Focusing on zero
EW guest editor Paul Woodward heats up the sustainability debate in the light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC ) report ’ s warnings and the exhibition and wider events industry ’ s initial response to that
hese recent terrifying scenes of flood waters gushing into New York subways drove home the point : Even as Covid-19 has dominated the news and business agenda this year , you would have been hard-pressed not to be aware of the ‘ heat dome ’ and record temperatures in North America , disastrous wildfires around the world , unseasonal storms , and more . We are all aware of the climate crisis and the importance of it was summed up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC ) report in early August which gave some stark warnings about just how serious are the steps which need to be taken . But , with the events industry still reeling from the impact of the pandemic and uncertainty still prevalent even as optimism rises , just how much time and attention can the exhibition world afford to pay to this issue ? More than you might imagine would seem to be the answer .
Stephanie Mathas is CSR & sustainability manager at RAI Amsterdam as well as the chair of UFI ’ s Sustainable Development Working Group . She told EW : “ Climate change and the way we treat our planet will have an impact on all of us . The IPCC report underlines and emphasises the urgency to act . Within our business and stakeholders , including public authorities and the financial community , we are seeing more and more attention worldwide for sustainability . I expect that this will only increase . Doing nothing is no longer an option ”.
Fortunately , there is a lot going on in the lead up to the COP26 conference scheduled for Glasgow in November . The new Net Zero Carbon Events initiative is backed by a number of leading industry associations including UFI , ICCA , and AIPC , and it is hosted by the Joint Meetings Industry Council ( JMIC ). ICCA and JMIC president James Rees commented at the launch : “ The events industry has a special role to play in tackling climate change . We provide the meeting places and market places to work on solutions to the climate crisis . At the same time , we have a responsibility to minimise our own impact on climate change ”.
UFI president Anbu Varathan described the initiative as “ collaborative and inclusive ” covering the whole event industry and said that “ it is a new important step ”. At its heart , in the first step , is identifying the commitments required for the reduction and neutralisation of event-related greenhouse gas ( GHG ) emissions . UFI CEO Kai Hattendorf commented that , although sustainability has been growing in importance for all industries , including exhibitions over a number of years , the move toward carbon zero has “ exploded on the strategy chart as mission critical ”.
Research on the status of sustainability in exhibitions was published by UFI in late July and noted that “ even though the Covid-19 pandemic has severely hit the economy , the fundamentals remain , and sustainability is a strong priority for exhibitions and their participants ”. It may be a strong priority , but there is clearly still a long way to go . The report commented that the industry ’ s transition towards sustainability has progressed to halfway between “ only starting ” and “ very advanced ”.
Significant emphasis was placed on what has been a favourite argument of the industry for many years ; that doing one trip to meet as many people as possible at a business event can lead to a significant reduction in travel . Clearly , however , much more is needed . The UFI July report noted that while almost three-quarters of exhibitors and visitors “ either agreed or strongly agreed that it is important for a trade show to display a strong commitment to sustainability ”, only a little over one-third of them said “ they would not attend a trade show that does not have a responsible
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