Addressing Carbon-Intensive Air Travel in the Events Industry

At a PCMA Executive Leadership Summit in January, members of the C-suite explored solutions to current and potential disruptions in the business events industry, including curtailed travel to their in-person events because of sustainability concerns.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Participants in a PCMA Executive Leadership Summit at Convening Leaders 2024 were invited to workshop solutions to challenges facing the events industry, including air travel’s contribution to global CO2 emmissions.

I wish we would. I wonder if we could. I worry we won’t.

These were the three constructs used by 100 C-suite executives and event team leaders to navigate seven disruption scenarios during “Future-Proofing the Events Industry,” a PCMA Executive Leadership Summit. The participants were invited to workshop solutions to challenges presented at the summit, held in conjunction with PCMA Convening Leaders 2024 in January in San Diego, by responding in ways that ranged from easy-to-execute to “just so crazy they may just work.”

paper with I Wish, I Wonder, I Worry on it

Participants in a PCMA Executive Leadership Summit at Convening Leaders 2024 used three constructs to navigate seven disruption scenarios. (Whatever Media Group)

The first scenario presented: “A No-Fly Zone.” Participants were asked to consider the following: Worries about air travel’s contribution to global CO2 emissions are prompting organizations to consider curtailing air travel for employees to attend meetings and events and consider digital-only options. How would you build a proactive plan to address these concerns?

Here are highlights from the conversation:

Make a Mindset Shift

  • Virtual and hybrid events should be seen not as mere alternatives but as integral, value-adding components of the event landscape.
  • Embracing sustainability shouldn’t be just as a feature but as a core principle guiding event planning and execution.
  • Consider how local and regional gatherings could complement and enhance the main event experience while cutting back on travel.

Easy Things We Can Try Right Away

  • Lean into virtual events by introducing interactive features on online event platforms to increase engagement and focus on providing virtual networking opportunities to maintain community connections without physical presence.
  • Consider offering bona fide carbon-offset options for any necessary travel, making attendees part of the sustainability solution.

Hard Things We Can Begin to Explore

  • Develop sophisticated hybrid event models that deliver compelling experiences for both in-person and virtual attendees.
  • Establish local event hubs with live link-ups to the main event that will foster participation and a sense of community.
  • Integrate advanced technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create immersive virtual event environments.

A Few Crazy Ideas That Just May Work

  • Create a global network of physical event spaces (think co-working environments) so that attendees from anywhere can gather to experience the event online in a more immersive, communal setting.
  • Partner with tech companies to pilot AI-driven networking tools that facilitate meaningful connections based on attendees’ individual interests and goals.
  • Launch a sustainability challenge among attendees and sponsors to gamify the reduction of the event’s carbon footprint.

Top Recommendations

  • Invest in the development of hybrid event formats that prioritize sustainability and inclusivity, ensuring all attendees, regardless of location, can have a meaningful experience.
  • Foster partnerships with technology providers to explore innovative solutions for virtual engagement, networking, and community building.
  • Lead by example in environmental responsibility, making sustainability a key selling point and differentiator for events in the industry.

Stay tuned for a white paper describing outcomes to the other six scenarios presented at the summit on

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