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To get you started here are the key issues...
The host city, region, or country that an event is held in will have a significant part to play in the eventual sustainability performance of events held there.
When planning an event, often the first thing to consider is where to hold it – which venue, and in some cases, choosing the actual destination (city, region, country).
For major events such as international conventions, industry summits, major exhibitions, and international sporting competitions, events may be put out to tender and have destinations bid to host them. Destinations will compete to attract the event, offering various incentives and enticements.
Is the destination sustainable-event ready?
Apart from being located as close to your event participants as possible, review a destination for its ‘event sustainability readiness’. Indicators of this would include the level of engagement, commitment, solutions or competency by the event industry, supply chain, town/city/region, and country at large.
Those countries or cities with existing and evident sustainability-related attributes are likely to have an event eco-system that is supportive of sustainable event production. Those destinations without embedded environmental stewardship, or without frameworks to ensure a fair and equitable socio-economic atmosphere, may not be ‘sustainable-event ready’
So What Can You Do?
A quick list of things to look for within a destination to gauge its likely readiness to host sustainably produced events: Has a tourism destination management authority; has a sustainable destination strategy; has sustainably built and operated venues and lodging; has good urban connectivity; has material recovery processes for waste resources; has renewable energy power supply; has local suppliers with sustainable solutions for your event such as food, merchandise, printing, infrastructure, AV etc; has event professionals and producers with an understanding of and competency in event sustainability management.
Global Destination Sustainability Index
The Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) is the leading sustainability benchmarking and improvement programme for meetings and events destinations around the world.
The world has committed to urgently curtail greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to avoid runaway climate change, and so sustainable energy management should be a priority for all venues and event managers.
Most events are reliant on power – we use energy to operate venues, light stages and stadiums, meeting rooms and concert halls.
Energy’s needed to chill drinks, cook food, heat or cool water and buildings. It’s also needed to keep the air conditioning running in tour buses and even keep temporary structures climate-controlled.
Minimising fossil fuel use is the goal
Responsible event energy management is all about being as conservative as you can with energy consumption, operating as efficiently as you can for that energy which you must use, sourcing the maximum renewable energy possible and ultimately, all leading to reducing your event's greenhouse gas emissions.
Innovation in new ways of powering our lives is moving rapidly and events can take advantage of this burgeoning field. You are encouraged to use the event as a showcase in sustainable energy production. Invite solar power providers that sell domestic solar power solutions to sponsor or provide the solar power. Set up solar (or other zero emissions power) charging stations for mobile phones. Remember pedal power!
So What Can You Do?
Reducing the amount of energy needed can be achieved through using energy efficient equipment, smart power planning, 'power-down' campaigns, and establishing 'power-diets' (quotas) for various aspects. Redesign your event concept and approach to reduce the need for lighting and some energy.
Through 'smart power planning' and careful sizing and distribution of mobile generators, plus powering them with sustainable biofuels, you can save considerable energy and fuel consumption.
Say no to dirty fuels, and stop using fossil fuels in your power generators. Source renewable energy for mains/venue power.
Use biodiesel, HVO, vegetable oil in your generators or go fuel-free. Use mobile solar, pedal power, hydrogen fuel cell, or hybrid systems.
You don't have to have one solution for the entire event. Get hydrogen or solar lighting towers. Have pedal power for your film stage and smoothy bar! Look at innovations such as using electric cars to power your event!
Measure & Balance
Build in to your venue and power contractor agreements for detailed energy use measurement. Where is is available, purchase 'decoupled' renewable energy certificates or similar instrument - which effectively means you're buying renewable energy even if the venue doesn't source it.
If you have residual GHGs from mobile power, add that to your GHG inventory and include in your offsetting or other GHG balancing mechanism.
And then all those single-use items you need to recover
As temporary activities, events get through a lot of single-use items.
Our challenge is to design-in reuse and reduce disposability.
One of the largest areas of impact, and certainly the most visible at your event, is the way that waste is managed.
As an event is built, waste is created, from staging and décor, fencing and barriers, seating, marquees, along with the myriad of deliveries which arrive wrapped, packed and palletised.
Waste will be generated in the pre-production phase, the building or creative production of your event, during the event and of course by the audience, participants and competitors.
Much waste is created by the audience’s participation. Eating and drinking being a big issue. Controlling what food and drinks are sold and regulating what packaging they come in will allow you to also manage the creation of waste.
Significantly also, lots of rubbish could be left in the aftermath of the event.
