Digital Strategy: Driving Sustainability

6th Sep, 2016

Over 7 years ago when the events industry really started to talk about “hybrid meetings”, there was a sense of a huge tsunami of technology that would hit us and destroy the meetings industry as we know. Many feared that hybrid meetings might cannibalise their face-to-face events, with people choosing to attend virtually rather than in person. Others – especially the greenies and the technology geeks proclaimed online events as the future and the way to drastically reduce carbon emissions.

Today those new technologies did catch on, usage is increasing and experience has proved that virtual connections increases face-to-face attendance and plays a very important part in your event sustainability strategy. However, while many associations have incorporated new forms of online technology into their event, only a few are doing a great job at leveraging digital solutions to improve their organisational goals and to drive their sustainable performance.

Most associations exist to serve more than a commercial purpose – most have a clear social and often an environmental mission.  A well-implemented hybrid and online strategy delivers the following benefits: 

1.     Social:

a.    Online integration allows associations to design events that are more inclusive, diverse and accessible. You can include more people who would not have been able to attend the event due to time, geography, accessibility or economic issues.

b.    In this age of hyper transparency and increased regulation, online events allow associations to bring concerned audiences into the “crowd” to observe and take part.

2.     Economic:

a.    Hybrid allows for on-demand access of content during and long after the event; dramatically expanding both the life-cycle and reach of your key messages.

b.    During tough economic times sponsors and supporting companies enforce travel restrictions and budget cuts. At these times online content and live broadcasting are an extremely cost and time efficient way to deliver key messages.

c.     Digitising meeting content can also provide a significant new revenue stream. Associations can create different access models for attendees; from remote participation to full conference participation and content access included in the highest fee.

3.     Environment

a.     Flights account for a minimum of 70% of carbon emissions from most international conference. Reducing flights is the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions at most conferences. With most events producing a minimum of 3kg of waste per person per day, online events can potentially reduce your waste impact significantly.

In conclusion, tomorrow’s most successful associations will be those that engage and activate their target communities by leveraging the exciting synergies between people, technology and face-to-face connections around a clear economic, social and environmental purpose. They will build upon the engaged communities of people that already exist online to develop incredible and sustainable offline events that further drive these communities to engage online and activate their purpose.

This article is a contribution from Guy Bigwood, MCI Group Sustainability Director. For the last ten years MCI have been consulting and advising on the development and implementation of digital and sustainability strategies for association, destinations, corporations and governments. More info on

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