Kai Hattendorf on the progress of the Net Zero Carbon Events Roadmap

Submitted by Emily Wallin on Mon, 06/12/2023 - 11:59

Six months on from the launch of the Net Zero Carbon Events Roadmap UFI managing director and CEO Kai Hattendorf spoke to Exhibition News, Exhibition World's sister magazine, about the progress so far.

The Net Zero Carbon Events Pledge is an organisational commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, as a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

With more than 500 signatories and supporters all starting to report their footprint and taking steps to reduce their impact, the united efforts so far to drive down waste across the global exhibitions industry have been “pretty damn impressive” he says.

Remind us how the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative came about?

It all started in the whole lead up to COP26, in Glasgow in 2021, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) reached out, because they were puzzled that there was no initiative in the events industry to actually make sure they could deliver on the Paris Climate Accord targets. So that’s when the whole initiative came into being.

Back then I was living in Bonn, knowing the people at the UNFCCC who were running Cop, so I met them and those were Covid-days, so we went for long walks in the park, because we couldn’t be indoors. That’s when we decided to get going.

This led to the presentation of the pledge- what we want to do as an industry. That pledge was crowd sourced from around 100 stakeholders in the industry, including most of wider industry organisers.

We presented the pledge and we said the next step is not just to say ‘what do we want to do’, but also ‘how are we going to do that?’

So that’s when work on the roadmap began. As people signing the pledge committed to work together, drew on that commitment to build the roadmap, again, in line with the policies of the United Nations being fully inclusive, being not dominated by any specific entity.

We had 400 signatories and supporters by the time we presented the roadmap at Sharm el Sheikh at COP27 last November.

The roadmap gave us the workstreams; energy production, waste, food and food waste, logistics and travel.

The work since Sharm el Sheikh and leading to COP28 in the UAE, is to make sure we can fill these areas with clear guidance within the roadmap so that everybody can take and implement their specific measures. It’s a blend of technical guidance on decarbonisation pathways, and priority actions like, what are the low hanging fruits and what is their impact?

What are the difficulties on providing guidance for such a wide and varied global industry?

It’s surprisingly simple, because it’s all based on science. It’s important to understand that all the workstreams are aligning the actions identified, like, replace your energy source with an energy efficient or carbon neutral energy source, as an example.

Many venues have done that, others can simply look which other energy sources are available and they can switch.

Every country, every market, every industry is at a different stage of their respective journey. That’s abundantly clear and fine. But it’s easier for those who are not as advanced yet, because they can pick from various approaches that they already see have worked elsewhere.

How far have things developed since the launch of the roadmap six months ago and are you pleased with the progress?

We needed to have eight different bodies leading the respective work streams, various associations or major players in the industry. So first of all, it is amazing to see that all these groups together have close to 100 industry leaders involved doing the actual work in the working groups. We have managed to activate the brains and skills and muscle we have in the industry to work on these issues. And that’s great.

These groups are working, and they’re working on their aligned timelines. There was a first wave of reportings in February, that was about what have we done to assess the situation and what are the plans going forward?

In June, we had another round to feed back, the data collection they’ve done and the draft documents they’ve written.

In just one example I’m picking a random, smart production of waste. In this case, they’ve collected best practices and key challenges and they’re discussing what they need to have in the final documents and what tools are best. In this specific case, it was guidance on decarbonisation approaches, following other vendors and service providers based on best practice. And you have a document like that from each and every one of the of the tracks. So, on a journey from zero to 100. They’re all well underway.

They will share their interim outcomes next month, and then in August start working on the reporting cycles and analysing data and reporting ready for the final round of reviews in October/November.

We’re entering the first reporting cycle for the signatories of the net zero carbon events initiative. IMEX was one of the earliest ones.

We are going to see more and more signatories reporting their progress and if all 500 manage to do that by the end of the year, then you have 500 businesses showcasing their journey.

That’s two years after starting from scratch.

That’s pretty damn impressive.

Do you think that by virtue of the temporary nature of events, it is especially important for the exhibitions industry to be showing their efforts to become more sustainable?

We work for every other industry. When they come to work, we’ve already done the work to empower them to work at the events we put on for them.

This is why I think it’s so important that we don’t miss the boat to show that we are part of the solution.

You can always make the case that it’s bad for people to fly to meet in one place, and you produce this big carbon footprint at a major event. At the same time, you have to look at the outcome of the event and what carbon production is avoided by having everything together. It’s the famous carbon aggregator discussion. If you have an international event, yes, people travel and the more international, the higher the share of greenhouse gas emissions on the total share that comes from travel, goes up to 80% for an international show.

We don’t decide how people travel to attend. That scope is out of our range. What we can do is facilitate everything closer to the venue, support public transport, local options for hotel capacities, etc to minimize that.

On the other hand, take your average trade show and however many contacts per day and break them down and consider the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we would produce if we were to meet all these people in a decentralised way, it would be significantly higher.

Find out more about Net Zero Carbon Events or sign up.