“Trying to reduce your emissions in the event space is a difficult but necessary process. The path isn’t straightforward, so it’s a reflective and even fun challenge,” shares Maria Li, COO of Tech in Asia.
In this conversation with Maria, we talk about why Tech in Asia decided to have Unravel Carbon as an ‘Official Decarbonization Partner’ at its flagship event, how the partnership influenced the company’s carbon reduction initiatives, and her thoughts about sustainability in the event space.
What is Tech in Asia, and what is the Tech in Asia Conference?
Tech in Asia is one of the leading digital media publishers that cover the tech and startup scene in Asia. Headquartered in Singapore, we have a large team tasked with keeping up with what’s going on within the tech and startup community.
The Tech in Asia Conference is our flagship event, and we’ve been running it every year since 2012. Over the years, it’s grown into one of the largest stages for new tech startups across Asia. Startup leaders, thinkers, investors, and employees come together to discuss the biggest trends, challenges, and opportunities of the moment. Our corporate partners are also some of the leading tech and startup brands in the region.
For the 2022 edition, we saw over 10,000 registrations and about 4,000 people in person at our main event in Singapore. We also had a side event in Jakarta.
What led you to seek an official decarbonization partner for the Tech in Asia Conference 2022?
As a company, we like to think that we’re relatively forward-looking when it comes to our overall climate impact, specifically our carbon emissions. Two years ago, we began doing our own internal calculations. We looked back at our historical emissions since our company was founded up to the current day. Then, we created a plan to offset all our previous emissions and to reduce and decarbonize our future events.
This year, being the first year back in person since COVID-19, we wanted to take our decarbonization efforts a bit further. We wanted to upgrade our own math and involve professionals in our calculations. Rather than just having our plans on a spreadsheet, we decided to take them to the next level.
We love seeing new climate tech startups in the region. Our mission and values are very aligned with Unravel Carbon so it naturally felt like a great partnership. We knew Unravel Carbon could help bring our carbon emissions calculations to the next level.
How has it been received by your different audiences? Has anything surprising come out of the partnership?
What’s funny is that the reaction is always a little bit divided. Some people are like, “Oh, that’s cool, I’m so glad you guys are doing this.” Other people are like, “Okay, of course, you should be doing this. You’re late to the game.”
I think the awareness of how everything we do impacts our carbon emissions is increasing. With that said, I don’t think many events are doing a great job in terms of reporting those emissions from their conferences.
If we were really going to live by our values, it was important for us to disclose all our emissions and original data.
What has it been like working with the Unravel Carbon team? How will this partnership influence any future carbon reduction initiatives that Tech in Asia takes on?
We’ve been on this sustainability journey for some time and it’s nice to now have additional solutions in our toolkit to support us along the way. Having Unravel Carbon on board has made us rethink everything, so that our events and our sustainability ambitions are aligned.
For example, we’ve gone hybrid as a conference, and we’ll likely continue to remain hybrid. People realized they can get a lot of value from just watching the main stage content from their homes. If they don’t need to travel and add to emissions, that’s great. We’re also thinking more carefully about the venues that we’re picking and their locations. Or when we create booths for the event, we’re thinking about where the materials are sourced from, and which parts are reusable.
All these things were already being put into place before the COVID shutdown of events. But they’ve now really come back in full force.
Another example is printing individual name badges and having wristbands to distinguish between different types of passes. We’ve realized that it didn’t make much sense, since a lot of the printing was wasted and the materials were not reusable. We made certain decisions on our badging system to reduce wastage.
Ultimately, it’s a lot of small things that we’re considering. The biggest emitter is definitely the travel of the attendees. Thinking about where they are coming from, and justifying the value of the event for travel, has been a big conversation in the events space.
Do you foresee other event organizers following that path?
As a first step, we should all try a little harder when it comes to the logistical aspects of events such as adopting reusable materials, reducing our electricity consumption, and better managing waste.
The next step is to actually measure and report on the emissions. I don’t know of any other event that plans on disclosing its full emissions the way that we are.
It’s actually a good challenge for event organizers. It forces you to reconsider the value you’re creating as an in-person event that makes it worth it for people to travel to.
Can the Asian tech and startup scene be doing more in the sustainability space in your opinion?
Well, more effort is required across the board. Especially from the companies operating in the logistics, e-commerce, PropTech and ride-hailing spaces. If you’re in those spaces, consider the bigger question of, how can you continue to do what you’re doing as a tech startup while trying to minimize your overall emissions footprint. Some of those can be easy changes, and some will be harder.
Understandably, a lot of startups might feel like they don’t have enough resources to focus on sustainability right now. But consumers are expecting it, and frankly, we don’t have a lot of time. There are more solutions emerging now and it can actually become a fun challenge to work on.