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Are hybrid events the key to a sustainable experience economy?

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Lively considers why a hybrid approach will be the most effective and sustainable way to reduce our carbon footprint

From travel to food and beverages, from venues and energy consumption to bulky signage and stands, from single use plastic to accommodation... all these elements add up to one big carbon footprint for live events, with significant greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2019 report found that the UK events industry emits 1.2bn kg of CO2e every year, according to Hope Solutions. As a wasteful industry there’s been an urgent need for the events sector to deal with environmental issues, giving rise to sustainable swag bags, paper-free events and eco-friendly venues.

In the last year, though, we’ve been more sustainable than ever before – ironically at a time when live events have been pretty much decimated. With much of the world confined to their homes, we’ve experienced virtual and hybrid events first hand.

They have brought an increased number of audiences and a wider, more diverse demographic together safely. There have been no limits on capacity, and virtual transcends geographies and time zones. They also offer more flexibility for delegates – if some sessions clash, they can join one as a live session and another on demand.

Why hybrid is here to stay

Yet the biggest impact could well be on your sustainability goals. In a virtual world, travel is off the agenda, removing what is arguably the biggest contributor to an event’s carbon footprint. Online events also eliminate those emissions associated with food waste as there is no large-scale catering, while the energy consumed at venues and accommodation is removed too. And with nothing to hand out and no signage to build and display, paper and plastic waste is also taken care of.

But let’s look at the bigger picture and the longer-term gains to be made. Hybrid event platforms can future-proof your business, now and for many years ahead, reducing costs while upping green credentials. The various Covid-19 lockdowns have prompted people to live more sustainably or to think harder about climate change. With many confined to their homes and with time on their hands, there has been ample opportunity to take a step back and evaluate current habits and future priorities. With this heightened awareness of sustainability, there is a need for everyone to be more efficient with their time and resources.

By using a hybrid platform, event organisers can help attendees meet these needs. You can deliver more content in multiple breakout rooms, whereas in-person events may have space restrictions. Events can therefore be shorter in length, and with on-demand sessions delegates can join when it suits them, maximizing their time and focus.

Best of both worlds

So what does a hybrid future look like? For a start, it’s happening now. Speakers, delegates and organizers no longer need to travel – although if it makes sense for speakers to gather in a studio setting, for example, this can take place locally, keeping travel and emissions to a minimum. The same goes for food wastage. Of course these elements could be removed entirely, but the point is that a hybrid platform can offer you the best of both virtual and live worlds – and it’s better for the environment too.

But with no physical spaces for branding, where does this leave sponsors? Can hybrid truly replicate the intimacy we crave from face-to-face events? It’s in our nature to be social, and events first and foremost bring people together to share experiences. Sponsors can have digitally-branded ‘spaces’ or partner with livestreams and Q&A sessions – in fact, virtual can increase your sponsors’ opportunities. We’ve seen this ourselves on our LiveFi platform, where we have hosted a number of events such as The Future is Lively, The Future of Music and Most Contagious.

For sponsors, there is less expenditure and heightened visibility, with access to a wider audience. Their presence can be extended beyond the event itself too, with sponsored on-demand sessions available at any time or exclusive follow-up content.

Memorable means sustainable

As an industry, our digital capabilities are now far more advanced than they were pre-pandemic and this can only be good news for the environment. Going virtual in the last year has forced us as an industry to be more innovative in order to deliver memorable, sustainable experiences.

And when live events get the green light, their impact on the environment is likely to be higher than pre-pandemic. We may need to factor in additional hygiene measures, which will come at a cost to the business and the environment. PPE, sanitation points, single use items for F&B – this all adds up to a whole lot more waste. All of which makes virtual platforms more attractive.

In the new normal, people increasingly will want this choice – to attend in person, virtually or in a hybrid format. Hybrid events can offer the most sustainable solution – combining the best of both virtual and live events but, crucially, giving people the choice.

With a 2030 deadline for delivering the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, there are only a few years left for businesses to take decisive action on sustainability and commit to reaching the targets.

Mike White is chief executive officer and co-founder at Lively.

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