Meeting on the Green Side Is Easier Than Ever

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

Conference on inclusion and diversity in student mobility, October 3, 2022, Brussels, Belgium (Photo by Erasmus Student Network International, a nonprofit student organisation, one of Europe’s largest) Creative Commons via Flickr

BONN, Germany, October 23, 2022 – Meetings, gatherings, conferences, summits, festivals, forums, caucuses, councils – large and small, events can be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts. Now a new, free online tool offers user-friendly solutions that can be used to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help reach climate goals.

First introduced at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 26 in Glasgow last year, the new Green Events Tool (GET) can improve the sustainability of these gatherings.

As the tool was unveiled to the general public on September 14, the GET partners invited any organization with a unique domain name to sign up to use GET without charge to green their meetings.

GET is the outcome of close collaboration among three partners – two United Nations agencies: UN Environment (UNEP) and UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) based in Qatar.

GORD, a member of the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, is a nonprofit organization spearheading the sustainability of the MENA region, countries in and around the Middle East and North Africa.

Headquartered in Qatar Science and Technology Park, GORD drives the transformation of societies, industries, and the built environment with R&D, standards setting, green buildings certification, accreditation services, voluntary carbon markets, performance testing, knowledge dissemination and advisory services on sustainability and climate change in line with Qatar National Vision 2030 and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“GET’s intrinsic value lies in simplifying the arduous processes needed to evaluate and improve events’ sustainability profiles,” explained Dr. Yousef Alhorr, a Qatari environmentalist and materials engineer who serves as GORD’s founding chairman and also as adviser for sustainablity of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, among a host of other environmental roles.

Dr. Alhorr is keeping his eye on the multitude of meetings happening as this year’s UN climate conference nears. COP27 is scheduled for Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18.

“Last year at COP26,” Dr. Alhorr said in September, “we together introduced this forward-looking solution to the world. As COP27 draws closer, we are proud to deliver on our promise and offer an end-to-end solution aimed at greening the events globally. Between COP26 and now, GET has undergone extensive road testing from various organizations and event organizers. The fact that the portal is ready in less than a year after initial introduction is a testament to the stakeholders’ dedication and commitment to climate action and sustainability.”

“GET’s web portal has been developed through a highly process-centric and transparent approach. And while its planning and development has taken years of research and hard work, GET’s intrinsic value lies in simplifying the arduous processes needed to evaluate and improve events’ sustainability profiles,” Dr. Alhorr said.

There are other online climate footprint calculators and sustainabilty assessors – Greenly for businesses, Watershed for financial institutions, OneClick LCA for architects, designers and constructors, the nonprofit Global Foodprint Network, which offers customized calculators and sustainability assessments free to the user, paid for by donations – among others.

The Sustainable Event Alliance is a professional guild for event sustainability practitioners, specialists, organisations, venues, and suppliers. They are on a “fast track” to zero-waste, climate-positive events.

And don’t forget Members United for Sustainable Events (MUSE), with a triple bottom line: People. Planet. Profit. This group points out that a two-day conference with 1,000 guests emits more carbon dioxide (CO2) than 200 American homes emit in a year.

“A sustainable event sends a powerful message that an organization is socially and environmentally responsible,” MUSE USA says on its website.
And the Washington, DC-based Events Industry Council has a new set of standards for sustainable meetings that it is promoting online.  The Council’s fees are based on the complexity of the auditing requirements and size of the organization or event.

The Green Events Tool is unique in its reach and accessibility.

“Born as a project to help the UN system plan and deliver more sustainable events, the Green Events Tool has evolved to become an instrument available to all interested stakeholders globally,” Conor Barry, manager at UNFCCC said. “We hope that it will contribute to reducing the impact of the events we all deliver and look forward to users’ feedback to keep improving and expanding it.”

Whether an event is personal, corporate or public, the tool does not require any specific expertise to be used, ensuring broad accessibility. It includes features such as a sustainability checklist for users to select various “greening” actions relevant to their specific event within their available resources.

Exhibitors at the 2023 ConsumerElectronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January will feature sustainable technologies. (Graphic courtesy CES) Posted for media use.

To GET How It Works
GET is designed to be used throughout a project. The tool informs the planning stage of an event, the design of activities to improve sustainability, and adds credibility to communication activities as the event progresses from planning through activities to final outcome.

Greening an event involves using GET to look at transport, accommodation, catering, venues, energy use, and waste management.

GET operates on the idea that “sustainability of an event inherits from the sustainability practices of the organization which organizes it. Therefore, in this tool the assessment of the event sustainability starts from its roots: the organization’s management,” the GET website states.

In fact, organizational management is the first of 10 sustainability dimensions on the GET Event Sustainability Checklist used to evaluate events.

The rest of the Event Sustainability Checklist focuses on: communication and marketing, the supply chain, event management, social aspects, climate action, indoor environmental quality, energy, water and waste.

The Event Sustainability Checklist leads event organizers towards best practices for sustainability and also for climate change mitigation.

This is not an exact science. The sources of emissions should event organizers includeThis depends on the scope of the carbon footprint that the user defines. There is no globally accepted standard on how to set the boundaries for the GHG emissions of an event. The GET’s Carbon Footprint Calculator has been designed to adapt to different definitions of the boundaries of an event’s footprint. In this way, the calculations can be flexibly adapted to different methodologies or approaches.

For example, some event organizers may not consider emissions associated with air travel not paid by them. The GET’s calculator allows them to leave out this source of emissions from their calculation.

GET integrates a carbon footprint calculator, so that the greenhouse gas emissions created by an event can be evaluated.

Based on the event’s performance against the checklist, organizers can claim Green Event certification with Green, Bronze, Silver or Gold ratings.

All GET functions and services mentioned so far are available free of charge, but there are two situations in which the user pays a fee – a small fee for data storage of event information longer than 180 days, and a larger fee for third-party verification.

To ensure even higher credibility, if needed, GET users can choose to allow an event’s green performance to be verified by a third party, but there is a cost for this service because human resources are required for desk review and potential site visits by third-party verifiers. A third-party certificate provided by GORD is US$1,200 per person-day.

To GET Community Support
After implementing the tools’ suggestions to reduce the footprint and calculating the remaining emissions, event organizers can go farther and choose to make the event carbon neutral by compensating for the remaining emissions.

And finally, the Green Events Tool can help extend communication about these sustainability efforts to the surrounding community, when appropriate.

Social and community impacts of an event are often linked with labor standards, health and safety, civil liberties, social justice, local community concerns, indigenous  rights, cultural issues, accessibility, equity, heritage and religious sensitivities.

The GET system issues a certificate to help meeting organizers communicate, and through a final report that GET generates, the sustainability profile of an event can be shared easily and reliably with the community, government entities and any other interested parties.

Isabel Marras, a UNEP sustainable events specialist, confirmed her agency’s trust in the new tool and  explained how GET works for the United Nations. “The UN system has a firm commitment to reduce its climate and environmental footprint and to align with the UNFCCC recommendations to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Events are a key part of how the UN operates and delivers on its mandates. For this reason, the GET is a vital tool to assist the UN system in meeting its commitments and reporting responsibilities.”

“Beyond increasing environment sustainability, encouraging the use of virtual or hybrid events has the added benefits of increasing inclusiveness, accessibility and gender equality,” Marras said. “We are excited this tool is now available for organizations in the UN system and beyond.”

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