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More sustainability at events - Interview with Jessica Wyrsch from Vermena

Jessica Wyrsch from Davos has been working in the event industry for more than 10 years. She is the co-founder of Vermena, a company specializing in carbon offsetting for events. In our interview, Jessica provides valuable insights into this topic.

June 4, 2024
8 min
People with laptops and evaluations
Jessica Wyrsch
Marc Blindenbacher
People with laptops and evaluations

Jessica, how did you get involved in sustainability at events?

That's an interesting question! My fascination with sustainability in events was sparked by a number of factors. First of all, events accounted for 10% of all global emissions in 2020 - that's a huge amount. At the time, it was mainly international conferences that contributed to this, due to the high level of travel by attendees*.

Sustainability is therefore a hot topic, especially in the EU. For example, there has been a new law (CSRD law) since the beginning of this year, which obliges companies above a certain size to produce a sustainability report. I found this very exciting and thought about how this will play out in the event world.

The decisive moment, however, was when I was working at a conference that focused on sustainability. There I saw impressive examples and best practices on how to make events more environmentally friendly. This inspired and motivated me to take a closer look at this topic and consider how I could contribute to making events more sustainable myself.

Since then, I have continued my education, exchanged ideas with experts and integrated sustainable concepts into my own work. It is incredibly satisfying to see how small changes can have a big positive impact and how awareness of sustainability is growing in the event industry.

What motivated you to work with Vermena to help companies calculate sustainability reports?

Anyone who works in the event world knows how many resources are consumed at events and the impact this has on the environment. Events also say a lot about a company's image. As soon as we see a plastic cup at an event, we judge the company and are quick to say "they're not as sustainable as they say they are". But there are a lot of factors to consider that are not always visible to the eye.

A few more points that were crucial:

1. The growing importance of sustainability

For customers, investors and regulators who increasingly expect transparent and credible sustainability reporting. We recognize that many companies need assistance in preparing these reports accurately and effectively.

2. Expertise and experience

We specialize in helping companies understand and communicate their environmental and social impacts. This aligns perfectly with the needs of companies that want to improve their sustainability performance and make it transparent.

3. Influence on society

By helping companies prepare sustainability reports, we help promote and disseminate sustainable practices. This not only has a positive impact on the environment and society, but also strengthens companies' financial position in the marketplace.

Each event is unique, so calculating emissions seems like a big challenge. How do you go about it?

Our approach to calculating emissions involves several steps to ensure that we perform the most accurate and comprehensive analysis possible:

1. Data collection

First, we collect detailed information about the event. This includes information about the number of attendees, venue, duration, attendee transportation, energy use, catering, waste management, and materials used for the event. The more accurate the data, the more accurate the emissions calculation.

2. Calculation of emissions

For each category, we use specific emission factors based on scientific data and accepted standards. We may adjust the emission factors for the country in which the event takes place to make the report accurate.

3. Use of our Vermena platform

We use specialized software that automates the calculation of emissions and increases the accuracy of the results. This platform can handle complex data volumes and reduces the error rate.

4. Validation of the results

Once the emissions have been calculated, we check the results for plausibility and compare them to similar events and benchmark data. This helps us identify any discrepancies and ensure that the calculations are correct.

5. Reporting and communication

Finally, we produce a detailed report that presents the event's emissions in a transparent manner. The report includes not only the total emissions, but also a breakdown by category and recommendations for reducing emissions at future events.

By taking this structured approach, we can ensure that event emissions are calculated as accurately as possible and provide event organizers with valuable insights and recommendations on how to make their events more sustainable.

Will requiring attendees to provide travel information be a barrier to event registration?

For participants, this data is collected relatively unobtrusively, and participants are often not even aware that there are sustainability questions on the event registration form. Nevertheless, participants are willing to act in an environmentally responsible manner and even see it as positive that the organizer is actively addressing environmental issues.

From the organizer's point of view, the effort to generate information for CO2 calculations is minimal. A good analysis is often done with 1-2 questions in the event registration.

Since the pandemic, the number of physical events has increased dramatically. On the other hand, almost every company has learned to hold events online. What do you recommend when it comes to choosing an event format from a sustainability perspective?

