3 Ways to Frame Virtual Events as Sustainable Events

March 10, 2022
Virtual wine tasting dinner event online.

Did you get the memo? The inaugural Business Events Industry Week is just a week or so away. Scheduled for March 23-25, the week will be packed with events dedicated to the business events industry and reinforcing the power it has on advancing economies and social good!

We hope you are already making plans to join in solidarity with PCMA and IAEE to celebrate those of you who have given it your all the past two years. We know we are!

I know it may seem counter intuitive, but we wanted to take this opportunity to talk virtual events, because we see virtual events as having components that do contribute to social good.

We know, we know, we know. You’re fed up with virtual events. As sustainability efforts wash more permanently over the travel industry, however, it’s important to remember the ways that our virtual meetings have created more sustainable events. All that sitting in front of screens with dozens of tiny faces staring back has actually contributed to the greater good.

Sustainability isn’t just about being green and eco-friendly, either. That’s a big part of it, but we’re thinking bigger than just the environment to explore the benefits that virtual events have brought to the people who attend, too.

We’re past the point where virtual events will go away entirely. But we need to remember that they are vital components of the MICE industry these days. We’ll never go back to a world where in-person conferences eschew a virtual component, so let’s celebrate what this cultural shift has done for us.

It’s not just about being better overall. We need to change the way we approach virtual events if we want people to attend our events in the first place. One study suggests that simply having and mediating a positive attitude about online events will help increase attendance, so as DMOs and convention bureaus let’s put on our happy faces, shall we?

1. Travel emissions are down

It’s not all about the environment, sure, but the benefits are clear. As one recent study highlighted, an online conference produced 66 times less greenhouse emissions than an in-person event. Creating virtual options for meetings and events cuts down on the travel needed to get to a destination, which means less emissions.

Let’s not pretend that cutting back on events will fix global warming, but creating a conference culture that acknowledges its role is already a positive step.

2. Paper and materials are down

Business cards. Printed brochures. Glossy programs. Forget it. Without in-person events, we can skip all of the paper waste that events inevitably produce. Even if it’s recyclable, it’s still generating emissions.

On top of that, imagine all the plastic cups and utensils, the napkins and plates, or the bottles and useless canvas bags we saved from landing in the landfill. It’s a perk to attend an event and score some swag and free food, but we rarely think of the waste we leave behind in the destination when we go overboard.

This approach to re-envisioning events has allowed DMOs to think twice before ordering too much swag or printing too many fliers.

3. Virtual events are more accessible

Beyond the environmental impact, remember how virtual events are servicing many delegates. Those who could not afford to attend now have options. Those who could not physically attend for a host of reasons can now participate. Those who may not yet have access to the COVID-19 vaccine can also be a part of a virtual or hybrid event. And yet, you have an opportunity to present your destination for consideration for a future trip.

These are all positive things to celebrate. With more possibilities for people to participate than ever before, the future of business travel is exciting, thanks to more sustainable events.

The counter arguments for virtual events are equally as profound. Having travelers attend in-person meetings generates revenue for local communities, creates strong bonds between those who attend, and are just overall more enjoyable. Still, let’s celebrate the positives where we can find them, to keep that positive attitude going strong when virtual events are the only option.

We’re getting back to in-person events, and virtual components are forever a part of what we do in the MICE industry. Moving forward, however, we all need to keep an open mind about the impact of our work, whether it’s online or off, to create more sustainable events however possible, without simply greenwashing what we do.

And the next time someone complains about having to do a virtual meeting, just remind them that the penguins and polar bears are thanking us.

For more than 60 years, DCI has been working with destinations to attract meeting and conference planners. Contact Stella Tsitsipatis at [email protected] to learn more about how to create buzz among decision makers worldwide.