How to host a zero-emissions event (or try to)

Jascha LO3

For me, everything comes down to passion. Whatever we choose to aim at in life, if you go at it with an internal fire, I guarantee you will be able to move mountains.

For our Climathon in Mannheim, Germany, my colleagues and myself took a concept we were already passionate about and shifted it to one with purpose.

On top of that we wanted to raise the bar and host a zero-emissions event. 

In 2015 we started ‘Hackerstolz’. We organise hackathons, promote digital culture and support minorities in the IT sector in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. Transitioning our knowledge about setting up hackathons into a Climathon was a very welcome challenge that fit like a glove.

Having organised nine hackathons in the past we knew that there was a big challenge looming: how do we create a concept where the ideas and projects are continued after the event? We knew from experience, generally, only one in ten projects during a hackathon develops into something more.

The energy during hackathons and the Climathon is very high. You’ve got amazing talent, experts, doers and creatives all pooling their brainpower together for the greater good. That’s why we invested a lot of time in designing an event that continues to produce ripples afterwards.

Participants at the Climathon in Mannheim, Germany

Participants at the Climathon in Mannheim, Germany

We achieved ongoing impact by having three main things in place.

Firstly, incentives. We were fortunate - and worked hard - to have many great sponsors. For instance, S-Hub Accelerator and ProjectTogether both offered multiple accelerator programs to selected winners. This provided a great foundation for further development of ideas. And who doesn’t like an extra incentive on top of meaningful work?

Secondly, we aligned our challenges with our municipality’s policies. Our number one support came from the municipality of Mannheim.

It’s a funny story where we were supposed to meet with the local government for a hackathon. For a month, we were entertaining the idea of doing a Climathon, and then it happened to be that the city of Mannheim was aiming exactly for a Climathon as well. It was perfect alignment. This partnership gave us access to media outlets, sponsors, utility providers who proposed the challenges, and of course, funding. Being aligned with the local policies and vision was a great step in the right direction.

Lastly, we were on a collaborative mission for zero emissions. Our goal was to host a zero-emissions event. The reason for doing so is that it felt ethical within the theme, gave us a collaborative narrative, and helped in getting all parties on the same objective.

“It was the first time I invested a lot of time and research in climate facts. It pushed me to educate myself”
Jascha Quintern, Local Organiser, Climathon Mannheim, Germany

If you want to do the same, I recommend keeping these three things in mind: avoid emissions, reduce emissions, compensate emissions. I can also recommend getting in close contact with a local climate protection agency.

That was a major move in organising all the parts of the event. It helped us in our decision making: which venue, which caterer, what do we do with waste? All these questions suddenly became easier to answer.

We ended up with emissions of 3.8 tons CO². It is the equivalent of 1 person taking a business flight  from Frankfurt to New York and back. For a Climathon event spanning multiple days, with 150 people involved, I’d say that’s a great achievement.

We proceeded to allocate some of the budget to compensate the emissions to host a zero-emissions Climathon.

A final word of comfort though, keep in mind that these are three steps that merely act as a guide. Try your best to achieve your goal but find solace in knowing that even trying is a big benefit in itself. Even 80% emission-free is 80%. Keep in mind, you can’t avoid or reduce everything.

Jascha's Climathon in Mannheim, Germany had 150 participants

Jascha's Climathon in Mannheim, Germany had 150 participants

I gained a lot from being a Local Organiser for a Climathon. For me, it was the first time I invested a lot of time and research in climate facts. It pushed me to educate myself.

On top of that, we had a lot of internal dialogues on how to behave ethically if the sponsoring company was causing a lot of emissions in their day-to-day operation. What are the metrics to weigh how sustainable a company is? We addressed this issue also on our landing page - you must take everything into account. If they are just using you for greenwashing or if there’s a genuine intention to support you.

At the end of the day, I walk away with the confidence that there are a lot of organisations and people out there that want to take action for the right reasons. Who don’t want to wait on the governments but contribute to solutions sooner rather than later. I would really wish our national government would take as much effort in climate as it currently shows for containing COVID-19.

My hope is that step by step we inspire people into that direction. And therefore the Climathon as a global initiative is really important.

We are not alone, we all have our part to play.

Thanks to our global partners