By Elizabeth Shirt, Managing Director – GLOBE Series
When I joined GLOBE Series as Managing Director in early 2020, I was super excited. I knew GLOBE had been producing sustainability and climate events for over three decades, and I wanted to be part of the next chapter. After all, we have no time to lose on the road to creating a net-zero, equitable future. I knew that GLOBE events would be where critical conversations and collaboration took root.
What I couldn’t have predicted was a global pandemic that shook the event industry – among many others – to its core. We quickly pivoted to offering virtual events, and were pleasantly surprised to find that many partners and clients were keen to engage us on everything from programming to technical platforms. Our event services are now a permanent part of what we offer.
After two years of virtual events, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by what came next: a huge pent-up demand for getting together in person. GLOBE Forum, which has happened every two years for the past 30, sold out for the first time in its history. We had thousands of people register for in-person and virtual programming. With all that behind us and a huge amount of work to do in the next decade, I’d like to offer our top learnings that you can apply to your own sustainability and climate events.
#1: In-person events aren’t dead
After two years of Zoom meetings from our home offices, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised at the tremendous interest in getting together in person at GLOBE Forum. People REALLY wanted to see each other after all that time, and the importance of human connection really came through in both our ticket sales and the vibe at the event itself.
How do you make the most of this desire to connect, which in turn fuels more collaboration and innovation? When you’re creating your program, don’t just think about who’s on the stage, think about who is in the room. Consider how you can help your attendees connect with each other – not only in your official programming, but outside of it.
For example, at GLOBE Forum we offered recharge lounges, meeting pods, and multiple networking events. These are where the magic happens…where else can a Chief Sustainability Officer of a multinational company get the opportunity to talk policy with a federal or provincial policymaker? Or a small company with big ambitions become part of the climate conversation? There were so many instances just like this at Forum.
For the first time ever, we also hosted an in-demand “Meet the experts” session with our colleagues from The Delphi Group. This was another way that we leveraged our own connections to help other companies make connections that will help them do what they do even better.
#2: If you’re not thinking about equity and access, start now
You can’t get away with all-white manels anymore. We will and should be held accountable for the people on stage, virtual or otherwise. Plus, if we’re going to build a better future, we need to have all the voices at the table – taking into account age, racial and gender identity, and differently abled perspectives.
At GLOBE Forum, we set and met speaker diversity targets. We considered what it really means to acknowledge the land we are gathering on. We also made sure to create space for First Nations leaders — who represent peoples who called Vancouver home well before any of us lived, worked or played here — to open the event, welcome us to their traditional territories, and talk about why sustainability is fundamental to their communities (and has been for centuries).
Could we do better? Absolutely, and we will keep the pressure on ourselves to ensure all our events are as inclusive as possible. If you’re considering an event, we encourage you to do the same.
In terms of event accessibility, providing virtual and hybrid options was definitely a huge step forward for us at Forum. Fortunately, we were able to leverage the expertise we’d gleaned during two years of the pandemic. We also ensured our event was accessible to a broad and diverse audience by providing targeted discounts for students, not-for-profits and under-represented groups.
#3: It’s not easy being green….but do it anyway
Ensuring your in-person event is sustainable is more and more important to your stakeholders – and is even more important if your audience lives and breathes sustainability, as ours does. There are a bunch of things you can do to work towards net zero, such as:
- Select a green venue. For example, GLOBE Forum takes place in the Vancouver Convention Centre, which is the world’s first double LEED Platinum certified convention centre.
- Ensure your badges are recyclable.
- Offer catering linked to sustainable food sources and local suppliers.
- Consider going paper-free by offering your program online only.
- Consider a fully virtual event OR partner with a credible offsets provider to mitigate the emissions associated with in-person events. We partnered with Ostrom Climate at GLOBE Forum to mitigate our event-related emissions.
Our mission is to provide events that are as green and sustainable as possible. We still have some work to do, but asking the right questions from the start is key to making progress.
#4: Go beyond a chatfest…link your event to outcomes and action
The learnings and best practices that people can glean from speakers and fellow attendees at events have a lot of value. However, with less than a decade to make urgent progress towards a net-zero future, we need to go beyond talk to action and impact. This is also what will make your event that much more compelling than another Zoom webinar.
