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INSIGHT: ESG and Events: Should the Conference industry go further?

24 January 2024

Author: Samantha Shamkh, Head of Conventions at ExCeL London


Last month, over 100,000 delegates descended on Dubai for the largest and most carbon-intensive edition of the UN COP Climate summit ever to take place.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) found “disproportionately high” polluting effects caused by private jet travel to the conference – with each passenger’s emissions almost equal to the average Briton’s entire annual carbon footprint*.

This has, once again, raised questions about the environmental impact of conferences and business travel, and forms part of an emerging trend for attendees to more carefully consider an event’s environmental credentials.

ExCeL’s new thought leadership report Event with Intent, sheds new light on how conferences are shaped not just by environmental considerations, but ESG more broadly. We find that people who attend business events place higher priority on ESG considerations compared to those who organise them. To attract a larger audience, conference organisers must embrace this evolving landscape by placing ESG at the forefront of their strategy for 2024 and beyond.


Conscious consumers: Why conference attendees put a premium on ESG

Based on a survey of 250 delegates, and in-depth interviews with industry experts, our research illustrates just how much an event’s environmental and social impact matters to those who attend it. This impetus, our insights show, has yet to be fully matched by organisers.

Delegates see an event’s environmental footprint – its carbon emissions – as being equal in importance to its ‘handprint’ – positive social impact.

The picture is different, though, for organisers. Only 14% of event and conference organisers say ESG credentials have a high or very high impact when choosing an event venue. Just 28% agree with the statement that “Social impact is now a key part of our assessment of ROI, when evaluating the success of an event.”

This points to a difference in priorities between delegates and organisers when it comes to the sustainability and impact of an event. To meet the changing demands of consumers who are getting more socially and environmentally conscious, organisers must bridge this gap with events that put ESG front and centre.

But how? Actions to consider include working with venues to communicate the social and environmental credentials of an event to delegates; using technologies including carbon measurement to make decisions about all aspects of event creation; and partnering with local community groups to establish a positive social handprint, as well as a reduced carbon footprint.

ExCeL London has developed a Legacy Framework to make larger-scale social impact initiatives as easy as possible for event organisers to access. We work closely with organisers and local stakeholders to deliver real, positive impact for ExCeL’s community.

Organisers who are really committed to creating a positive handprint should look at working with a venue to create a long-lasting legacy project, which causes and accelerates social change for the host community. As our research shows, now more than ever, that is what drives people’s decision to attend your conference – or not.


*Carbon cost of COP jets revealed as Sunak, Cameron and Charles fly separately, iNews, 2023

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