How to Reduce Your Event’s Carbon Footprint & Still Have An Impact 

As much of the world learns to live with the COVID-19 virus, large events and conferences are making a comeback. 

But hosting events can come with a hefty environmental price tag if adequate measures aren’t taken to offset their impact. 

From air travel to enormous food waste, events can leave behind a substantial carbon footprint, especially when it comes to hosting large-scale events. It’s no surprise that carbon emissions fell by 5.4% in 2020 during the pandemic. 

One way event organisers are overcoming these challenges is by hosting hybrid events, while also finding ways to minimise environmental impact during in-person conferences.   

As industry leaders look for ways to incorporate sustainability into their business models, we’re going to take a look in this article at some efficient and eco-friendly methods that can be used to offset the environmental impact of large events. 

The environmental impact of large-scale events

Large Scale Events

Before planning a carbon-neutral event, it’s important to understand how large-scale events impact the environment.

From energy to travel, events can leave a substantial carbon footprint, damaging the communities in which they’re held and contributing to environmental damage further afield: 

  • Travel and transport. If you’re hosting an event, it’s likely that most attendees won’t live in the local community. Attendees will typically arrive either by car, train, bus, or air travel, all of which contribute to the carbon emissions of an event. 
  • Waste. From food to plastic cups, there’s no shortage of unnecessary waste at large events. During a typical event, carbon emissions are racked up by the transportation of caterers, the food itself, alongside any food wasted during the event. Not to mention the paper waste: event programmes, event passes, lanyards, and printed schedules. 
  • Music and video projection. While perhaps minuscule in comparison to the emissions generated by air travel, audio and video projection (along with the equipment used to power them) can still rack up your event’s emissions.
  • Lighting. Lighting large-scale events can increase your carbon footprint, which is why many event planners are now switching to venues that use LED lighting exclusively.
  • Energy. Whether you’re heating your venue or using air conditioning to keep it cool, the average event will typically lead to excessive energy consumption. 

Understanding and minimising your event’s carbon footprint

If you want to organise a sustainable event, it’s important to assess several key factors during the event planning process. Making these calculations beforehand will help you to find easy reductions where possible. 


Your event’s location will possibly be the most deciding factor when it comes to assessing event emissions. Before picking a location, you should think about the following questions:

  • Is the event’s venue easily reachable via public transport?
  • Will attendees be obliged to travel by air or water to reach the event’s destination?
  • Does the city’s infrastructure include an accessible rail system?
  • Will the event have a negative or positive impact on the local community? (noise, overwhelming local infrastructure, etc.)

Powering your venue

Powering your venue will also rack up carbon emissions: according to estimations, the events industry in the UK emits around 1.2 million tonnes of carbon per year via the use of diesel generators alone.  

For a sustainable alternative, commit to using green sources of energy. This means picking a venue that is either already equipped with – or willing to use – renewable energy to light and heat the building. 

Recycling waste

Large events generate massive amounts of food and paper waste, but there are plenty of green solutions to help offset and minimise waste generated.

When it comes to food waste, you could try to source food from local suppliers or caterers, cutting back on transportation emissions while stimulating the local economy. 

In addition to this, you could offer guests a vegan or vegetarian menu, increasing consciousness about the environmental consequences of meat consumption. 

When it comes to paper waste, you could also cut back on things like event programmes, instead switching to digital files that event attendees can download with a QR code. 

You could also make your event plastic-free: not only is this environmentally friendly, but it also saves on cost. Microsoft has saved around $600,000 by banning plastic water bottles alone from their events, with the corporation making a commitment to be carbon-negative by 2030. 

Switch to a hybrid event for some events

One of the easiest ways to offset your event’s carbon emissions is by switching to a digital or hybrid event. Not only does this offset greenhouse gas emissions by reducing travel, but it also sets an example within your industry to prioritise sustainable thinking and green events. If it isn’t necessary for your conference or event to be in-person, switch to a hybrid event and allow remote attendance via virtual link. Not only does this help to offset your carbon footprint by eliminating air travel to and from the event, but it also widens the audience for your event, allowing attendees from all over the world to participate. 

Go carbon neutral 

Going carbon neutral is a realistic and sustainable way to minimise the environmental impact of your event. Going carbon neutral means finding ways to compensate for the output of greenhouse gas emissions by making reductions elsewhere.  

Planning and running carbon neutral events

It’s impossible to run a green event without substantial planning. In order to identify areas of reduction, you’re going to need to calculate the environmental impact of your event beforehand. 

You can calculate your event’s carbon footprint by using various online tools, while also hiring independent contractors who can estimate the environmental cost of your event. You can calculate the impact of your event based on the following factors:

  • How long your event will last
  • Where your event takes place
  • What kind of energy your event will be using
  • Travel to and from your event
  • Energy use
  • Food planning

Which areas contribute the most to an event’s carbon footprint?

In general, the largest contributing factors to your carbon emissions will be travel and your event’s location.

  • Travel. Flying on a commercial plane racks up around 250 kg of CO2 per hour. Multiply this by the number of guests attending your event to understand the impact of air travel on your carbon footprint.
  • Location. Your location is going to play a decisive factor when it comes to energy efficiency. This means picking a venue that uses renewable energy, and choosing a city with a functional, modernised local power grid. 

Final Thoughts

An event is never going to be completely carbon negative, but you can take initiatives to ensure that you’re not racking up a hefty carbon footprint during the planning stage. Events are part of our corporate and personal lives, and there’s no way for us to eliminate them entirely.

Instead, taking green initiatives can help minimise their impact. From investing in recyclable materials to committing to using green sources of energy to power your venue, there are lots of steps that can be taken to ensure that your event is in alignment with your company’s eco-friendly values. 

You can also opt for a digital, hybrid event if an in-person conference isn’t necessary: digital events are efficient and sustainable, and allow you to focus on reducing remaining carbon emissions while incorporating an eco-friendly ethos into your business model.

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