Some estimates show that by 2050, the carbon offsets market will be worth approximately $200 billion — and the events industry is helping to grow that market. (Chloe Niclas illustration)
Editor’s note: Renowned anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall has said of the climate crisis, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” With that in mind, we are dedicating the November/December edition of Convene fully — our first single-topic issue — to the climate crisis, and what the business events industry is doing to address this global challenge. Find stories from the Climate Issue here, and read our cover story, “A ‘Watershed Moment’ for Events — and the World.”
When Munich Re, a global reinsurance company, tallied up the financial damage — $210 billion — from hurricanes, wildfires, and floods in 2020, the company traced the natural disasters back to the result of human activity: climate change.
“Natural catastrophe losses in 2020 were significantly higher than in the previous year,” wrote Torsten Jeworrek, a member of the company’s board of management. “Climate change will play an increasing role in all of these hazards. It is time to act.”
One way of taking action that has become increasingly popular is purchasing carbon offsets. The idea is simple: Pay for something to help the planet — planting trees or helping fund a wind farm, for example — to compensate for when you do something that contributes to harming the planet, such as air travel. By 2050, German bank Berenberg projects that the carbon offsets market will be worth approximately $200 billion.
As the city of Austin has worked toward carbon neutrality, the Austin Convention Center has been leading the charge by buying carbon offsets, converting to renewable energy, and focusing on ways to be one of the greenest places to meet in the U.S.
The events industry is helping to grow that market. For example, in October, the Radisson Hotel Group announced a plan to make all the meetings and events at more than 400 of its EMEA properties carbon negative by paying for offsets that amount to double the carbon footprint of each meeting.
But not all carbon offset programs are equal. Critics argue that some projects don’t actually deliver the benefits they claim, while others do more harm than good.
Amy Moas, Ph.D., senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA, told Convene that the organization uses a few key criteria to evaluate the true impact of offsets. One of those is the idea of permanence, which underscores the need for a project to have a lifespan that will be long enough to counter the emissions that were released into the atmosphere. She points to two large recent wildfires in the West — the Dixie Fire in California and the Bootleg Fire in Oregon — as evidence that many forest-focused projects, a popular choice for offsets, fall short of making an impact. Both of these fires burned through hundreds of thousands of acres that were part of forestry offset projects.
“These are large areas of land that were supposed to be land for trees,” Moas said, “but they are no longer serving that purpose.”
As event organizers, and meeting venues and hotels and look for ways to address the climate crisis, how can they be sure that offsets aren’t off base?