Choosing an event format with sustainability in mind should be carefully considered, as both physical and online events have their own environmental footprints and benefits. Here are some recommendations to help you make a sustainable decision:

Online events are ideal for events where the primary purpose is knowledge transfer, networking, or training and participants are geographically dispersed. Online events eliminate travel emissions and significantly reduce energy consumption.

Physical events are useful when face-to-face interaction, hands-on workshops, or the networking experience is critical.

One option is to organize hybrid events. This can combine the best of both formats by integrating both physical and virtual elements. Participants can choose to attend in person or online, increasing flexibility and reach while reducing environmental impact.

By calculating the carbon footprint of both formats, you can compare the environmental impact. Although online events have a lower carbon footprint because they avoid travel and lodging emissions, the emissions are not zero. It is important to do a good analysis of what you as an organizer want to achieve with the event and to make conscious decisions.

Can you give us some simple examples of how event managers can address sustainability?

Sure, here are a few good examples of how you can easily incorporate sustainability into events:

Sustainability measures for physical events:

1. Transportation

Encourage green travel options such as public transportation or carpooling. Provide virtual attendance options for remote participants.

2. Venue

Select environmentally certified venues that support sustainable practices such as recycling, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. Select venues that are easily accessible by public transportation.

3. Catering

Focus on local, organic, and vegetarian/vegan options to minimize the environmental impact of catering.

4. Materials

Avoid digital tickets and programs, reusable materials, and single-use plastics.

Technological efficiency for online events:

1. Optimized use of servers

Only use the servers when they are actually needed in order to minimize energy consumption.

2. Careful selection of streaming services

Favor green IT solutions and renewable energy providers.

3. Encourage interactivity and engagement

Use innovative online tools to enhance the participant experience and reduce the need for physical meetings.

Can you give us examples of where you have already implemented such measures?

In our report, which is automatically generated by the platform, we give direct recommendations on how to minimize the event's carbon footprint. Good examples are the reuse of furniture, the choice of materials, or it can be as simple as showing how many emissions can be saved by opting for a buffet instead of served meals.

How can sustainability success be measured?

This is a great question because there are many ways to measure success.

Here are some key methods and metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts:

1. Before-after or year-to-year comparison

This allows organizers to compare sustainability with last year's event or even during the event if some steps have already been taken to reduce CO2 emissions.

2. Energy savings

Organizers can measure energy consumption before, during and after the event and compare to previous events to quantify savings.

3. Waste reduction and recycling

Track the amount of waste generated and the percentage that is recycled. The goal should be to reduce the amount of residual waste and increase the amount that is recycled.

4. Use of disposable materials

By counting the number of disposable materials used and gradually reducing them.

5. Food waste

By measuring the amount of food wasted and implementing measures to reduce it.

6. Participants' means of travel

By collecting data on participants' travel methods and promoting environmentally friendly alternatives (public transportation, bicycles, or carpooling).

7. Sustainability certifications

Certifying events to recognized sustainability standards such as ISO 20121 or EMAS provides an objective measure of the success of sustainability efforts.

8. Create a sustainability report

Report that documents all sustainability measures and their results. Publication of this report helps ensure transparency and visibility of achievements.

How do you see the future of sustainability in the events industry? What trends and developments do you anticipate?

The future of sustainability in the events industry will be driven by technological innovation and increasing stakeholder pressure. Advanced software solutions for accurate emissions calculation and real-time tracking will enable event organizers to make more sustainable decisions and continuously improve their performance. At the same time, increasing expectations from customers, regulators and investors will drive demand for greener practices. As a result, the events industry will become increasingly transparent and sustainable, giving companies a competitive edge and a positive public image.

Jessica, thank you very much for this exciting interview. We wish you a lot of success with Vermena.

* Source: Tao, Y., Steckel, D., Klemeš, J. J. & You, F. (2021). Trend towards virtual and hybrid conferences may be an effective climate change mitigation strategy. Nature Communications.

Vermena provides automated CO2 calculations and reports for events.

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