Sustainable approach proves event size no barrier to carbon neutrality | ICOMOS GA2023

Fast facts

Event: ICOMOS 21st General Assembly and Scientific Symposium 2023 (GA2023)

Dates: 31 August – 9 September 2023

Location: International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney and other Sydney locations

Background:

The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) 21st General Assembly and Scientific Symposium 2023 (GA2023) was hosted by Australia ICOMOS. GA2023 was experienced by more than 1,800 participants including cultural and heritage professionals, united by a mission to safeguard significant sites and monuments. The 10-day program encompassed more than 150 events, with a central focus on the theme of Heritage Changes: Resilience – Responsibility – Rights – Relationships, including the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage as well as looking to a sustainable future.

Challenge:

In recognition of the dire repercussions of climate change on cultural heritage, the GA2023 Organising Committee aimed to make the event environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral. This endeavour required a comprehensive approach, from policy formulation and procurement to venue selection, product selection, menu design, communication strategies and nett carbon offsetting.

Solutions:

To achieve a carbon-neutral event while championing a comprehensive and inclusive approach to cultural heritage conservation, the following strategies were implemented:

Carbon Control and Offset: Partnering with EarthCheck, GA2023 worked towards carbon neutrality initially by preferring carbon neutral venues and sustainable suppliers and then through active monitoring, measuring and managing of the event’s carbon footprint. A dedicated tree planting program supported by Reforest saw 1,200 trees planted in the Widgewah Conservation Sanctuary, offset remaining emissions.

Sustainability Guide: A Sustainability Guide was established for GA2023, providing guidance on how to avoid carbon and non-sustainable materials, procure sustainable products, lower emissions and collaborate with like-minded organisations.

Aboriginal Procurement Policy: GA2023 adopted an Aboriginal Procurement Policy, which resulted in engagement of 12 local Aboriginal-owned businesses throughout the supply chain. This commitment facilitated use of local products and services, thereby minimising carbon miles and underscored the significance of cultural heritage connections by supporting Aboriginal people in a practical way.

Venue and Supplier Selection: GA2023 chose sustainable venues, in particular the EarthCheck-certified International Convention Centre Sydney, which contributed only 5% of the overall event emissions. GA2023 preferred sustainable certified suppliers, including Arinex, Australia’s only carbon-neutral event management company.

Travel: Attendees were encouraged to book their flights with GA2023 airline partner Qantas and to purchase carbon offsets, with Qantas matching contributions dollar for dollar. Additionally, through Reforest, delegates were provided with access to a travel calculator, enabling them to estimate and offset their travel-related carbon emissions. Many GA2023 planning meetings were ‘hybrid’ thereby significantly reducing the carbon footprint for both local and interstate travel.

Event Elements: Australia ICOMOS collaborated with Arinex, to integrate other sustainable elements, including:

  • Inclusion of ‘Heritage as Sustainability’ as a program within the GA2023 Scientific Symposium
  • Showcasing sustainability through presentations, panels, talks and discussions, at the ‘Heritage Hub’ within the GA2023 Heritage Exposition
  • Designating a Sustainability Day with vegetarian catering
  • Providing edible Gala Dinner table centrepieces – which were later repurposed as charity food packages
  • Using recycled resources for on-site display material, such hard copy signs, and poster boards and for consumables such as disposable crockery and cutlery
  • Promoting on-site sustainability through other initiatives such as reusable stainless water bottles /water stations, wooden pencils, compostable notepads (made from stone), bamboo lanyards and plastic-free name badges
  • Minimising printed materials through use of electronic signs, an electronic program and a dedicated GA2023 App containing readily accessible event information.

Outcomes:

Through strong partnerships and sustainable practices, Australia ICOMOS achieved a certified carbon neutral 10-day Symposium involving more than150 individual events and over 1,800 participants from around the world.

Australia ICOMOS communicated a strong message about the nexus between ‘heritage’ and what is passed on to future generations and sustainable practice, along the way demonstrating that event size need not hinder achieving carbon neutrality and establishing a strong precedent for future ICOMOS events.

This strong emphasis on sustainability meant attendees could take pride that their involvement at this pivotal gathering contributed positively to the world. This sentiment was reflected in a post-event attendee survey. Most surveyed attendees rated the following as ‘extremely important’:

  • Addressing social issues (69%)
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of events (72%)
  • Providing opportunities to engage with Indigenous communities, experiences, knowledge, and understanding (77%).

 

 

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“The success of the ICOMOS 21st General Assembly and Scientific Symposium was underscored by dedication to sustainable strategies. Our commitment to carbon neutrality responds to the urgent need to address the impacts of climate change, not only on cultural heritage, but also on the communities to whom it is important and on the environment. The GA2023 certification was made possible through the support of EarthCheck and Reforest and partnerships with Arinex and ICC Sydney, all of whom embraced our vision for a sustainable event. ICOMOS recognises that present actions can set the trajectory for a sustainable future.” – Prof Richard Mackay AM, Convenor of the 21st ICOMOS Global General Assembly and Scientific Symposium

If we want to keep having in person meetings, we need to find ways to make them more carbon neutral, like the GA strived to do.” – Delegate, Jim Donovan, US

“I want to proactively minimise my carbon footprint but continue my professional development. The GA provided many, many opportunities to do so.” – Delegate, Anonymous, Australia

“Event really displayed Australian Indigenous peoples and their roles in today’s society.” – Delegate, Anonymous, US