How to make your design event 100% carbon neutral

When Kyoorius Designyatra kicks off next week, on Thursday 11 September, it'll be India's first-ever 100 per cent carbon-neutral event. That's no mean feat, particularly when you consider that Designyatra is the country's largest design and communication conference, and one of the biggest creative events in the global design calendar.

Over the next week, some of the design industry's brightest lights – including Ivan Chermayeff, Michael Wolff and Pentagram's Natasha Jen – will be flown in from around the world to address the 1,300 strong audience, all of whom will also start making their way to Goa over the next seven days. Add in electricity, ground transportation, food and beverage services, venue and more, and there's a lot to consider.

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In an industry where sustainability can be an empty buzz-word designed to draw in clients, it's refreshing to see an organisation put its money where its mouth is. But how do you make a design event the size of Designyatra 100 per cent carbon-neutral? How do you measure its carbon footprint in the first place – and what can you do to offset the emissions of your own design events?

We sat down with Kyoorius founder and CEO Rajesh Kejriwal to find out...

Why make Designyatra 100% carbon neutral? What do you hope to achieve?

At Kyoorius, we believe in doing well by doing good. It’s not enough to talk about sustainability: we need to think about the impact we have as an industry on the planet, and how can we encourage people to become more climate-friendly.

Our goal with Designyatra, apart from bringing this community together, is to also challenge people to think differently as well. This year, we wanted to set a precedent and bring the conversation about sustainability to the fore.

How have you defined and measured the carbon footprint of Designyatra?

We have partnered with GAME (Greening Advertising Media & Entertainment), a not-for-profit consulting body for this industry, which strives to make content creation and production more environment-friendly. The GAME team performed an extensive audit measuring the carbon footprint of the event by identifying all sources of event-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The major emission sources were travel to the host city, local road transportation, energy consumed by the event venue and energy used through stays at local hotels or homes. Smaller emission sources include transportation of goods for the event, event organiser travel during planning and preparation, energy consumed by the event office, paper use and waste generation.

This was equated with the carbon neutralisation of Silver Oak trees, and Kyoorius had to plant 5,435 trees as per the audit estimate. Kyoorius went ahead and planted 6,000 trees, with more on the way. During Designyatra, GAME will measure our actual carbon footprint and then give us a precision report, based on which we decide if the number of trees already planted will suffice.

What are the most surprising emission sources you've come across?

One of the most surprising aspects was that there are many small avenues to reduce our carbon footprint. For example, at the awards night we’ve ensured that all the leftovers are collected in containers and donated to an orphanage – this also reduces our carbon footprint. Screens were changed from HD Projectors to LED. We used FSC or Recycled papers and water-based inks only.

How have you reduced and offset the carbon impact of Designyatra 2014?

The GAME team have been working closely with our office, the hotel, as well as the event production company and has made recommendations to each of these groups about how to reduce their carbon impact. We’ve made adjustments in light of their suggestions and, in some cases, we’ve reconsidered our choices as mentioned above. We've organised coach transfers at Goa for the majority of delegates who otherwise would have travelled individually in cars.Grand Hyatt, the conference venue recycles all compostable garbage through their horticulture unit into manure.

However, adopting green practices ourselves is not enough, we also need to educate our delegates. In addition to our own audit, GAME will install a live offsetting booth at Designyatra so that delegates can receive an estimate of their own carbon footprint and have the option to offset it right at the event.

What's been the most challenging aspect of going 100% carbon-neutral?

There are a number of partners and vendors we have to work with in order to pull off an event of this scale – not many of them think of saving carbon footprints. The challenge is to emphasise the importance of adopting climate-friendly practices to each and every one of them.

How high up the agenda within India is sustainability?

As an emerging market, sustainability is becoming an important consideration in India but is yet to be implemented – understanding and thereby education is an important lacunae at the moment. We wanted to set a precedent and what better place to get people’s attention than Designyatra – the biggest gathering of creative professionals and communication influencers in the country.

Do you think this is something all design events should strive to achieve?

The process of calculating the carbon footprint can be a real eye opener, when you discover the amount of resources that are consumed at such events and how small avenues can easily be explored by all events let alone design events. We're not saying that all have to become 100 per cent carbon neutral, but all can strive to reduce as much as possible.

More than counting carbon however, the first step is awareness. The people who attend these events have to become more conscious of their consumption in their places of work and be more judicious in how they use resources.

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Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.