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CARBON FOOTPRINT AND CARBON NEUTRALITY

Transportation of participants and event organisers represents unmatched harm to the environment when organising events. In the case of Conventa, transport comprises 70% of the overall carbon footprint, amounting to 190 kilogrammes per participant per day. Transport is thus a segment where we can drastically reduce carbon emissions. Above all, airport and car transport are critical segments. As in all cases we uncovered thus far, one can find numerous good practice cases and an equal number of misleading practices. In this article, we will delve into a few misguiding examples while sharing recommendations on how to start reducing the carbon footprint in the challenging world of transportation.

The editorial board of Kongres Magazine has been closely following and analysing various sustainability marketing campaigns. It seems their numbers have skyrocketed this year. As it turns out, many of them are misleading and purposefully used by greenwashers to increase sales or improve a company’s reputation. By doing so, they deceive well-intentional consumers and, ultimately, do not contribute to solving ecological and social issues. It is vital to stay aware of the ways in which they attempt to outwit us. Recognising greenwashing is how we can reduce its influence on our choices.

We have decided to prepare a series of articles that will uncover such practices and, hopefully, contribute to a more responsible meetings industry.

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Case 6: IS THERE SUCH A THING AS CARBON-NEUTRAL TRANSPORT AT AN EVENT?

Our transportation was 100% carbon-neutral; our business is carbon-neutral; we drive carbon-neutral. Virtually anything we set out to do is or attempts to be carbon-neutral. In the past few months, we have been overwhelmed by the vast sea of messages stating event organisers will ensure carbon-neutral transportation. Beware, do not take such promises literally.

What’s essential is invisible to the eye; in current times, carbon-neutrality of events is possible only by carbon offsetting. Event organisers often keep the precise data about how they plan to compensate for the carbon emissions in the fine print or leave it out. Alternatively, they refer to planting trees. The devil is in the detail: a carbon-neutral event sounds far better than an event aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Let’s see what experts say about electric cars to get a broader picture. The Chinese manufacturer of electric vehicles, Polestar, spoke rather candidly about this topic. Their Polestar 2 model produces 50 tons of CO2 in its lifespan, whereas a petrol-fueled Volvo XC40 creates 58 tons of CO2 over the same time. Hence, the difference is relatively small, with the electric vehicle emitting only 14 per cent fewer emissions. Find out more at https://www.polestar.com/uk/sustainability/transparency/.

In short, as in every form of greenwashing, the problem lies in communication and presenting information selectively. However, that does not signal we should accept the situation. As event organisers, we can tremendously contribute to reducing our carbon footprint. Considering a train leaves only a third of the carbon footprint compared to a plane over the same distance, we have a basis for a paradigm change. I am a firm believer, though, that we should prioritise measures to reduce carbon footprint ahead of purchasing indulgences.

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Photo Credit: Doris Kordić

You can substantially advance mobility by informing and spreading awareness among key stakeholders about the possibilities of sustainable transportation.

When flying is the only choice, you have the option to reduce your environmental footprint by selecting the most environmental-friendly flight. Direct flights are, for instance, far less burdening for the environment than flights with layovers. The class you fly in correlates to the amount of carbon footprint you leave behind. Flying in first and business class creates two to three times as much carbon footprint as in economy class due to an incomparably poorer use of space.

You can substantially advance mobility by informing and spreading awareness among key stakeholders about the possibilities of sustainable transportation. It is a great idea to offer your attendees the chance to calculate their carbon footprint. Amid a slew of calculators on the market, one of the most precise is the following: https://www.climatepartner.com/en.

Miracles in reducing carbon footprint can often be a result of changes in communication. I can confirm that first-hand, as in 2021, we increased the use of sustainable transportation by 30%, predominantly by advocating railroads and car-sharing (GO.Opti). Thus, selecting and publishing information about locations is vital: where an event takes place, the possibilities of arriving on foot, the options of renting a bicycle and, not least, information concerning public transport (stations, schedules, distance to the closest station etc.). Attendees also need to be constantly reminded of the possibilities of car-sharing. More importantly, event organisers need to prepare a holistic plan for how attendees can arrive at the event in a sustainable manner. To communicate the plentiful options of sustainable mobility, make sure to use all available channels and tools – website, e-newsletters, media publications etc.

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Photo Credit: Velo-city 2022

If your event is partnering with a bus provider, you can request them to provide you with detailed information and meet the following environmental criteria:

• Meeting the standards of EURO V and EURO VI
• Usage of diesel fuel in litres per 100 kilometres
• Noise emissions (vehicles with noise emissions lower than 70 dB/A are acceptable)
• Equipped with a monitor to show gear switching
• Equipped with systems to control tire pressure
• Drivers educated in sustainable driving

Everything needs to be measured at the end of an event. You can use several indicators recommended by the Slovenian foundation for sustainable development, Umanotera:

• Measure the number of car transfers (number of vehicles, distance in kilometres)
• Measure the amount of public transportation (number of passengers, distance in kilometres)
• Bycicle transfers, distance on foot (number of cyclists and pedestrians, distance in kilometres)
• Fuel efficiency in the drive park (L/100 kilometres)
• Measured carbon footprint

We recommend creating a straightforward and simple mobility plan that can act as a tool for actively encouraging alternative modes of transport. In particular, this entails public transport, cycling and walking insofar as facilitating the responsible use of personal transportation.

