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April 16, 2008

David Watt: There's no escaping the costs of offsetting

Following Karen Tocher’s article on ‘Making your conference green’ and in particular the phrase ‘creating a carbon neutral conference should not necessarily lead to higher costs’, as managing director of an incentive travel and conferencing agency in Oxfordshire, I cannot see how effective steps can be taken to offset carbon emissions without impacting on costs.

The time invested in looking for carbon-friendly venues itself, especially in some Asian and African cities, can have a huge impact on resource and hence costs, too. I speak from experience, having implemented a number of green initiatives at Corporate Innovations, including measuring our carbon footprint and running a thorough recycling programme. We also actively assist our clients in helping to reduce the environmental impact of their events.

Although I agree with the principal of taking steps to encourage energy efficiency, whether it is using recycled paper or electronic registration systems, we have to be realistic. The tools for calculating the carbon offset from flights, for example, is a minefield – many suppliers have been discredited by offering solutions that are short-term – and the process is not regulated as yet.

You have to be sure that you are sourcing accurate calculations from one of a hundred offsetting websites – another time consuming research project.

The careful planning, research and investigation mentioned in the article will take time and time is not free. In summary, I agree we can’t undo the harm our events do to the environment through carbon offsetting alone, although this does reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

I also agree that we should be looking at prevention rather than cure – we encourage environmentally friendly practices internally at Corporate Innovations and we also offset our own flights to any events we manage.

I fully expected the cost of offsetting to become part of the event budget, rather than an addition, but are we and our clients prepared to compromise on the quality of our events to absorb the additional costs of offsetting when there is still no regulation on the matter?

Until our industry can provide some guidance as to how agencies and clients should approach this issue perhaps the sky is the limit.

David Watt is managing director at Corporate Innovations

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