We may have a vaccine – now let’s get sustainable

As part of M&IT’s sustainability month, Paul Harvey takes a look at the news that a Covid-19 vaccine could be just around the corner – and what this means for event organisers and sustainability…

Could this be it? Is the end in sight? The positive news emerging about a potential Covid-19 vaccine has got the whole world dreaming.

The realisation that life might be able to return to some kind of normal in a matter of months is almost too much to take in. We could be seeing family, friends, loved ones again – people we haven’t seen in months.

And yes, we could be meeting and organising events again soon – sooner than seemed possible even just a few days ago. However – and I’m sorry to be a Debbie Downer about this – I do have fears about what the return to events will mean.

By way of example, COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, was scheduled to take place this month in Glasgow. The conference has now been pushed back to 1-12 November 2021 – but if two new surveys are anything to go by, it can’t come soon enough.

First up, new research by Hilton has found that almost six in 10 (57 per cent) are already planning trips for next year, with Brits hoping for an average of two holidays abroad – an estimated 132 million.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) are planning ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trips for next year, while almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said the chance to create new memories was what they most longed for.

Considering that this research was carried out before the news about the vaccine was announced, it’s almost certain that these figures would be higher now.

All of which is to say, we’re looking at a pent-up demand for travel. We are living in a time of travel abstinence; it is natural that this will be followed by an outpouring of travel once we are able to do so. And this return to travel means more emissions – and accelerated climate change.

We saw a similar situation with the housing market over the summer. Put on ice in the spring, once it opened up again we saw more homes in Britain selling within a week of being put on the market than at any time over the past 10 years, according to Rightmove.

Activity and prices reached new highs during what is traditionally a quiet time for the market thanks to the pent-up demand.

All the signs are pointing to the fact that when live events can return, we can expect to see a huge rush back.

Therefore, it’s more crucial than ever to remember that when we do meet again, it needs to be in a responsible, sustainable way – rather than in a splurge of excess.

After months cooped up indoors on Zoom, that release of getting back face-to-face will feel better than we ever thought possible. We’ll want to meet and travel and see people and everything in between. But that is no reason to throw our obligations to the planet out of the window. We cannot go overboard, no matter how tempting it may be.

Which brings me to the other survey I mentioned; one which has found that people are planning to drive more in future than they did before the pandemic.

Approximately 26,000 people in 26 countries were polled in the summer by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project – and astonishingly, people from every single country reported that they plan to use their cars more in the future.

More than three quarters of respondents agreed humankind was mainly or partly to blame for the climate emergency. So despite agreeing that human actions are to blame for climate change, people are still not willing to take appropriate action to remedy the situation. There is a disconnect somewhere.

It seems likely that the rush to use cars is based on a lack of desire to head back to public transport post-Covid. Again, this research was carried out before the news about the vaccine, so it could be that this would have affected the result.

But whatever the reason, more car use means more traffic, more congestion, more emissions – and accelerated climate change.

We know we have to change, but that’s not enough anymore. We now have to take real world actions to make our events more sustainable.

Because while there may be (fingers crossed) a vaccine for Covid-19 – there certainly won’t be a vaccine for climate change.

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