Virtual events became the new normal - why wearing a fancy suit for this networking event when you can do it from your bedroom in slippers? Since the pandemic outbreak, let's face it, events shifted from in-person to online settings - leaving us facing our screens on Zoom or streaming platforms. A study conducted in April 2020 showed that 50% of companies had to move their events online, but virtual events are meant to stay.
International summits like Davos were being held virtually, music festivals postponed, while the G7 summit was in-person. However, something interesting is happening behind the scenes: most of these new hybrid events claim to be the "first carbon-neutral events". For instance, Davos offset the entire event's emissions by protecting a forest, the Jacundá project in the Amazonian “Arc of Deforestation” known for its disappearing tropical forest, which protects an area of 95,000 hectares of native forest.
It is impossible not to emit CO2 emissions. That is why companies must measure and reduce the environmental impact of their events: virtual, hybrids or in-person ones. Here is the burning question: what is the environmental impact of virtual events, and how to calculate it? Do not panic; Plan A has developed the perfect solution for companies.
The environmental impact of virtual events
For the past year, virtual events have been praised by media and news outlets for their environmental benefits. Virtual events are said to cut down carbon emissions since there is less travel, waste generated, catering involved, land and water usage. But one expert projected, pre-pandemic, that information and communications technologies could gobble up 20% of global energy demand by 2030.
You will love to read: What is the difference between carbon-neutral, net-zero and climate positive?
On the surface, these claims make sense when looking at the numbers - for example, the famous Coachella music festival is generating 107 tons of solid waste each day, with only 20% of it getting recycled. In theory, if Coachella would have happened online, all this waste would have never existed, reducing the event's carbon footprint - sounds simple right? But the reality is more complex: even though online events have a lower carbon footprint than their physical counterparts, it is still not zero.
A new study conducted by MIT students showed that one hour of streaming or videoconferencing emits between 150 to 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, depending on the service. By comparison, a car produces about 8,887 grams from burning 4 litres of gasoline. Another study published in the journal of environmental studies by Grant Faber observed that a one-day virtual conference (on Zoom) with about 200 participants resulted in 1,324 kg of CO2 emissions, roughly equivalent to driving almost 5311 kilometres burning nearly 680 kg of coal. Of the total, 64% of emissions came from network data transfer, 19% from the pre-conference planning meetings, and 11% from computer use.
Virtual events still have a considerable environmental impact starting from our increasing internet usage. The electricity needed to power the internet, with its associated carbon, water, and land footprints, isn't the only thing causing havoc on the environment; data transmission and storage also necessitate water to cool the equipment within data centres. Also, the participant computer life cycle emissions and other activities would not have happened without virtual events. Now, you will understand it, calculating virtual event's carbon footprint is a necessity for companies.
How to measure the carbon footprint of virtual events?
Now let's discover the solution. Plan A developed a new feature - a virtual event calculator, part of its carbon management platform. Following the GHG protocol rigorously and using scopes 1,2,3 of carbon emissions, the virtual event calculator collects your data easily and automatically calculates it to give you a sum of your events' carbon footprint.
What data collects the virtual event calculator?
- Data on participants: number of participants.
- Data on sessions: number of sessions and time length each session.
- It also collects data for any marketing material involved: Waste generated from all marketing materials is treated according to EU and national regulations in all European countries. Emissions from waste are varied based on the type of end-of-life treatment of the materials.
- Data on packages transportation: number of packages sent, total weight and specific destinations.
For illustration, Plan A organised a virtual event with 80 participants for an hour session and no marketing materials or transportation. The calculator estimated the virtual event's total carbon footprint at 3,54 kg C02 - from electricity and servers consumption.
How to decarbonise online events?
Companies need to decarbonise their activities. Plan A's virtual event calculator delivers reduction plans to help companies reduce their emissions linked to these specific activities.
Here is a small snapshot of what kind of reduction activities you can undertake:
- Decarbonise the electrical grid, if virtual conferences were powered via renewables energies such as solar panels, the carbon footprint of such conferences could fall from three quarters.
- Turn your camera off during a videoconference; you can reduce your environmental footprint in that meeting by 96%.