Over the years, the success of large international conferences has been determined primarily by the number of participants. Undoubtedly, this measure of success came with an excessive carbon footprint and it was a challenge to find solutions without affecting the integrity of congresses.
Then the pandemic began, and immediately imposed an extreme change in the events industry. As public gatherings were banned, most congress organisers were forced to move their meetings online. However, despite the many challenges event planners were faced with, this time also served as a window of opportunity to address long-standing issues. One such great concern was sustainability associated with traditional conference formats. The entire world saw an immediate improvement in the air and water quality once travel was restricted, and no one wants to see these enhancements go to waste by simply returning to status quo post-pandemic. Conference organisers have a duty to make meetings more environmentally friendly. It is imperative to use this time to research, reflect, and promote changes that are to continue once the crisis is over. Now is the time to examine how online meeting formats can be leveraged to increase sustainable practices.
Virtual events, often praised for their lower environmental impact, have the advantage of reach wider audiences and provide affordable ways to share knowledge and research. Digital communication and the optimisation of mass travel are just two examples of actions we can take that would have a colossal impact, despite never being considered on a large-scale pre-pandemic. This additionally gives a greater push to have more initiatives planned for in-person events. Such can be having reusable giveaways or even leaving the swag bag and its items altogether optional or modifying dining practices to be eco-friendlier – all while integrating options for donation and collaboration with organisations, with the aim to leave a positive legacy to locals.
Since it will most likely take time to break the habit of social distancing, attendees may prefer smaller events. The conference industry can also benefit from this slow return to “normal” as a transition that provides time to implement new, better practices, and experiment at a scale.
There is a risk that once the pandemic is over, many will forget these lessons rushing to their pre-COVID lives. We need to act now. Plan new digital methods. Assess how we can improve knowledge sharing and research online and offline. This will help make conferences environmentally friendly in a way that can last. Adapting in-person conferences to virtual is an inspiration, and vital steppingstone to have better working practices for the future and to start fresh rather than worry over status quo.
What will in-person events look like after the pandemic? One thing is certain - there will be long lasting impacts. As the industry emerges from a global shutdown, we need to ensure that whatever the future holds, it is first and foremost more sustainable.
About Kenes Group
For over fifty years, Kenes Group has been creating success stories with associations around the world. We’re experts in helping associations reach their true potential by strategically building awareness, loyalty and satisfaction among current and potential members, as well as stakeholders. We harness the power of community, strengthening your association’s brand through unforgettable experiences - fostering change, inspiring members, educating, and improving your association’s business performance.
Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.