Skip to main content
Online events and sustainability

Online events and sustainability

The time for online events

The dramatic adoption of virtual event formats in recent years is commonly attributed to the pandemic. But there is another driving force that has been propelling the rise of online events for much longer: sustainability.

COVID-19 accelerated the shift to online events. What would have taken climate change initiatives a dozen years, happened in months. The pandemic may have accelerated the shift towards virtual events, but our responsibility to the environment has always been waiting in the wings and is now stepping into the spotlight downstage centre! It is now clear that hosting online events is the logical choice for forward-thinking event organisers motivated by environmental responsibility. A virtual event is, by its nature, a sustainable event.

A green grass textured World map, a large white recycling symbol and other white ecology symbols on green defocused background

How in-person events impact the environment

So, what is the environmental impact of in-person gatherings?

The obvious one for starters; speakers, staff and delegates all have to travel to the event venue. This results in significant carbon emissions.

  • Once at the physical venue, we consume additional energy resources. Lighting and heating or cooling systems, to ensure attendee comfort for example.
  • Attitudes are slowly changing, but some physical events are still responsible for excessive material consumption. There are the small scale items such as conference bags and brochures, printouts of programs, business cards, badges and gifts. But there is also the extensive use of printed signage, banners and single-use exhibition stands. These are often made from plastic and unrecyclable materials.
  • Food waste is another problem, from leftover food to disposable plastic cups and utensils that invariably head to landfill. While many venues and caterers prioritise sustainability and eco-conscious practices, there are many who don’t. There is still much to do to ensure that event waste does not present a long-term environmental impact.

We all know and fully understand that people love getting together at physical events. The need for face-to-face communication is part of our make-up; our humanity. But does this justify the substantial waste, extra consumption, and environmental damage inherent in in-person events?

Isn’t it the responsible choice to shift to hosting our events online? If not all of them, then at least being more selective as to which events really need to be in-person.

While it’s true that online events are not devoid of environmental implications, they do offer a more eco-friendly alternative. Of course, the technology required for streaming, viewing, and participating in virtual gatherings does consume energy. But the scale of consumption is minimal compared to traditional in-person events.

“Specifically, transitioning from in-person to virtual conferencing reduces the carbon footprint by 94% and cumulative energy demand (CED) by 90%.”

Nature Communications

Moving towards a greener event industry

It is incumbent upon event organisers to assess the true impact of their endeavours on the environment. By moving to online events, they can actively reduce their ecological footprint. Making the responsible choice to host at least a proportion of events online is a crucial step towards creating a more sustainable world.

As event organisers, let’s acknowledge the role that physical events play in contributing to this global environmental issue. Let’s recognize that we have a viable solution at our disposal. The technology and expertise exist to create engaging and valuable online experiences. So, the next time you plan an event, seriously consider the greener choice of hosting it online. We can all help the events industry move towards a more sustainable world.

Back to all Insights