How to measure the carbon emissions of an event and what to do to combat these?

The UK government has committed to a net-zero target by 2050, meaning that any greenhouse gas emissions that are produced by the country must be offset to equate to zero-carbon entering the earth’s atmosphere. Over 18% of the UK’s total carbon emissions were attributed to commercial businesses.

Graph indicating Net Zero projections.

Graph indicating Net Zero projections.


As a result, many businesses have begun to prioritise and pledge to offset their emissions in line with this ubiquitous goal. In June 2021, 38% of businesses reported that they are taking at least one action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to 24% reporting that they intended to do so within the next 12 months.


This trend has become increasingly popular within the events sector. More and more businesses are seeking out sustainable events to align their practices with wider internal and systematic green policies. For this reason, many events now pride themselves on offering ‘offsetting’, carbon-neutral, or even carbon-positive event options.


That said, although this is an excellent step in the right direction, working towards Net Zero, these events often fail to accurately report how much carbon they are emitting. This means that the myriad of off-setting projects and opportunities that are heavily marketed, may not be contributing to offsetting or carbon-positive events.


To contribute to net-zero by offsetting emissions, we must first assess how to quantify the amount of carbon produced at an event. Otherwise, we are at risk of nothing more than ‘greenwashing’ and token sustainability gestures. In short, to calculate how much an event needs to offset, we must first know how much an event is emitting.


How can we measure the carbon emissions of events?

To measure an event's emissions, we can break down the GHG emissions into three key categories. The first is ‘Scope 1 (direct emissions)’, which considers the direct emissions from activities that are owned or controlled by the organisation, for example; boilers and vehicles. The second is ‘ Scope 2’ (energy indirect), these are emissions that are a consequence of your event and the energy used, such as lighting, air conditioning, and heat of a venue. The last is ‘Scope 3’ (other indirect), these emissions are anything that is not directly controlled by your company running the event, yet still creates GHG emissions.

Diagram showing the different scopes of GHG emissions.

Diagram showing the different scopes of GHG emissions.


These can range from attendee commutes, technology used to organise the event, computers, waste disposal, energy and water used to grow the food consumed, and so forth. When we consider the carbon emissions of an event, we often only consider the direct impacts, calculating the emissions with a per capita average. However, these calculations often leave out the indirect effects (especially Scope 3), because they are more nuanced and complicated to identify and calculate.


The UN is in the process of creating a specific ‘Event GHG Emissions calculator’, which will allow businesses to calculate both the direct and indirect emission outputs with accuracy. This is on track to be released soon, and it is completely free to use. In the meantime, there is a calculator for ‘Organisations’ which uses the same principles, where you can input your numbers into a spreadsheet, and the amounts across all three scopes are calculated to create a total GHG emission per organisation, and soon per individual event. Although complex and at times time-consuming, this is an effective way of calculating the precise carbon emissions of your event.


There are countless platforms that calculate and estimate GHG emissions, however, the UN footprint calculator is the most in-depth and inclusive. It provides the opportunity to accurately calculate emissions, across all three scopes, which can then be used to accurately offset, rather than estimate emissions produced or not including indirect emissions.


Furthermore, event companies can gain further insight and estimate emissions per event, thanks to the ‘Green Events Tool’. This checklist, developed in conjunction with the UN Climate change and UN environment Gulf Organisation (GORD), evaluates events based on 10 sustainability dimensions.

Diagram showing Event Best Practices.

How can we effectively offset emissions?

Based on the event's performance against the aforementioned 10 sustainability dimensions, event organisers can claim ‘Green Event Certifications’, offering Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards. More information on the registration and process to ‘greenify events’ can be found here.


In addition, once an estimated calculation has been made, the UN offers verified off-setting programs and solutions. In this way, companies can feel confident that they are investing in sustainable solutions, in addition to complying with UN GHG regulations and operating with full transparency regarding emissions and ESG compliance. Finally, these calculations and off-setting programs are essential data points to consider a company's overall annual environmental impact, which can be used to produce a sustainability report to track progress and meet future sustainable development goals.


Summary points

To conclude, to work towards a Net Zero target, businesses need to be as transparent as possible. We are moving beyond the stages of ambiguous sustainability buzzwords and marketing, and moving towards science-led accuracy and reporting. This is especially apparent in the events industry, with companies seeking truly sustainable and carbon off-setting practices in their event organisations.


To do this, we must accurately calculate the emissions of our events, using the aforementioned tools, to ensure we are off-setting the correct amount of carbon. In addition to gaining accreditations and certificates to verify our progress and environmental status. Furthermore, we must ensure that the programs and off-setting opportunities that we investing in are also transparent and sustainable. The best way to do this is to invest in third-party certified programs. In this way, we invest in sustainable solutions that contribute to wider climate solutions, such as Net Zero.


If you're interested in learning more, we'd love to chat. Drop us a call on 0203 916 5752 or an email at hello@zentiveagency.com.