To be in the business of events in 2020 is the equivalent of owning shares in Blockbuster back in 2010. Covid-19 has upended the way we live, work and socialise faster than you can say ‘Netflix and chill’, and the event industry has been hit hard. Really hard.
The experience economy will be worth $12bn by 2023, and, until this year, it was growing by 8% annually.
Events bring people together. They educate, empower and inspire audiences. Events can spark social movements. They can raise profits and build brand awareness.
But events are also the fifth biggest polluter on the planet, sending over 4bn tonnes of waste to landfill and emitting 3bn tonnes of CO2 every year.
As a result of the lockdown, we have seen a dramatic global reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Air quality has increased and Instagram feeds are populated with appreciations of nature.
While this by no means should undermine the devastating human cost of the virus – as well as the repercussions on the global economy – it is often said that out of a crisis comes opportunity for transformation.
With this in mind, could it be time to kickstart a rapid shift towards making our industry more sustainable? If so, what could the landscape of the event industry look like post-lockdown?
Innovative brands have already pivoted their events into virtual experiences, connecting with their customers through webinars and online conferences. As we come out of the pandemic, we will see the hybridisation of live events, connecting smaller and localised events to a wider audience through online streaming.
Not only is this cost-effective in a time of economic instability, it’s commercially and environmentally sustainable, providing the opportunity for mass participation and distribution of content on a global scale, alongside a reduced carbon footprint.
Until we have a global vaccine for the coronavirus, it's unlikely that international events will take place. Travel bans, varying policies country-to-country and the risk to people is too great. Moving out of the pandemic, the cost of air travel may increase, meaning the trend for internationally accessible virtual events may continue.
When travel does become practical again, carbon offsetting should be agreed with clients and built into budgets from the outset, investing in projects such as reforestation.
Materials and production
There will most likely be restrictions on which materials can be purchased from overseas. The cost of shipping will almost certainly increase after Covid-19. Businesses will need to look for suppliers locally while rethinking how they obtain the resources required in order to design and deliver their events.
Now is the time to look beyond simply banning plastic straws and bring innovative materials to the table that don’t cause long term damage, such as Mycelium Composite. Check out industry leaders such as Ecobooth and Smile Plastics, who are turning plastic pollution into production builds.
Social sustainability promotes the wellbeing of people, and communities and should be at the heart of every decision that we make and every event we run. Transparency and clear communication around health and safety will be demanded at every event moving forward, meaning information required from participants is going to stretch the limits of privacy.
Access to live events will be tighter, requests may be made regarding the health and travel information of staff and participants. A system may be put into place to assess risk. With the outcome is yet to be known on immunity passports, proof of vaccine certificates or testing on-site, this is a sensitive area that will need to be regulated closely.
The Harvard Business Review recently outlined evidence that companies that make sustainability core to their business strategy are rewarded by loyalty from their employees, customers, investors and the communities in which they operate. Companies who look ahead to see how Covid-19 and sustainable innovations on climate change can drive innovation and inspire new business models, products and service will determine the future winners and losers in the marketplace.
Those that prosper will understand sustainability cannot exist in a vacuum and will use this time to invest in training their teams in new working practices that put economic, social, environmental and cultural concerns at the heart of how they deliver events. Training is permitted under furlough, so this could also be a useful way to keep up team morale
Ways of working that previously seemed unattainable, now feel within reach. Now is the time to reorganise and restructure all that we know – to reassess our company values and priorities and to remodel our approaches towards producing events.
Selina Donald is a sustainability consultant, event producer and co-founder of The Bulb