Can a conference ever be sustainable?

With long-haul travel necessary for so many international moving industry conferences, it is right to question the sustainability of holding so many of them. However, in the first of two opinion columns on the subject, Voerman’s Pauline Collins argues that we must also consider the environmental and other benefits of these events

There are so many reasons I love our industry: having a process to follow – although it can also be unpredictable; the people (clients, colleagues, and partners); and – an important one for me – the travel.

Before COVID, I was already familiar with working remotely, but this was usually broken up with visits to the office, and to our partners’ and clients’ offices. When these trips were no longer possible, it was a challenge. Connecting virtually was great, and because of the experience of the past three years I now make more of an effort to connect with colleagues and partners online -– but I missed that real-life connection. So, I was very excited when it was possible to travel again.

As an industry, COVID made us realise the importance of face-to-face connections, but how can we justify conference travel in a time when we are all working towards sustainability?

This question has been raised in several sessions I have attended recently. At Voerman, we are mindful of our 2023 business travel, so have created a spreadsheet detailing industry conventions, locations and dates. The result surprised us. It showed that attending conferences could be a full-time role. If we are working to be more sustainable, what place do our industry conferences have today? This is the question I asked myself and industry colleagues and friends.

Here are some of their responses:

  • Migrating our carbon footprint: By attending a conference such as FIDI’s, we can meet our trading partners in one location, which reduces the need for additional travel for one-off visits. We can also take advantage of these trips by scheduling meetings with our corporate clients, or visiting other local partners who may not be at the conference.
  • Sustainable business travel: As Voerman is a tri-regional organisation, we are reviewing the locations of each conference to explore the possibility of local employees attending. This could reduce the need for long-haul flights and give additional opportunities to our local employees. Perhaps your company will also allow you to stay on and take your vacation time in the conference location, reducing your personal carbon footprint.
  • Investment in our people: The world has changed over the past few years, and attracting and retaining talent is harder than ever. There is no better forum than our conferences to show our future talent what we love about our industry and get them engaged. Travel provides life experiences, which is a great selling point when attracting new staff to our industry.
  • Relationships: Conferences are perfect for forming meaningful relationships and friendships outside of the day-to-day routine. These relationships help us execute flawless relocations, and become even more vital at times when they are not flawless.
  • Training and knowledge: In addition to the business meetings and social activities, keynote and other speakers presenting at conventions offer good learning opportunities. We are also given opportunities to support the local communities in the conference locations: think FIDI 39 Club’s beach clean-up days and LACMA’s Techo initiative.
  • Industry associations: We are aware that the moving and relocation associations are collaborating on sustainability and, going forward, we expect to see the results on conference schedules. This includes scheduling them in the same locations within the same, or overlapping, timeframes, to reduce the need for back-and-forth travel.

We also need to be considerate with our personal travel, and there are many websites and online articles to help us. Suggestions include:

  • Choosing a destination that values sustainability.
  • Considering how you travel – for example, look for carriers that use aviation biofuels – KLM, United, Qantas – and fly direct whenever possible; use alternative transport and a sustainable travel agent.
  • Booking eco-conscious accommodation – websites such as bookdifferent.com suggest sustainable destinations and will calculate your carbon footprint.
  • Support local economies and opt for sustainable activities, or activities that support the local community.
  • Leave a place better than you found it. A well thought out conference can benefit our employees, companies and industry – and help us be more sustainable. We just need to be more mindful when planning travel in the future.
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