Conventions and Sustainability – Part 1

Conventions have been an integral part of geek culture for as long as most of us can remember. They’ve been a way for fans to connect and meet like minded individuals and often forge lifelong friendships. The benefits have been immeasurable, but has the environmental impact of conventions been too great a cost?

Positive Thoughts…

Before I start, there’s no denying the positive effects that conventions have. For many, they are the only opportunity they have to meet other fans. Whether it’s down to anxiety or where they may live, some simply don’t get the opportunity to mix with other fans that often. We’re social creatures by nature and conventions can be a lifeline for many.

At the same time, many small retailers within the geek community rely on conventions to provide a major part of their income. For those with a physical retail presence, this can rarely compete with a few days trade at a convention. Many simply can not fight online against the giants of Amazon and eBay.

And while on the subject of finance, there’s no getting away from the wider economic impact that conventions have. It’s not just merchandise sales – the income to the service, hospitality and travel sectors is immense.

The Environmental Cost

But for all the good conventions do, there are serious implications for the planet. Even more so for the larger events around the globe. Looking back I’ll be honest and say that I saw a lot of this with our own Transformers event Auto Assembly. However imagining this on a global scale and you can begin to understand the severity of the issue…

Global Audience

Many larger events draw attendees from diverse locations. Either across their own countries or even globally. While this may seem great, large numbers of people traveling has a huge impact. Regardless of the mode of transport used, when hundreds if not thousands of people congregate for an event it’s not the best use of the transport network, even more so if many fly to get there.

We found that somewhere in the region of 10-20% of the attendees from our final event were from outside of the UK. And the majority of the domestic audience would have travelled a substantial distance to attend. Regardless of the methods used that would have resulted in tens of thousands of miles travelled, if not hundreds of thousands across all our attendees combined. It’s a staggering and somewhat frightening thought even with our own event. But then when you look at something as large as San Diego Comic Con and the numbers who travel to go there each year and it’s positively terrifying.

Shopping Frenzy

Most of us spend money at conventions, whether it’s large purchases or smaller items. But we’re then left with having to get everything home afterwards. Depending on the type of collector you are and what you buy, not everyone keeps items sealed and many want to open their purchases at the convention. But what happens to that packaging? People are not going to throw it on the floor, but it will almost certainly end up in the nearest rubbish bin at the convention.

And the same usually happens with food and drink containers during the convention weekend. Empty cans and plastic bottles, boxes etc all end up in the same place as general rubbish. Venues then gather everything up at the end and simply dispose of it as they would normally, either to landfill or to be incinerated. We may be used to the idea of recycling as much as possible at home, but events are still built around the notion of living in a throwaway society.

NOT A Paperless Society

All of that is while you are at the convention but what about beforehand? While online marketing works wonders, conventions still use traditional methods of promotion to let fans know that they are taking place. And that means posters and the inevitable flyers. We’ve all been handed flyers for shows and events before, and while we may choose to attend the odd one or two, the same thing happens to the flyers afterwards – in the bin or if you’re lucky in the recycling. But of the thousands that get printed, how many reach their intended audience? It’s a scattergun approach and isn’t the most environmentally friendly option.

And as for the convention itself… It’s not as common these days, but once you have booked your ticket, there are some that send material in the post before the event itself. Fortunately this is rare nowadays but not only does this mean added cost for the event, but also a further impact on the planet – both in use of paper and transportation. You may think a mail run won’t make that much of a difference but it all adds up.

Even MORE Paper…

But most seriously is the event itself. Depending on the convention, there’s usually a vast amount of paper involved. Physical tickets, convention exclusive comics and magazines, competition entry forms, documents attendees may be required to print out… The list goes on. And in every case these have to be produced in larger quantities than is needed unless attendance figures are locked in advance of the convention to make allowances for door ticket sales.

Despite the introduction of digital print technologies, most printing companies still work in set quantities for their print runs. And unless these match up exactly with an event’s ticket sales it means overstocks for the organisers.

Depending on the items being produced, some of these overstocks can be sold off at a later date, but other more time-sensitive goods often end up left in storage or worse. No-one is going to want forms or information handouts for a historical event so, like everything else before, it gets tossed aside unwanted.

In our 15 year run with the Auto Assembly events, we didn’t escape this unscathed either. We were left with boxes packed full of fanzines, rolls of posters, and thousands of our convention exclusive postcards. Not only from our last event that took place seven years ago, but some that date back as far as 2003! We sold a few surplus items over the years but the rest just built up in storage. We were incredibly lucky a few months ago and managed to hand over a large amount to a local retailer to give away to their customers who were Transformers fans. But some still ended up heading to our local recycling centre.

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But is there anything that can be done to make a positive change for the better? Read part two to hear our suggestions…

Main image by tunechick83 from Pixabay

About Simon Plumbe 209 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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