At GLOBE Forum, we not only offered GLOBE Advances – deep-dive workshops on our key themes – but very intentionally built our program around the 10×10 Action Plan: the 10 actions in 10 years we need to take to get to net zero. The 10×10 will be developed out of the discussions that took place at GLOBE Forum and will specify WHAT needs to happen and WHO needs to do it on the road to net zero. These actions will be unpacked at future GLOBE events with the goal of ensuring accountability and impact. Read more about the 10×10 here.
#5: Take 5 after your event is over
There is nothing quite like putting on an event. It’s a high-intensity and high-stress undertaking. It’s really important to acknowledge that and to build it into your calendar in a way that won’t over-tax your team – such as ensuring they can take a breather when the event is over. Think about what’s going to be your best quarter for planning, your best quarter for implementation, and your best quarter for recovery.
It’s also important to define rules of engagement when things get stressful and so that you can stay true to your culture and values. This can really sustain you when the team is going a million miles an hour in a high-intensity environment.
Are you thinking about offering an in-person, hybrid or virtual event, workshop or presentation? We can help!
For more information about how we can partner with you to deliver your next sustainability event, reach out to our Senior Manager, Event Partnerships, Caroline Vanesse, directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By Phil De Luna, Green Party of Canada Candidate for Toronto-St. Paul’s
I have spent my entire career developing technologies to help decarbonize Canada. It started with my PhD in Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto, where I discovered new renewable ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and chemicals. From there I co-founded a venture, Team CERT, to scale that clean technology out of the lab and became a finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE. I joined the National Research Council of Canada as its youngest-ever Director where I built and led a $57M collaborative R&D program to develop made-in-Canada technologies for decarbonization. Along the way, I have studied, discovered, developed, funded, mentored, and advocated for the development and expansion of cleantech.
At some point on this journey, I had a realization – technology alone is not enough to get us to net-zero. You can have the next breakthrough hydrogen catalyst or the cutting-edge carbon capture material, but unless you have the finances to scale it and the policies to support it, it will end up on the shelf. Together, technology, policy, and finance are the three levers needed to affect change. Thankfully, many institutional investors, corporates, and governments have recognized this need and are shifting money away from fossil fuels and into cleantech. For example, venture capitalists are expected to complete $7.7 billion worth of cleantech deals in the U.S. this year, up from $1 billion a decade ago. However, this transition is not happening fast enough, as it typically takes 20 years from invention to impact with clean technologies based on materiology, like hydrogen or batteries.
Following record-breaking heatwaves and the recent wake of fires across North America, the urgency to act on climate change is becoming more pressing every day. Unfortunately, many governments are not on track to meet their Paris Agreement climate goals and many, including Canada, continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure like pipelines. The International Energy Agency (a traditionally conservative organization) recently published a report showing that net-zero by 2050 is not possible with the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. Their analysis noted that achieving net-zero by 2050 can only be done with an unprecedented, warlike effort to expand clean technology infrastructure. And only governments and policies can work at the scale needed to jump-start this transition. We have innovators developing the technologies. We have investors recognizing the opportunity of this transition. We just need the political will to get it done.
Continuing my career-long goal to help make Canadian industry cleaner and more prosperous, I am now running to become a Member of Parliament in Toronto-St. Paul’s for the Green Party. I’m running because we must move faster to combat the threat of climate change and create new sustainable avenues to renew our society and economy. I’m running because we need more diversity in parliament and more science in policy. I’m running because I want to lower the barriers for other non-traditional candidates to consider running — because a diverse government is a robust and resilient one.
My platform is currently focused on three pillars: supporting our essential workers, housing affordability, and green jobs that are part of a just transition to a net-zero Canada. These topics are deeply personal for me. My fiancée is an operating room nurse at Sick Kids and a frontline worker. Many of my fellow Filipino-Canadians occupy these often low-paying but essential roles. My generation is being increasingly squeezed out of the housing market and is wondering, will we ever be able to purchase a home? Championing cleantech to fight climate change has been my passion, but more importantly, I recognize the opportunity in sustainable jobs. My father, an autoworker, lost his job when Ford closed their assembly plant in Windsor, ON, and I’ve seen firsthand what happens when an entire community is dependent on one industry. And I see the same thing happening in heavy emission industries today. We need to do everything we can to diversify the industry and ensure Canadian families have green jobs that will last.
