World Future Energy Summit organiser Turret Middle East discovers that it is not easy being green in the Gulf.
Organising a carbon-free event in a region that is renowned for being one of the most wasteful on the planet is no mean feat, but the motives behind staging the World Futures Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi meant that if the event itself were not seen to support the philosophy behind it, the whole thing would lose its credibility.
With so many events in this booming sector, we asked how we could differentiate ourselves.
Organiser Turret Middle East had to pull out all the stops to ensure that the carbon footprint left by the event, which was held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from January 21-23 was negligible.
The summit was one of the by-products of the Abu Dhabi government's decision to embrace renewable and sustainable energy technologies; a decision made in April 2006.
The show was designed to bring together some of the worlds leading experts in the energy sector to form a cooperative platform from which delegates could address some of the key issues affecting the sector, such as sustainability, climate change and energy security, so naturally the event had to reflect the purpose of the summit.
Turret Middle East worked closely with The CarbonNeutral Company to ensure that the carbon footprint left by the event was as small as possible.
"We wanted a carbon free event - or as close to it as we could get - but realistically the environment we were operating in was not geared up to enable us to create such an event," explains Richard Hease, chairman, Turret Middle East Ltd.
"Eventually we went down the route of off-setting; creating a carbon neutral event through The CarbonNeutral Company, covering everything from delegate flights to exhibition waste."
"However, where possible, we did consider the environment and tried to use products that were recycled or could be reused."
But "trying to be green in a non-green world" led to a number of tough decisions, such as whether to use local or imported products for the event: "Local products obviously meant less miles travelled, however by importing we could get recycled products," says Hease.
"Printers can't source recycled paper here and there is no general recycling collection service in Abu Dhabi (although that is about to change) and no public transport."
"We organised shuttle buses where we could to encourage people not to drive, but the buses weren't low emission as we would have sourced elsewhere."
The event was attended by high-profile delegates, including the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the President of Iceland and the UK's Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
"Turret also invited a hologram version of the UK's Prince of Wales, rather than flying in the real version for the occasion."
Local products obviously meant less miles travelled, however by importing we could get recycled products.
"Doing so would have emitted some 15 tonnes of harmful carbon, according to the holographic version of the prince.
But despite the best intentions of having a hologram attend on behalf of Prince Charles, organisers still faced criticism for having so many delegates fly in to Abu Dhabi to meet face-to-face in the first place, given the amount of carbon that generated.
"We needed a strong case to defend the need for face-to-face networking, as the essence of our event was that if we are going to combat the global issue of climate change, then we need to work now to build relationships and work together rather than in silos and that by getting everyone together in one place at one time we were able to save energy, rather than have numerous meetings around the world taking place individually," Hease explains.
Turret faced other issues as well as keeping the event green, such as ensuring that WFES was not "just another event" in the eyes of the media.
"With so many events in this booming sector, we asked how we could differentiate ourselves."
"How do we position ourselves differently - particularly to media partners who we really need onboard at a launch event?" Hease asks.
"We formulated a plan for the exhibition based on what we were offering the visitor audience that we were looking to attract rather than who we could sell stands to."
"This may seem obvious, but trying to reign in a sales team who are hungry for commission is not always easy."
WFES was also supported by an online campaign called Shall Meet at the Globe; a networking tool whereby people who had registered to the event could communicate with each other securely using a search function.
Delegates could then arrange to meet at 'the Globe'; an area dedicated to networking.
"Over 700 people used this system to make connections before and during the event," Hease concludes.
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