Participants at Partnerships for Forests' annual Forum.
For many, 2022 has meant the return of in-person corporate events post-COVID-19. 2022 has also been a year where many organisations are facing down net zero commitments and pledges to reduce overall carbon emissions. But how can the two live harmoniously?
Partnerships for Forests (P4F), a UK-funded project that catalyses investments into forests across the world, recently held its annual Forum in London – and unlike previous years, the major international meeting was delivered as a carbon neutral event.
P4F Team Leader Katie McCoy explains that the decision to go carbon neutral was based on the values on which the team and its projects are built. “As well as bringing together our entire P4F team – based in Ghana, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, and the UK – we were also bringing our partners from each of those regions. We knew the event would have huge benefits in knowledge sharing and catalysing investments into nature-based solutions, but we also had a responsibility to do this in an environmentally sound way.”
The hybrid event brought together more than 300 people across two days, showcasing nearly 60 P4F projects – each of which use public-private-community partnerships to attach value to the social, environmental, and economic benefits of forest landscapes.
But the decision to run the Forum as carbon neutral was made in the early stages, months before the event kicked off, and prompted the team to engage a sustainable events consultant to help with the process. Lisa Sweeting from Green Sense Events helped the team develop an event sustainability strategy, which was finalised ahead of engaging any outside contracts, including the venue, explains McCoy.
“It had been three years since we had held our last Forum and given the significant growth of our global portfolio of Forest Partnerships, we knew we wanted to showcase our work on a new scale.”
McCoy notes that at such a large scale, adding the carbon neutral aspect was challenging at times. “A huge part of making the event legitimately carbon neutral, and making our figures stand up to scrutiny, was tracking and measurement. This meant, for instance, not only tracking our team’s and partners’ flights, but also how did they get to and from the airports? If it was in a vehicle, what kind of vehicle?”
At the event venue itself, she explains, the team had to measure the waste they generated, the electricity they used, and where every single ingredient was coming from in the catering. Additionally, they needed to confirm more static measures, such as where the wood in the building was sourced and what kind of power was used. “Each action we took was informed by the guiding principles that we identified in our sustainability strategy: providing an accessible and inclusive event; minimising potential impacts on the environment; and encouraging more sustainable behaviour.”
‘Carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ are often used interchangeably but refer to two different approaches to carbon reduction. Carbon neutral means not increasing carbon emissions and using carbon credits to offset, while net zero aims to reduce carbon emissions to the lowest possible amounts (often a 90% reduction is used as a yardstick), and offsetting only as a last resort.
Because this was one of the largest P4F partner events yet and the team hadn’t tracked emissions before, they didn’t have a set point from which to measurably reduce emissions. As such, it was decided that carbon neutrality was the more appropriate goal, explains McCoy. “Now that we’ve set the bar for ourselves, we’re planning to build upon our results for next year’s Forum.”
She adds that while the team is pleased with the outcome of the Forum, there were some hiccups along the way. “There were definitely lessons from this year’s event that we’ll be specifically tweaking. For instance, some of our sustainable materials for the event ended up being delivered in plastic.”
And for the emissions they couldn’t get around, the team offset them with projects they know very well. “We’re pleased to be able to offset our emissions through two of our own P4F projects that generate verified carbon credits – one of which is an acai project in Colombia, and the other a Ghanaian cocoa project.”
Hosting a carbon neutral event, though difficult, isn’t impossible, and as part of the team’s work with Green Sense Events, they produced a sustainability report summing up the emissions report and the actions they took to ensure they were carbon neutral. For organisations looking to do the same, see below for some of the most important measures the team took.
To reduce environmental impact:
• Choose a venue which was close to public transport links and had good sustainability initiatives in place
• Build sustainability considerations into design and material choices.
• Avoid waste to landfill by recycling materials and redistributing or composting food items.
• Prioritise locally sourced and seasonal food items to minimise mileage and carbon emissions for transportation and support local business.
• Source suppliers that were local/ within London to minimise mileage and carbon emissions from transportation.
• Share the strategy with key staff to influence partners/ exhibitors behaviours.
• Work with the catering team to produce a plant forward menu with 35% plant based and 86% vegetarian.
To support inclusivity and accessibility across the event:
• Ensure the venue has good access/ lifts and accessible toilets on site.
• Include questions on accessibility at the point of registration to highlight any specific needs
• Provide translation services across 4 languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish and Bahasa for both in person and online audience
• Deliver a hybrid event to allow those unable or choosing not to attend in person to access the event virtually, and to allow those on a different time zone to catch up on any missed sessions post event
To learn more, visit P4F. The Partnerships for Forests Forum 2023 will take place in May in London.