There exists a massive opportunity in the clean energy transition, as the green economy will be the economy of the 21st century. To this end, I have come up with a five-point plan to get us to net-zero by 2050, one that I hope to push for in parliament.
Step 1. Protect what we have.
Nature sequesters 12 billion tonnes of CO2 every year in wetlands, rainforests, vegetation, and soil. Environmental conservation is not only about protecting the beauty of nature, but also about protecting its ability to capture and sequester CO2 through photosynthesis and other natural pathways. Take for example, recent plans for an Amazon warehouse on Toronto wetlands that was abandoned due to public pressure. Policies and technologies that focus on reducing consumption, reusing consumer goods, promoting a circular economy, and increasing recyclability are all ways to protect what we have.
Step 2. Renewables everywhere.
Solar and wind are now cheaper than coal. The issue is no longer economic price, but rather intermittency. What do you do when the sun does not shine, or the winds won’t blow? This is why it is so important to increase investment into and development of energy storage technologies, particularly long-term seasonal energy storage solutions that traditional batteries are not capable of. Policies that support a 100% emission-free electricity grid are also extremely important. However, we will need to consider initial lower-income energy subsidies when electricity costs may be higher due to infrastructure spending in the early stages of this transition.
Step 3. Electrify everything.
Now that we have clean and green electrons, we need to put them to work and electrify as much as possible of our traditionally fossil-fuel-powered economy. The obvious first beachhead is electric vehicles. Kicked off by Tesla’s rapid rise, light-duty transportation is well on its way towards electrification and mainstream adoption, Among others, Ford has announced they are slated to spend more on EVs than on internal combustion engine vehicles in 2023 alone. To help spur this trend, policies can create incentives for EVs, increase charging infrastructure, ban internal combustion engine cars, and mandate a certain number of EVs be available at any dealership. Another area is home heating and cooling. Electrifying our lived environment will also reduce dependence on natural gas by way of zero-emissions heat pumps.
Step 4. Tackle hard to abate sectors.
Once we’ve decarbonized our electricity grid, we’ll need to address industrial emissions that are difficult or impossible to electrify. Agriculture and the production of materials, fertilizer, cement, and steel – all things that we need for economy and quality of life – produce emissions just by the nature of their how they are created. This is where the need for disruptive technology is greatest, where we need to design and develop new processes that are circular, low-emission, or entirely new. Cleantech is not just solar panels and wind turbines, it is anything that can help reduce CO2 emissions. Electric arc furnaces, geothermal steam generation, bio-foundries that produce sustainable materials, and CO2 embedded concrete are all examples of the next wave of cleantech.
Step 5. Remove carbon from the atmosphere.
To address the inevitable gap between decarbonizing our electricity grid, transportation, buildings, heavy industry, and agriculture sectors –we need new ways to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Whether that’s nature-based solutions like regenerative agriculture or tree planting campaigns, or technology-based solutions like direct-air capture and carbon capture, utilization, and storage – we need to do it all. Policies that incentive organizations and individuals to capture CO2 or promote the use of CO2 in industry (eg. carbon-reinforced concrete) will help create demand and drive down the costs of capture as the technologies reach economies of scale.
The beauty of this five-point plan is that the technology needed to execute it will require the exact same workers who presently make their livelihoods in the oil and gas sector today. We will need pipefitters, chemists, technicians, welders, and engineers to build the clean energy infrastructure needed for a sustainable tomorrow.
And there you have it, Phil’s Five-Point Plan to Get to Net-Zero. Perhaps a bit idealistic. Perhaps some will say inertia is difficult to break, that things are easier said than done. But like running for office, you’ll never get a chance to change the world if you don’t try.
Join Jennifer Keesmaat, CEO of The Keesmaat Group & former Chief City Planner of Toronto as she sits down with The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Michael Sabia, Chair of Canada Infrastructure Bank. This interactive virtual dialogue highlights the important role of infrastructure as a catalyst for Canada’s COVID-19 economic recovery, as well as the opportunities and challenges the crisis presents for making our communities greener, safer and better.
- The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Government of Canada
- Michael Sabia, Chair of the Board of Canada Infrastructure Bank
- Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Executive Officer, The Keesmaat Group and former Chief City Planner, City of Toronto
- Elizabeth Shirt, Managing Director, GLOBE Series