for sustainably certified or even climate-neutral accommodation - with the shortest possible distances to the event location. And CO2 can also be saved when it comes to information material: instead of flyers and other printed materials, simply use an event app.
What does that mean exactly? Where can CO2 be saved?
There is a lot of potential for saving emissions: It starts with the selection of an energy-efficient event location that runs on green electricity and is well connected to public transport. It continues with waste separation, reusable instead of disposable, travel by train instead of plane or car and meatless, vegan and regional catering. When choosing hotels, you can look for sustainably certified or even climate-neutral accommodation - with the shortest possible distances to the event location. And CO2 can also be saved when it comes to information material: instead of flyers and other printed materials, simply use an event app.
What is your concrete approach to advising on events?
We systematically record all these factors and calculate their impact. Of course, this is preceded by a precise definition of what is to be included in the assessment - is it the journey of the visitors and participants, or is it the event alone? Or even both? Is an event at a central location or is it decentralised across several locations? We already work with many large and international events, but also with smaller regional events, and by now we have very good empirical values that allow us to estimate very early on how big the effort will be.
Do your clients have to do anything in advance?
It actually makes our work easier if the organisers themselves have already defined concrete strategies and plans for climate protection - either together with us or in advance. Then it is much easier to integrate the measures for dealing with CO2 emissions and to communicate them accordingly. The European Championships in Munich 2022, for example, had already drawn up a comprehensive sustainability concept in advance.
We already work with many large and international events, but also with smaller regional events, and by now we have very good empirical values that allow us to estimate very early on how big the effort will be.
So the European Championships Munich 2022 are a kind of a role model?
They are definitely setting an example in the city in terms of sustainability and climate protection. And at the Oktoberfest in 2019, some organisers also thought about climate protection and calculated and offset their CO2 emissions with us.
So organisers themselves can do a lot.
Yes, quite a lot. They make the rules, they set the standards and define the concepts. This is not only important for climate protection reasons, but also helps to differentiate the concept from other events. After all, nobody wants a trade fair from yesterday any more. Every event can be wonderfully internationalised through digital media and the integration of external speakers and participants via videocasts. Hybrid formats are definitely on the rise, but must also be priced as such - keyword: higher energy demand - in a balance sheet.
Every event can be wonderfully internationalised through digital media and the integration of external speakers and participants via videocasts.
In fact, streaming, chatting or zooming also requires a lot of energy. Does that mean that hybrid events are the most climate-damaging?
That can't be said in general terms. If the higher energy demand at hybrid or digital events is covered by green electricity, that can be significantly more climate-friendly than an event with climate-neutral catering, mobility and accommodation. On the other hand, significantly more participants can be involved digitally. So it all depends on a calculation of the actual data. In addition, we must always bear in mind that every event should also have an effect - namely the exchange between people, networking and interaction. This is undoubtedly better and more purposeful through personal encounters than if it only takes place online.
So the path to a climate-neutral congress is quite complicated.
Let's say challenging. Unfortunately, CO2 balances of events are often commissioned at very short notice. And then there is usually not enough time to incorporate the derived reduction measures into the event planning in time after the calculation of the CO2 footprint. On the other hand, the greater the lead time, the more challenging the exact calculation of the event carbon footprint. This is because the actual magnitude of an event is only precisely known once it has taken place. In such cases, we use estimated values collected in advance, which are based on our experience plus a safety margin. After the event, when the actual consumption data and number of participants are known, we recalculate and correct the calculation if necessary.
And if you were not completely climate neutral, then there is always the possibility of a CO2 offset, as is known from flying, for example.
In fact, flying is not a good example of CO2 offsetting. Offsetting is always about avoidance and reduction, and only offsetting the emissions that then remain. In the long term, the goal must be that through change, for example in the manufacture of products, less and less remains to be offset. A flight, on the other hand, will always remain a flight and take place with an aircraft. You have to ask yourself: is the flight necessary at all, are there alternatives, or are there other, closer destinations?
There is a clear trend towards more and more concrete requirements regarding the balancing and handling of greenhouse gas emissions.
What should be considered when offsetting CO2 emissions from events?
When it comes to climate neutrality, one of the most important aspects is how the offsetting is implemented: It should only take place via certified and verified climate protection projects that meet the requirements of strict standards. The savings effect of the projects must be confirmed and certified.
The projects range from forest protection and reforestation to water conservation, avoidance of deforestation and clearing, and the expansion of renewable energy sources such as wind or hydropower. The projects must comply with basic principles: Their emission savings must be permanent and not double counted, they must rely on financial support and be regularly reviewed. Furthermore, they must support the "UN Sustainable Development Goals" (UN SDGs), i.e. have a significant social added value in addition to their climate protection effect.
How realistic is it that events will really be completely climate neutral in a few years?
It is probably similar for events as it is for companies or even countries: There is a clear trend towards more and more concrete requirements regarding the balancing and handling of greenhouse gas emissions. And that's a good thing, because there can be no "business as usual".