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‘Being proactive is key’ - Event carbon measurement

By Blair Potter | Jan 2, 2024

Editor’s Note: Sustainability coverage brought you by Marriott International. Be sure and inquire with your venues about established carbon measurement tools, such as Marriott International’s Meeting Impact Report, enabling you to calculate carbon offset, energy savings, water conservation, food waste reduction, and trash reduction.

Rachael Riggs believes planners who start preparing carbon budgets alongside financial budgets and calculating the emissions of their events will shine internally.

“Being proactive is key,” says Riggs, CMP, DES, SEPC, general manager, environmental strategy for Maritz. “This is all coming, like it or not. Businesses are far down the path of commitments, measurement and policy changes. Laws are in place and organizations have embraced them wholeheartedly. It is not going away. If we show up with a plan to conduct a more sustainable event, we will reinforce the importance of our work.”

Riggs addressed this critical topic last month at IMEX America in Las Vegas during her presentation, “Measuring Event Carbon Emissions…What’s Next?” We caught up with her after the event to discuss why planners should be focused on carbon measurement, how to get started and examples of successful measurement in the marketplace.

Why is it important for event professionals to focus on carbon measurement? 

At Maritz, we want to do the right thing. Our business is centered around the 3 P’s of people, planet and profit and this is why we started down this path a while ago. And now  regulation is happening and we must measure. In California, legislation (SB253) was signed this month and that requires all private and public companies with $1 billion in revenue that do business in California to report their Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. People want to report the lowest emissions possible. It is generally accepted to conduct the carbon accounting on a spend-based model, however, that tends to be a higher calculation. CSOs (chief sustainability officers) are requiring their teams to switch from spend-based to actual emissions because the companies have made net zero commitments. Until now, CSOs did not get to the granularity of events, but everything is on the table with the regulation.

Some might say, “We are not $1B in revenue,” but it still matters because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is likely going to implement a rule this year for all publicly held companies to report emissions at the federal level. In the EU, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) came into effect this year. This also requires companies to report their emissions. These were all put in place recently and the trickle-down effect has not been felt yet, but it is coming.

Obviously, this is mostly geared toward corporate planners, but association planners will need to understand their event’s footprint, too, so they can demonstrate to their sponsors and exhibitors that they are managing their events in the most sustainable way to keep them coming back. We have seen some corporations pull out of trade shows and cancel meetings because it tipped them over their carbon budget.

Finally, we have customers that are tying their team’s compensation to their ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) goals. The main component of that is emissions reduction. Reduction is a part of the KPIs to get their bonus. Measurement is how you create a baseline, and we need a baseline to reduce.

In what way is event carbon measurement misunderstood?

It is misunderstood because it is a new process in our business, and it can be hard to do. It is not easy to collect all the data from suppliers; it can take a lot of time and is one more thing for an event professional to do. However, if you plan for it like a financial budget, you can get your calculation. You must have the right partner, too, which costs money—and budgets are an issue. But to get the actual calculation, it is just asking a few more questions of your suppliers to provide data. I can tell you we are not there yet as an industry to provide this information. The last several events we have measured have taken twice as long because suppliers did not track certain things, or they flat out just did not respond. We provided a pre-event training and follow up multiple times, and it is still hard. It takes time and I think people are time starved.

Carbon measurement can seem like a daunting task. Is there a fairly simple way to get started down this path?

Like I said before, choosing the right partner. There are many out there. In fact, I sit on the Net Zero Carbon Events (NZCE) Standards of Measurement Working Group, and we are developing an industry calculation standard. We need to be measuring off the same base calculation. The standard will be presented at the upcoming COP28. We have evaluated over 40 tools out there, all varying in complexity. Yes, there are platforms out there that are great. I think one needs coaching when they have not done this before and having a partner that can help advise is key. But as I was told when I first started doing this: you must just start. This is new for everyone, and you just be a sponge is my motto.

Can you give us an example of successful measurement?

We partnered with Mastercard to measure the carbon footprint of an important internal meeting (see the case study). They wanted to understand the actual emissions, learn how to reduce and remeasure in year two. One of my favorite quotes from the planner is, “Because of this process, we think differently now.” To me that is a win. We have taught their team to design and plan more sustainably and it did make an impact to reduce emissions. To me, it is all about education and awareness. In my opinion, we, as an industry, must take this seriously and embrace the change or we will be told how events will be planned by regulation.

On a final note, there are so many great companies out there doing great things for the environment. It can be a very complicated task and I find that can overwhelm people. For me, humanizing a complicated subject can be helpful.



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Blair Potter

Blair Potter is director of media operations for MPI. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).