The Biden administration’s emphasis on clean energy and environmental justice is putting renewed responsibility on companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. In 2019, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation alone accounted for about 29% of total U.S. GHG emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions. In terms of the overall trend, from 1990 to 2018, total transportation emissions have increased due, in large part, to increased demand for travel. In 2020, this trend dipped, as more and more people engaged for work and pleasure via virtual solutions.
Companies and industry events have only worsened the trend of travel-related emissions over time, with the debut of countless industry conferences that became increasingly massive (think CES and MWC). It seemed every company wanted to launch its own industry conference to join in on the fanfare, causing more and more travel and waste.
Reducing The Corporate Carbon Footprint
While the Biden administration and pandemic certainly accelerated corporations’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprints and put less of a strain on the planet, many companies had plans to reduce their environmental impact in place in early 2020. For example, Microsoft announced it would be carbon negative by 2030, and Apple committed to being 100% carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030.
Further, companies that have stopped in-person conferences and events as a result of the pandemic have reduced their carbon footprints in a number of significant ways. Some may be more obvious, like less transportation to attend events, and others may surprise you. Millions of Americans who attend a convention, trade show or conference each year stayed home to join virtually, resulting in less travel and lowering individual carbon footprints.
The most impactful workforce trend to come out of the pandemic is normalizing remote work, along with virtual recruiting and events to support this trend. The seismic shift in favor of virtual solutions not only helps employees eliminate commutes and unnecessary travel, but also sets the precedent for future events that needed a refresh.
In 2020, we saw less production of company tchotchkes that will invariably end up in landfills — because who really needs another flimsy water bottle with a company logo on it? The move to digital has not only impacted the events themselves, but also the resources typically found at them, such as printed flyers, pamphlets and company “swag.” As the whole world moves toward digital with digital wallets, remote workforces and paperless everything, this is a natural overhaul of industry events and conferences that was sorely needed but that didn’t have a catalyst prior to the pandemic.
Making Virtual Events Work
Virtual events can be truly fun and exciting. As the leader of a company focused on making virtual corporate events possible, I’ve seen companies over the last year and a half get really creative with virtual events, helping them to be a realistic option for industry events moving forward. Activities such as virtual DJs, scavenger hunts to win prizes and gift cards sent ahead of time to attendees to purchase coffees or food delivery make the overall experience more exciting and interactive.
Investing in remote-enablement technology is the first step in making virtual events work for your company and employees. Companies can leverage tools such as vendor “booths,” communications enablers, live video broadcasts and more to engage with prospective customers and set the bar for how effective virtual events can be, make connections and reduce their carbon footprints. It’s not just good for companies, but employees too, because virtual events are much more convenient and accessible than in-person events. The virtual experience allows people to bypass barriers to entry such as cost of admission and accommodations, transportation, missing work, childcare and more.
Lastly, virtual events work because they’re efficient and considerate of attendees’ time — there’s none of the excessive “waiting in line, staring at the ceiling” that attendees can experience at in-person events. Virtual events should include immersive and engaging content that attendees can interact with while waiting for that next crucial conversation or session.
The pandemic has shown us that work and life can continue to move forward with the help of virtual solutions keeping the wheels turning, even when we cannot gather in person. This global experiment with virtual proved that events and conferences do not need to go back to the way they were because they can be made better for people and the environment and be just as effective.