Sustainable conferences: part 2

Continuing the conversation in our second column on the sustainability of industry events, Alfa Mobility’s Mikko Loikkanen says there is much more organisers can do to boost the environmental credentials of moving-sector conferences

FIDI Secretary General Jesse van Sas raised a point in his recent article ‘Putting your money where your mouth is ’that was on my mind at the end of 2022. This was when my social media feed started to fill up with pictures of people at airports and in aeroplanes posting how they were travelling from all over the world, looking forward to meeting old friends and connections at one of the many US-based mobility-related conferences and RMC meetings.

For some, this meant ‘four weeks of rather uncoordinated travelling, with little or no respect for the time commitment and the environmental impact’. In an industry that is trying hard to transform its environmental sustainability, can we really justify all this travel?

While Jesse’s article was focused on the struggles of uncoordinated meeting schedules and the associated sporadic travel requirements in the US, we should also consider the environmental consequences of us participating in, and organisations hosting, such events, so we can continue to enjoy them in the future with a clear conscience.

Undoubtedly, this is a different context, but just look at the annual backlash when world leaders and elites take hundreds of private flights into Davos for the World Economic Forum to discuss, among other topics, climate change.

According to Greenpeace,‘ researchers found that all private jet flights to and from airports serving Davos during the World Economic Forum 2022 caused a total of 9,700 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the emissions of about 350,000 average cars in a week ’. The shortest flight taken was just 21km! Not exactly setting an example of best practice.

It does go to show, however, that – no matter how good your intentions – you must be mindful of how you do business. Will there be a time when flying to events will be seen as socially unacceptable?

We movers probably don’t fly around in private jets all that much, but it is inevitable that, as a member of a global industry, we need to travel. Meeting face to face is essential to building and maintaining relationships, so what should organisations do to arrange conferences in a sustainable way?

Jesse asked if we could be more efficient by, for example, combining events and meetings.

With many moving companies being members of multiple organisations, is there really any value in meeting the same people back to back at different venues?

This spring, for example – without pointing fingers at them specifically – the IMA, FIDI and OMNI conferences are within three weeks of each other, but attending all three will require flying from Bali to Bangkok to Da Nang, with the flight time between the last two just an hour and 40 minutes.

Alternative public transport options seem to be unavailable – so is it a lesser evil to do all three because you’re already there, or attend just one ?

It’s not the events themselves that are the main issue; it’s the emissions generated by travelling to and from them – Scope 3 emissions that we try so hard to measure and reduce, and have perhaps even incorporated into sustainable travel policies.

But does policy get thrown out the door when registration for the next event opens and international flights need to be booked?

I accept that not all conferences can be held conveniently in Helsinki, so I can ride my bike to the venue. Some years, there will inevitably be more travel than others. A logical reason for spreading out conferences to different locations around the world has been to provide equal opportunities for members to participate. As an attendee, I can choose to participate or not based on my own assessment of cost, time and the environmental impact.

Perhaps we shouldn’t let organisers off the hook that easily though. Should they start factoring in which location is most environmentally economical for attendees to reach; which venues provide the most sustainable offering; what side events might be linked to the main event – and who the stakeholders might be so they can be included in the overall planning.

Could organisers incentivise attendees who choose more eco-friendly ways of travelling to and from the event? That really would be putting your money where your mouth is.

So, should we continue to meet face to face at events? Most of us have nothing against that. Should we start to be more conscious about our own business travel when it comes to the big, annual ‘must attend’ conferences?

Absolutely – just as we should be voicing our expectations to organisations that arrange these events. As participants, we can then vote with our wallets.

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