The Changes Needed to Become a Trailblazer in 2023

Lara Owen Reporter, C&IT
The Changes Needed to Become a Trailblazer in 2023

Technology and sustainability are buzzwords in the events industry. But what can we actually do to achieve innovative and sustainable results?

At IBTM World in November, it was evident that the hot topics on everyone’s minds were technology and sustainability; how to keep events relevant and valuable, whilst being environmentally conscious. The ultimate takeaway of the event is that technology and sustainability go hand in hand, and in order to be innovative in your future events you must always think of the two in tandem and not as dichotomies. 

It is a basic objective that organisations are aiming to be net zero by 2030. CEO of UFI, Kai Hattendorf, noted that in order for this to happen, systematic change is needed. For Hattendorf, it is crucial that all industries - from event planners to stakeholders to supply chains - come together and form their own ecosystem.

During ‘The Countdown to Decarbonising Your Events’, Hattendorf carried out a live poll which asked members to rank workstreams in order of importance for their organisation’s Net Zero Carbon journey. 62% of people ranked travel and accommodation as the highest priority, following that 33% jointly ranked production and food waste as the next most prominent issues. 

When discussing production and food waste, members of the audience wanted to know how event organisers can reduce what they’re putting in their shows without reducing their show. Helen Sheppard, Sustainability Director for RX Global, stated that, “Most waste comes from either the food or the servingware. We should ensure using the simple things, like using glassware as opposed to paper or plastic cups. Little changes have a big impact.”

Making these little changes is a simple starting point, but there’s further steps event organisers can take, as Sheppard noted, “I know a lot of venues are starting to partner with nonprofits to be able to donate food that hasn’t been used to local shelters.” Sheppard was keen to add, “we can’t boil the ocean, it’s about trying out little things that will add up to having a big impact.”

When discussing the paramount issue of travel, Head of M&E Sustainability at American Express Meetings and Events, Eloisa Urrutia stated that, “It’s not about meeting or travelling less, it’s about travelling smarter. We know we don’t have a short term solution with travel and air travel”, in the meantime however, Urrutia urges event planners to “partner with airlines that use sustainable aviation fuel, and push the airlines to commit to this.” Urrutia went on to note, “Short term we should apply best practices such as choosing a destination with smarter and optimised routes or select the airlines that have newer aircrafts - newer aircrafts can reduce the carbon emission of travel up to 20 and 30%.”

In his talk, ‘There’s no way back: Creating experiences for a changing world’, Kim Myrhe, the Managing Director at Experience Designed, followed on from Urrutia’s suggestions, stating that the key to cutting carbon emissions surrounding event travel is to think more creatively about the demographic of your events and the demand for live or virtual meetings. 

Myrhe stated that technology is now a synonym for community. Technology is the most efficient - in terms of effort and financial ease - and sustainable way to bring communities together and is ultimately the inevitable future of events. 

Myrhe noted that 41% of the current global population is aged 24 or under and these are the people now entering the workforce who have grown up with technology, stating, “we don’t work or network the same way, we always talk about these conferences being big networking opportunities, but hundreds of millions of linkedin and twitter users are communicating daily.” 

On the note of technology facilitating and creating community, Zoom allows congregations of people to come together to share an experience that would otherwise be impossible. Myhre uses the example of 200,000 Thai Buddhists marking the holy day via video link and noted, “being online as well as in person is a necessity, not just a nicety now.” The notion of engaging in person and concentrating on the speaker, then taking notes later when you can watch the talk virtually, is now a fundamental element of event experience.

Myhre notes that there are trade offs, as nothing will ever replace physical human connection. However, he suggests that a sustainable and cost effective starting point is to have this as a general rule: make world wide events online and make regional events in person. Myrhe suggests that we must avoid myopic thinking, as it’s vital to recognise that technology can be really powerful, and we mustn’t disregard the metaverse just yet. We should strive toward innovation, and the first step is making contemporary technology the norm of event experience.

Anne McElvoy, Policy Editor at The Economist, predicts travel spending among working professionals will regain its pre-pandemic 2019 levels of 1.4 trillion dollars. However, the number of tourist trips will still be lower than 2019 figures, as people will be travelling for longer and adding multiple destinations to one trip. This is due to the principles of value and climate being top priorities for businesses and travellers. 

Therefore, both Myrhe’s and McElvoy’s talks suggest that if you are going to hold in person live events, there are two fundamentals that you should follow. Firstly, make the event accessible in the area that you are hosting: good local transport links or organised car pools are essential. Secondly, make the event more interactive by giving a variety of experiences within the content supplied - not just talks. This gives a sense of depth for the attendees and caters to the notion of value.

From the talks supplied by these experts at IBTM world, it is apparent that implementing small changes and creating innovative virtual events with the latest technology are the first vital steps to become a cutting-edge trailblazer of 2023 events.