By Flox founders Alistair Bryan and Jaie Genadt
Since the carbon footprint of COP26 was considered to be as much as twice that of COP25, and flight use (necessarily) soaring for COP27 in remote Sharm El Sheikh, traveling to events of any type has come under increased scrutiny. So much so that campaigners are arguing for a tax on people who fly a lot, as well as those using private jets.
With this political idea gaining traction in some EU countries – for example, France banned the use of domestic short haul flights from April 2022, if a train or bus alternative of two and a half hours or less exists – many firms are looking at ways to reduce their Scope 3 emissions by slashing travel. Zoom fatigue is real and most of us as re-embracing the presence and proximity with other delegates that physical events give us, many are looking for a way to have the best of both worlds: the ability to be there, but without damaging the environment even more.
Step forward the metaverse. Don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest you buy 20,000 VR headsets and ship them to delegates. Nor am I suggesting you step into some Meta controversy. Instead, virtual events, such as those run by Flox, offer a way to meet and engage with colleagues and peers across the globe in VR, from your laptop or tablet without a headset. A little like Roblox or even Fortnite, your avatar – complete with your physical likeness – inhabit 3D space.
With global brands like Molson Coors already shifting some of their global events to virtual ones, or extending them to hybrid versions to cut costs – as well as boost sustainability, diversity and inclusion – what are the key motivations for doing so?
1. Physical events emit too much carbon dioxide
With around 1.5 billion people attending events every year (Event Industry Council: Global
Meeting Significance), the carbon footprint is significant. Building sets, setting up the stages, transporting all the equipment, providing food and drink and people traveling, often long distances to the events and finding accommodation, not to mention the use of virgin and single-use plastics in-event…it all adds up to a Gordian knot of unsustainable supply chain issues.
There are ways to decrease the impact and ISO14001 has helped with standard setting for this. Increasingly to meet the challenge of the climate crisis however, companies will need to find ways to reduce this impact, as part of their commitment to Scope 3.
2. Environmental reporting is increasing
Though COP is in the headlines once again, focus on the environmental footprint of events is increasing, with organisations – and their sustainability claims – under increasingly intense scrutiny. Take the Qatar World Cup 2022. The Carbon Market Watch’s report into Qatar 2022’s climate credentials, said that carbon neutrality claims were “misleading and dishonest about the true climate impact that the event will have.” Indeed, more experts have echoed this to sour the organisers’ carbon neutrality narrative.
For corporates, the UN is currently asking 200 top global companies to start to report on the environmental impact of their events. UNFCCC and UNENV are due to issue frameworks to the event industry on measuring impact.
Encouragingly, a recent Cornell University study found that switching from in-person to virtual and hybrid conferencing has significant emissions reduction benefits—moving to virtual can reduce the carbon footprint by 94%, and for hybrid, by 67% (while maintaining more than 50% in-person attendance).
3. Virtual events are making Zoom look as modern as fax machines
Thankfully the technology available to make virtual events a viable alternative is here. Virtual events offer attendees presence and proximity of being in the same space (unlike Zoom’s separate space), albeit with an avatar of your choice. Of course, today, that avatar can have a brilliant likeness of your face, adding to the ‘as real’ feeling.
For some it can take a little getting used to at first, though not for those who play Fortnite, Roblox or even Call of Duty online with friends scattered around town, country or the world.
Many people who we work with at FLOX, including the senior marketing team Molson Coors, think it’s the future. You can quickly get all the people that you need in one virtual space, without the travel, cost or jet lag. For another large global drinks brand, we held an event which had a huge sustainability impact. Based on the average attendee of its physical event, we saved 338 metric tonnes of CO2 (750kgs), with 2,800 people attending virtually.
Whether it’s a trade show or trade marketing briefing, a fashion show or a trends presentation, virtual events offer an incredible opportunity to step into the metaverse now.