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August 20, 2009

NATURAL CHOICE:A carbon-free blueprint for large-scale meetings and events

When Natural England, the government advisory body on wildlife and the environment, held its annual conference this year it set out to reduce its carbon footprint by up to 50%. Ian Whiteling discovers how innovative use of interactive technologies helped the organisation on its way.

The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) and the Greening Government ICT strategy have placed a key focus on the importance of reducing UK carbon emissions within the public sector. To help adhere to these ‘green’ targets, Natural England, the government advisory body on wildlife and the environment, held its annual conference for 2,500 people across seven venues simultaneously.

The main aim for the organisers was to slash the event’s carbon footprint by 50%, while still maintaining the networking and regional group working benefits that a central staff conference delivers.

“Effective communication and co-ordination within Natural England is fundamental to the work we do, but the challenges of bringing people together while realising carbon reductions is very real,” says Alex Adam, communications manager at Natural England.


Enabling sustainable debate: Live Group connects
people at the Natural England conference


Cutting down travel
Rather than asking thousands of people to travel from around the UK to one central location as with previous years, Natural England took a sustainable approach by selecting regional venues in London, Leeds, Bristol, Peterborough, Preston and Nottingham to host the conference simultaneously, while it was centrally coordinated from the Birmingham NEC.

The seven venues were chosen due to their ease of access and ability to offer public transport links. In doing this they hoped to reduce the event’s carbon footprint by eliminating the need for delegates to drive across the country or to stay in hotels overnight.

“We encouraged staff to attend the location closest to them to minimise travel, plus these venues all have excellent links and access to public transport,” explains Adam.

Technology was key

Natural England chose to work with public sector event specialists The Live Group, using its sustainable communication solution GreenGageLive, to maintain effective communication and interactivity.

Through videoconferencing, the web and audience engagement tools, all 2,500 delegates were able to see and hear each other, watch presentations and ask questions to keynote speakers regardless of location.

Delegate groups used LiveInteractive’s wirelessly linked tablet PCs, with bespoke audience engagement software for the real-time participation element. These tablets were connected through a web server network to facilitate a single interactive, simultaneous meeting.

During the event, delegates could use the digital tablets to contribute personal responses to questions and share views. GreenGageLive enabled this live data to be displayed across all seven regions on big screens, allowing everyone access to feedback instantaneously.

Feeling of togetherness
This unique multimedia setup meant that group exercises could still be implemented between delegates at different venues just as they would in breakout sessions in a one-venue event, ensuring that the networking aspect of an integrated event was still maintained.

The pioneering multimedia conference successfully brought together the entire organisation to share regional ideas and best practice, while also achieving a 31% reduction in carbon emissions compared with the previous year, helping to prove that green choices do not limit possibilities.

“Everything during the day felt like a large-scale one-venue conference to maintain the networking buzz that internal conferences should deliver, plus reduce the environmental impact of traditional one-venue events,” says Adam.

After the event, all delegate feedback was stored and split into data sets as an electronic report, eliminating the need to transcribe notes or decipher whiteboards. Not only is this service valuable as a point of reference, but it is also paperless, reducing the amount of overall waste generated by the event.

Leading by example
The success of Natural England’s conference illustrated how innovative meetings and event technology can be used by public sector organisations to achieve sustainable outcomes, which respond to the Government’s environmental targets.

“The Government is leading by example on how every gramme of carbon counts when striving for a footprint reduction. Delivering a wide-range of conferences and seminars that reduce the distance travelled and the need for overnight stays can make a real impact on carbon dioxide emissions,” says Toby Lewis, managing director of The Live Group.

“Furthermore, with pressure on commerce to report on carbon emissions by 2012, attention on the travel footprint of private sector employees will also come under greater scrutiny. Videoconferencing, the web and audience engagement technology not only reduce the need for geographical travel expenses, but also tick the green box in reducing carbon emissions.”

We're interested to hear about other meetings and events around the world that have used technology innovatively to reduce carbon emissions and effectively link disparate groups of delegates. Please contact the editors with your case studies.

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