As green initiatives become more popular, carbon offsets gain traction in events industry
ngelia Singleton thinks about her carbon footprint. The manager of the California Gift Show drives a hybrid and carries cloth bags to the grocery store. She produces her event at the LEED-certified Los Angeles Convention Center and announced in October that the show will partner with Green Mountain Energy Co. to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions tied to the show's electric use.
How does she justify carbon offsets that, unlike many green initiatives, add cost to the event's production?
She is not just hugging trees; she also is aligning her show with the interests of a burgeoning green market.
“We redistributed money,” she said, “but I put [carbon offsets] on my short-list of what's important. The earlier we start, the better. We want to be an industry leader.”
Sustainable gifts—items like Green Mountain's own plantable stationary—represent a growing market, and next July the show will launch a division focused on eco-friendly products.
“There really hasn't been a gift show that has launched a green division,” Singleton said. “Exhibitors see it as a revenue stream as well.”
The roster of b-to-b events interested in offsetting carbon emissions heavily features the usual suspects, events put together by producers like New Hope Natural Media and the U.S. Green Building Council, with a significant stake in the green market.
Involvement is growing outside traditional circles, however. Shipper EA Logistics offset its customer's shipping-related emissions at the American Beauty Show. A sponsor at the Global Gaming Expo offset carbon emissions for that event, supporting a program to help truckers make fuel-efficiency upgrades.
“We're seeing a tremendous increase in interest and participation,” said Billy Connelly, marketing director at carbon-offset provider Native Energy. “Consumers are demanding the companies they are purchasing from have a plan to be more sustainable. Smart companies recognize there is additional value in going green.”
The value of the global voluntary carbon market topped $330 million in 2007, more than triple its value the year earlier, according to the “State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2008” report released in May from environmental research companies EcoSystem Marketplace and New Carbon Finance.
The market places emphasis first on implementing a broad greening strategy to reduce the carbon footprint, then offsetting the emissions that remain.
SustainCommWorld, a green media industry event that launched in October, partnered with Community Energy to offset everything from attendee and exhibitor travel to shipping and on-site energy consumption. The offsets came alongside other green initiatives including the local printing of event collateral and a solar- powered Web site.
That model is unusual, because most organizers offset a smaller portion of an event. The most common agreements see the offset of on-site energy consumption only. Organizers give data from previous shows or from event facilities to offset providers, who crunch the numbers and derive the price.
Organizers then act as an educational conduit for attendees and exhibitors who can choose to purchase individual travel offsets, usually offered at a set price based on local, national and international travel. Some offset providers work with events to help them engage participants, providing stickers for nametags, for example, and posters for exhibitor booths.
Organizers who include an option to purchase offsets on the registration page can expect a greater response rate than those who simply post a link on the show Web site, Connelly said. “If it's an opt-in at the time of registration, we see more than 50% register,” he said. “At the show or on the [show] Web site, that goes down dramatically.” M