Sustainable business models start with virtual

The idea of a sustainable business model represented by a person with a suitcase walking between two trains, silhouetted against an evening sky.

When we consider the cost of a training session, mostly we think of the financial side; hotels, trains/car hire, venue rental, catering… etc. But there is another cost of face-to-face (F2F) events that is rarely measured. And with a push to develop more sustainable business models, it is more important than ever to consider. Even with the media attention the climate crisis is receiving, we continue to make journeys to training events that are completely avoidable. There has been a huge rise in virtual events over the past 2 years, yet many organisations are now slipping back into the mentality of default F2F meetings, training, and conferences.

What is the true carbon cost of training?

Here at VTT, we worked with a client who was interested in saving money on their training. They realised they weren’t tracking the cost of travel for the workshop participants; these costs were absorbed into personal or local cost codes, so there was no way of knowing exactly how much of the budget was going into travel and hotels when it was related to Learning and development (L&D).

They were mainly interested in the financial cost to the business and had not fully considered the carbon costs to the environment- yet this was a vital part of building a sustainable business model. So, they asked us to conduct a thorough analysis on their behalf.

F2F Training: Impact Analysis

First, some background details:

The F2F workshop was on the topic of “Time management” and was set to last 3 hours. It was due to be delivered in Peterborough, a city in the centre of the UK. It was scheduled for a Monday morning, which by its nature incurred extra cost due to some participants having to stay overnight the day before.

There were 13 participants coming from all over the UK (3 from Peterborough itself); from as far as Edinburgh and Exeter.

To gain an insight in to how a single switch to virtual can have a huge impact on sustainable business models, here is an approximate breakdown of the carbon created and financial costs incurred from their journeys. (Note: all journeys have been calculated as returns).

Summary of Analysis:

OriginTrain CostCO2 EmissionsDuration
Liverpool£99.2012.587hrs 38mins
Newcastle£65.00334hrs 41mins
London£43.4013.121hr 37mins
Tunbridge Wells£56.9019.345hrs 8mins
Edinburgh£100.8049.167hrs 45mins
Exeter£146.3043.498hrs 10mins
Birmingham£38.4015.83hrs 30mins
Lincoln£169.422hrs 11mins
Bristol£10329.557hrs 16mins
Manchester£10514.765hrs 54mins
TOTAL     £774.00 227.64 KG 53hrs 50mins 

That’s enough to fill a double-decker bus with CO2, or to provide the energy use of an average house for an entire week! Not to mention the accumulated travel for the participants, which adds up to almost 7 full work days! Bare in mind, that these figures don’t even take into consideration the carbon generated by the workshop itself or any overnight stays required ahead of the workshop.

What makes these numbers even more astounding is that they could have been avoided entirely by using virtual training.

For participants travelling overseas, it gets even worse.

We ran a similar analysis on a workshop in Amsterdam, held midweek with fourteen participants from around Europe. For this workshop, the carbon cost reached a staggering 3,922.02 kgs from the flights alone. That is enough carbon to provide a house with energy use for 110 days.

The carbon cost for a workshop held in Chicago, with participants flying in from around the USA, works out even higher.

Carbon costs like these are far from the ideal of a sustainable business model, and completely unnecessary when virtual training can deliver the same highly interactive experience , along with a number of other benefits, but often at a fraction of the cost – both financially and to the environment.

So, back to our F2F workshop in Peterborough. After discussing the hidden cost of workshop travel, the company decided to run their next virtual workshop “Time management” 100% virtually next time. People logged in from similar locations to the last one, from all around the UK. We reduced the workshop to 100 minutes and still covered all the original content.

The feedback from the participants was just as strong as the F2F session, it took less time out of the participants diaries, and the travel cost was reduced to zero. It also contributed massively to the company being able to develop a more sustainable business model. There was no additional and it had a significantly less impact on the environment.

Final Thoughts

Have you thought about how you could lessen your impact on the planet and reduce your L&D spend at the same time? Or perhaps you want to know how you can begin to build a sustainable business model. When it comes to going green, virtual is the way to go- the carbon cost of face to face just doesn’t add up.

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