How to achieve a carbon-neutral conference

As the representative body for environmental practitioners on both sides of the Tasman, the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) wanted to set a leading example for its 2018 Annual Conference in Sydney, by ensuring that the conference was both environmentally sound and certified as a carbon neutral event.

Event management company Arinex was tasked with achieving carbon neutral certification for the conference. But this would not be straightforward for EIANZ and partners, as conference attendees were expected to attend from across Australia and New Zealand, and the travel carbon footprint alone was not insignificant. Organisers also wished to achieve carbon neutral status at no cost to delegates – a challenge given the financial investment required for carbon credit offsetting.

Minimising the conference’s carbon footprint was the first important step within EIANZ’s strategy.  The Organising Committee, supported by Arinex, scrutinised all aspects of conference organising from venue sourcing and menu selections to the sourcing of event materials.

Potential venues were carefully vetted. The Hilton Sydney was chosen as host venue for a range of reasons, including its sustainability policies and proximity to public transport. Accommodation blocks were organised with Hilton Sydney and other hotels in the immediate vicinity, minimising transport emissions to and from the conference. Single use plastics were banned from inclusion at the conference while food waste and energy consumption were limited wherever possible.

Delegates were encouraged to make positive changes, including bringing their own writing materials and opting out of a printed program, through convincing and emotive messaging. To minimise travel emissions delegates, were urged to carpool or use public transport.

Averting the costs of carbon neutral certification away from delegates was achieved thanks to the support of two key partners. An independent third-party, Pangolin Associations, undertook work on a pro bono basis to measure the carbon footprint of the conference while the NSW Division of EIANZ financed the purchase of the carbon credits as a legacy contribution to EIANZ 2018. Aboriginal Carbon Fund in northern Australia and REDD forest management program in Brazil were the two programs selected to purchase carbon credits.

The EIANZ Conference 2018 has become the 10th carbon neutral event in Australia, as certified by the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy. Delegate buy-in helped to reduce the footprint of the event, but much of the work was done in the event planning strategy adopted by the EIANZ Organising Committee. This included printed materials being down by 70 per cent against other benchmark events, and a high delegate use of public transport.

With Pangolin’s support on the technical front and the financial support of the NSW Division of EIANZ, the carbon neutral outcome was achieved at zero financial cost to delegates. If the full cost of the carbon neutral certification were to have been passed to delegates, this would have added about 3 per cent to the average cost of delegate registration.

The EIANZ 2018 Annual Conference has demonstrated that it is possible to design and deliver a zero-carbon conference through creative conference design, stakeholder collaboration, and effective messaging, at a cost that is marginal in terms of delegate impact but which delivers significant outcomes in terms of positive environmental impact.

“Given the knowledge base, skills, and commitment of EIANZ members to excellence in environmental practice, it was important to EIANZ that its most significant annual gathering be run to the highest standards of program content and event sustainability,” said Michael Chilcott, EIANZ 2018 Conference Organising Committee Chair.

“Arinex was an essential partner in assuring that the conference delivery matched EIANZ’s high environmental performance aspirations.”