Never forget that sustainable mobility comprises walking, cycling, the use of public transport and alternative modes of mobility. The ultimate goal of sustainable mobility is ensuring equal and easy access for all. It emphasises the need to limit personal transportation and the use of energy while facilitating the creation of sustainable travelling plans.


Note: You are welcome to send us your suggestions and ideas to share with our colleagues. Together, we can achieve more.

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Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in 1986. While on an expedition to Samoa, he was greatly upset by the hotel sign concerning the reuse of towels. He concluded that its purpose was solely a strategy to lower expenses instead of the hotel’s sustainable and responsible aspirations.

Westerveld was the first to use the term greenwashing in his expert article, and the rest is history. The term has survived till today and encompasses all areas of sustainability, including gender equality, poverty, hunger, health, education, paid work etc.

There are several typical examples of greenwashing. They have been around for some time, yet, we continue to be duped by them. We have summarised the most typical examples of greenwashing below:

1. Presenting information selectively

An example of greenwashing is emphasising environment-friendly information whilst withholding negative information. A typical example is ignoring the carbon footprint of event transfers which can amount to 75% of an event’s entire carbon footprint.

2. Lack of proof to back up claims

Let us suppose a company claims their event is green or eco-friendly but does not enclose any concrete proof. They should at least calculate their event’s carbon footprint and support it with a certificate issued by an official institution.

3. Ambiguity and vagueness of claims

Another way of misleading is using loose and undefined terms that are nearly impossible to understand in one way. A recurring example, for instance, is stating that an event is carbon-neutral without elaborating what that stands for.

4. Deceiving and irrelevant labels

Companies will often refer to certificates and labels that, in fact, do not exist or are misleading. Lately, there have been cases of green venue finders with no real foundation. This type of deception is embodied by companies that sell “products without CFC”, even though chlorofluorocarbons are forbidden by law.

5. Highlighting the lesser evil

Event organising is environmentally unfriendly. Hence, the claim that one event is greener than another is plainly false.

6. Selling lies

On occasions, companies choose to proclaim lies. Making false claims, certificates, and inventing facts will mislead customers.

7. Meaningless labels

Certificates, labels and awards can often have little or no meaning. In some cases, organisations even award themselves with certificates or endorsements not backed by any authority.

There are even cases when companies tell outright lies. Sooner or later, such practices are exposed, and information about them spreads like wildfire.

In Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is reporting a boom in the number of complaints about environmental claims – up from 117 in 2006 to 561 last year. “What we are seeing is claims about being carbon-neutral, zero-carbon emissions and use of words such as sustainable and organic,” says Lord Smith, chairman of the ASA.

About the author

Gorazd Čad is a seasoned meeting planner who has dedicated 25 years of his life to the meetings and events industry. He witnessed the fall of Yugoslavia, the establishment of independent Slovenia, adapted to the internet revolution of the ’90s, overcame the economic crisis of 2008, the 2010 eruption of an Icelandic volcano, and the 2019 meetings industry burnout, 2020’s corona crisis and more. Among other things, Gorazd Čad is a professor of geography and history who is sincerely worried about the planet’s future. He strives for events that will be environmentally friendly and responsible to attendees and society.

Slovenian Advertising Code on greenwashing

What the Slovenian Advertising Code says about greenwashing:

Article 17: ENVIRONMENTAL ARGUMENTATION

17.1
Advertising that includes environmental argumentation should be presented in a manner that does not exploit the consumer’s environmental concern or his potential lack of knowledge about environmental themes. It should not contain claims or visual representations that could, in any way, mislead the consumers about products’ benefits from an environmental viewpoint or the environmental activities the advertiser will conduct. Messages can apply to concrete products or activities; they cannot, however, unjustifiably imply that they cover all activities of a company, group or sector.

17.2
Claims concerning environmental preservation are not allowed to be used groundlessly. Claims such as environment-friendly, completely biodegradable, greener, friendlier or organic may be acceptable, provided the advertisers prove their truthfulness.

17.3
Comparisons are acceptable if the advertisers can prove that their product improves from an environmental perspective compared to their own or competitors’ products.

17.4
Claims and comparisons can be misleading if they leave out important information.

17.5
When scientific opinions are divided, and the results are not final, the advertisement has to make that clear. An advertiser cannot quote that their claim is generally accepted if that is not the case.

17.6
In case a product never had any evidently harmful effects on the environment, the advertisement cannot suggest that its structure was altered to make it more environment-friendly. It is, however, lawful to quote claims about a product whose composition has been altered or has been used hitherto without ingredients that are known to be harmful to the environment.

17.7
The use of lesser-known expert terms should be avoided. If the use of a scientific term is unavoidable, its meaning should be clear and understandable or additionally explained.

17.8
A broader explanation of the most commonly used claims and terms is defined in the International Chamber of Commerce Code of Advertising and Marketing Practices.

For more information please check: https://iccwbo.org/content/uploads/sites/3/2018/09/icc-advertising-and-marketing-communications-code-int.pdf