As the world prepares to climate strike we ask are events part of the problem?

This Friday workplaces across the world are going on climate strike to show their solidarity in the fight against global warming.

The massive nonpartisan support from all sectors of society to demand action in the face of the climate emergency is a wake-up call, says Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter.

“Global warming will impact every workplace everywhere – and there is no business plan or institutional strategy clever enough to withstand out of control climate damage,” he said.

But what if your workplace involves organising people as they travel across the globe to meet in ever greater numbers.

What if the events industry is part of the problem and not the solution?

Former New Zealand PM Helen Clark has also sounded a warning over the country’s growing tourism industry and what it means for climate change.

“The country needed to think about whether it was living up to its ‘100% Pure’ tourism slogan, as the focus shifts to how products are produced and their cost to the environment,” she said at a recent gathering at Christchurch Town Hall.

“I think what always helps is knowing that these are shared challenges… a lot of people are working for solutions – and there are solutions,” Clark said.

“We have to be incredibly positive.”

The problem for both New Zealand and Australia is that both are long haul destinations. It takes a lot of fossil fuels to get anyone here, and there are realistically no other travel options available unlike say Europe or the US.

“There’s quite a movement against air travel and high-value markets in Europe … people are questioning whether they should fly 12,000 miles, so we’d better have a good story,” Clark said.

Despite mounting concerns about the effects of aviation and the climate crisis, Airbus has forecast the number of commercial aircraft in operation will more than double in the next 20 years to 48,000 planes worldwide.

Some European countries are already looking at ways to curb our love of air travel with Germany the latest to propose a new tax. Germany’s ruling conservatives have proposed doubling taxes on domestic flights, as part of a wider package to cut CO2 emissions.

Some Swedish airports have now reported a decline in travelers, with Swedes coining a word for the shame that travelers are beginning to feel about flying – flygskam.

So should Australia start thinking about curbing its addiction to planes, and start rewarding travellers who fly less with cheaper fares. Sound crazy? It’s already happening in some parts of the world.

Currently 15 per cent of Qantas passengers pay to offset the environmental cost of their flight. Qantas offers 10 Qantas Points for every dollar that loyalty members spend on reducing their carbon footprint, the highest “standard earn rate” of any Qantas Frequent Flyer initiative.

Clark said Air New Zealand is doing its bit when it introduced its sustainable development strategy, and was the first airline to do a long haul flight with biofuel.

Leaving aside the tricky task of moving people, you are still presented with the venue and associated environmental costs of every aspect of event planning.

But the industry is starting to take notice. Earthcheck has been helping some of our biggest venues deliver best practice in terms of sustainability for years. Arinex showed that you can make an event carbon neutral when they delivered the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand 2018 Annual Conference in Sydney. Meeting & Events Australia (MEA) also recently announced a new global sustainability partnership with the Sustainable Events Alliance (SEA) that aims to bring the events industry in line with a credited sustainable pathway.

“This partnership will provide our members with a great opportunity to work with a global organisation that is continually working in this space refining best practice and training the industry worldwide to meet ISO standards,” said MEA CEO Robyn Johnson.

The challenge to change an entire industry practice is a steep one. But the first steps have been made.