Sustainability Feature: Net Zero Emission Certified Events

This month Matthew Robinette CMP, Vice President of Visitor Experience, Richmond Region Tourism shares information about a sustainability program he launched in Richmond.

In August 2021 I was working from home, like many of you, stressing over two words….Mass gathering. I have been in the business of mass gathering for nearly 20 years and to continually hear that bringing large groups of people together was not just unsafe but deadly was making my brain hurt. I was
contemplating the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and what that looked like for the leisure traveler, business traveler, meeting planner, and association executives. At that moment I stumbled upon a NY Times article about a CEO’s thoughts on the future of business travel titled This business trip could have been a Zoom call: Companies rethink travel. OMG…Mass gathering = danger and a CEO is advocating for less business travel?! I was rethinking my entire career! Then I read the article and the Net Zero Emission Certified Event came to me.

The hospitality industry was and is adjusting to the changing landscape across all sectors of travel including business travel. How can destinations shift to accommodate the new needs of the business traveler? The article states that “Commercial air travel is responsible for about 3 to 4 per cent of total US
greenhouse gas emissions.” Millennials and Gen Z business travelers will demand that their business travel have little to no effect on the environment. The Net Zero Emission Certified event is a cheap and easy way for service professionals to deliver value to our stakeholders – DMO leadership, association leadership, meeting planners, and participants.

The following information is a summary of the Net Zero Emission Certification Richmond Region Tourism offers some of our clients. Please contact Matthew Robinette, CMP with any questions. The event service professional who is considering association needs (member benefits to attract the next generation) will be able to deliver meaningful services. Services that benefit the association, the planner, the participant, and your community.

Richmond Region Tourism presents: Net-Zero Emission Conference Certification

Why Net-Zero Emission events are important?

Carbon Offsetting is important because it allows people to make a positive contribution to the environment when their emissions can’t be avoided. In addition, the increased funding these causes receive can change lives, bringing economic, social and health improvements to whole communities.
Carbon offsets help the environment in a multitude of ways. First and foremost, they help in the fight against climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn lessens the greenhouse effect that traps heat and warms Earth’s surface temperature. Offsetting carbon is an important part of slowing this warming trend and giving ourselves a chance to reduce emissions at the source to avoid the worst of what climate change would potentially bring.

What is carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is an action intended to compensate for the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because of industrial or other human activity, especially when quantified and traded as part of a commercial program.

Who does Richmond Region Tourism partner with to ensure carbon calculations are accurate and carbon offsets purchased are real?
We partner with The Virginia Green Travel Alliance which is the state’s voluntary partnership program to encourage green practices in tourism. The program was created in 2007 by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Restaurant and Lodging

Finding the right partner for you
Virginia Green was created by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in partnership with the Virginia Tourism Corporation to assist hospitality and tourism businesses with navigating conservation and green policy, procedure, and best practices. Finding a reputable partner to help you maneuver a new effort like a Net-Zero certification is critical to the success of the program because a reputable third party brings gravitas to the effort. Begin by contacting your state-run environmental quality department, they have the connections and resources to assist your search for a quality partner you can trust. You may find that the state office can be that third party and/or connect you to a green travel partner they have a relationship with.

What is the process?
The event RFP contains all the information needed to calculate how many carbon offsets are needed to earn a Net-Zero Emission Conference Certification.
– How your participants are traveling (air, car, train)
– How many participants are using the various methods of travel (%)
– How many and what kind of meals is the event providing to participants
– Shuttle operations
– Meeting room square feet utilized
– Hotel/Convention Center ‘green’ practices
Using this information Virginia Green calculates the total CO2 emissions generated by the event in tonnage, as in this example:

  • Emissions
    • Travel – 28,660 lbs CO2e
    • Commute -55,116 lbs CO2e
    • Venue – 2,205 lbs CO2e
    • Water – 2,205 lbs CO2e
    • Meals – 6,614 lbs CO2e
  • Total Carbon Footprint -94,799 lbs of CO2e (equivalent to planting 1,103 urban trees)
  • Offset by Purchase of 43 metric tons of Carbon Offsets on October 22, 2021

Virginia Green then purchases carbon offsets to counter the CO2 emissions the event produces creating a Net-Zero Certified Conference.

Who does this program benefit?


– Conferences and events are member benefits, this program removes a potential barrier to entry to participants considering attending your event.
– This program positions you as an innovative leader to your members and your industry by implementing this program to positively impact the environment.
– Companies are beginning to consider the environmental impact of travel by their employees.
– New asset to sell to a sponsor and a positive activation for a sponsor.

Matthew Robinette CMP// Vice President of Visitor Experience
Richmond Region Tourism

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