Conventions and Sustainability – Part 2

In our previous article we looked at the convention scene and the negative impact it has on the environment. However it doesn’t have to be a case of doom and gloom. Is it possible for conventions to improve the way they tackle sustainability issues and improve the way they operate? We think so, and here are a few of our suggestions…

Go Virtual

One of the biggest fears convention organisers had at the height of COVID was the damage caused to the convention industry. With the majority of conventions unable to take place, many looked for an alternative solution. Those able to looked to modern technology and ran virtual conventions instead. Guest panels were hosted using Zoom or Twitch and allows fans to watch and still interact, custom websites were set up with sections for dealers taking part to create virtual dealers rooms, even allowing them to create videos to showcase goods in stock. And autograph sessions – as is still being done today – can be done as live video sessions with guests signing on camera to prove authenticity of photos.

While it doesn’t offer the same atmosphere of a traditional convention, it’s worked for many and certainly ensured that a large number of conventions are still with us that could have folded over the last few years. It’s not something that is ideal for everyone, but for smaller events wanting to try something different while still bringing fans and guests together, it could be a perfect low-cost and low-impact alternative.

Keep It Local

One of the biggest impacts on the environment we talked about last time was travel. Truthfully the only way this could be addressed is a change in the nature of events. Most are competing with each other to be the biggest and best right now. But what if they tried the opposite?

Instead of aiming for national and international audiences, what if conventions downsized and aimed for a more regional focus? They might not be as grandiose but smaller events could make a huge dent in the damage being done, even if more took place as a result.

Local Benefits?

Despite being smaller, local events do have their benefits. We all know that times are tough financially so holding events of this nature can work wonders for the local economy. Either by helping smaller local traders or just bringing people in to use local venues and services.

And as we’ve touched on before local events can have an incredibly important part to play in the social side of fandom. While a lot of people go to conventions to meet up with friends (or often find they make new friends), the value of being able to do so with people who live nearby is immeasurable.

With so many members of the geek community feeling isolated and not knowing other fans beyond social media, the chance to meet others can’t be downplayed. Local fan clubs and gatherings used to be the backbone of sci-fi fandom in the 80s and 90s but sadly that’s been lost as technology has taken over.

Is It Needed?

One thing all event organisers need to ask themselves with their conventions is whether each of their use of resources is needed. I talked last time about printing requirements, but for as much as possible events need to ask whether anything being produced would be a single use, could be re-used the following year, or has sales potential for leftovers for mass-produced items.

Competition entry forms, for example. Instead of pre-printing them in bulk with the event’s logo, date etc, why not print them with a space for attendees to write the date on the form? This way any unused forms could be used for the following year’s convention. Flyers are another wasteful resource these days. The majority of convention attendees find out about shows through social media or other means online. It’s no longer a cost-saving exercise to scrap the use of printed flyers, but it’s simply a waste of paper. A digital flyer that can be posted on Facebook or Twitter is just as effective and has a larger reach than any number of printed ones.

Car Pooling

Don’t worry, there’s no sign of James Corden here! I said in my last piece that traveling for attendees has a huge environmental impact. Even with public transport taking some of the load it still makes a huge dent, but there are those who still prefer to make their own way to conventions. Friends will often travel together, but there’s nothing stopping conventions themselves taking the initiative here…

It wouldn’t be difficult to make use of social media to do this. Through the use of private groups restricted to event attendees, events could offer facilities for those attending to find fellow geeks wanting to car share. Not only will it help everyone spread the cost, but help the planet at the same time!

Traders

Traders, by their very nature, are the lifeblood of a lot of events. But they’re also a big part of the problem in terms of sustainability. As fans we all crave more “stuff” to add to our collections. This really is one area that’s difficult to improve but even here there are things that can be done to make some changes.

First, we know that there are a mix of traders in every fandom. Some only stock new officially licensed products, where others will only sell older, second hand collectibles. Conventions could offer financial incentives to those specialising in second hand goods (reduced rates for tables etc) to encourage the sale of preowned items.

Also traders should be discouraged from providing customers with single use carrier bags. While these may be good for promotional purposes where stores have branded bags, they’re hardly environmentally friendly. Instead, as conventions we should encourage attendees to come prepared with their own reuseable bags to take into the dealers hall.

Recycling

This one is down to venues, but more effort needs to be made to provide recycling points for attendees. It’s no longer acceptable to just have rubbish bins available for use, even in hotels. Attendees need to have options to dispose of all their rubbish in a sustainable way.

Equally for conventions that take place within hotels, they should ensure that the bedrooms themselves have recycling facilities. It’s not difficult to have two small bins in a room instead of one and should be a standard consideration these days.

Suppliers

Organisers also have a major part to play when it comes to sourcing what they need for their event. Questions should be asked about not only how sustainable their products are – whether it’s lanyards for name badges, convention magazines, clothing etc – but also where they are produced and how they are shipped.

Cost shouldn’t be the priority when goods and services can be sourced locally and more sustainably. I’m sure that attendees wouldn’t object to a price increase knowing that their purchases are being made more responsibly.

Sustainable Venues

Something that is rarely thought about is the venue itself. Usually size is the deciding factor when choosing a location to hold a convention. But what if other factors were taken into account instead? Many larger convention centres and hotels are getting closer to being self-sufficient in terms of power, having their own solar grids or access to other forms of renewable energy.

At the same time, the facilities on offer should play a major role in deciding what venue to use. Prior to bringing the Auto Assembly event to an end we were looking at relocating to a different venue. At least two of the front runners offered all of the furniture and AV equipment we needed in house. This would have not only reduced costs, but been less damaging to the environment as no transportation for any of this would have been needed.

Closing Thoughts

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg really, but if event organisers just implemented a few basic changes the impact could be astonishing. The number of conventions that take place globally every year is growing once again and as much as we all love attending them, it’s time that we all started to take more responsibility as attendees and organisers to ensure that they have a long and bright future ahead of them.

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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