It is our responsibility to ensure stewardship over all materials used and that any single-use items can be recovered to enter the circular resource system.
The key, of course is to reduce the amount of 'waste' you produce in the place and to recover all that is.
Avoiding single-use items is the goal
Envisage the end-life of everything you purchase to produce the event and all the products you sell there. Where could the waste end up, and how can you ensure it is sent back into the system as recyclable material, compost or re-purposed/re-used?
When you go step by step through your event, you will be able to identify what rubbish will be created and where. You’ll then be able to plan for recycling separation, composting, salvage, and re-use.
So What Can You Do?
Know your waste
What types of waste will be generated at the event?
What waste treatment facilities are there locally and what processes do they use?
How can you influence or regulate the types of waste generated?
How can you manage the waste at the event to move it towards Zero Waste?
Once you know what waste could be produced by the event, now you are in a position to avoid it all together or to drastically reduce the amount.
Planning-in reuse rather than single-use and disposal is your biggest tool.
Store & re-use materials and equipment, or salvage and donate materials for re-purposing/re-use.
Hire equipment, infrastructure and materials, rather than buy.
You do not want any valuable resources hitting the landfill, incinerator or even if you can avoid it - the waste to energy plant. Plan your resource recovery systems with the most detail that you can. Consider the binfrastructure, venue and cleaner contracts, catering agreements, staff inductions, use bin stewards to help attendees get the right thing in the right bin. All of this is ensure you recover 100% of resources that can feed the circular economy.
And of course all that stuff we buy for events...
Materials & Sourcing
A mountain of ‘stuff’ is needed to run most events, much with a once-only use.
Purchase decisions are made every day in the pre-production phase, and the right choices are needed to ensure the event is a positive contributor to sustainable resource use.
Through sourcing choices we have the wonderful opportunity to support the proliferation of sustainably produced products and materials.
The very foundation of sustainability is to draw only resources at a rate within the carrying capacity of the planet – the available land, water, energy, renewable and non-renewable resources.
Unfortunately population growth and increasing per capita consumption are combining to take us on a most unsustainable of journeys.
We are eating into the earth’s natural capital (plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) at a faster rate than it can replenish them.
Ethically produced, environmentally responsible sourcing is the goal
Our sourcing decisions can make a positive impact. Through Buying Smart we can reduce demand on our earth's precious resources; we can prevent toxic chemicals that persist and accumulate in nature; we can reduce our complicity in plastic pollution and climate change; we can support innovation in sustainable materials, and help close the loop by using products designed for disassembly, repair or recycling.
So What Can You Do?
Implement strategies to avoid unnecessary consumption.
Undergo a purchasing health check - do you need it, can it be replaced? Adjust the volume. Look for alternative materials.
Is the product you're thinking of buying just one step away from being waste? Are your planned purchases just supporting the one-way flow through resource use, consumption and disposal? Consider if you really to have vendors selling useless items? Don't allow gimmicks and giveaways - only keepsakes.
Establish an approach to sustainable sourcing and build this into the event purchasing processing. Identify the key categories and set your intention for your sustainable purchasing commitments.
Examples include food, printing and, signage, decor and display, paint, timber, cleaning, serviceware, gifts, apparel, merchandise.
Consider the environmental impact over the whole of life and the social and economic sustainability concerns back up the supply chain.
Consider the following questions when establishing your purchasing approach and making sourcing decisions. Do you really need it? Where does it come from? What is it made from? Is this item produced in line with the sustainability principles and values of the organisation What does it come packaged in and how is it delivered? Will our purchase decision support the local economy? Are the people who produce the item treated and compensated fairly? Is this item built to last and can we reuse it, or is there an end-of-life strategy for it? Are there better alternatives to this item?
Water is a an increasingly scarce commodity. Be careful with precious water supplies and waterways.
Water and amenities
Managing water well at your events is critical for those that are being held in water-scare destinations. Regardless, you should do all you can to reduce chemical use and the need for energy-intensive waste water treatment.
Water is a valuable, scarce, necessary, highly sought after and protected commodity.
It has been estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people in the world will live in water scarce areas. Including water conservation and waste water management into your event will be an integral part of its sustainability, now and in the future.
Over-drawing and unfair or ecologically damaging water distribution are some of the issues surrounding water use throughout the world. Access to water is a basic human right, with profound health, sanitation and prosperity consequences.
Reducing water consumption, managing waste water well and protecting waterways are the goals.
Whether your event is in an indoor venue, a park, school, club grounds or in a greenfield site, your event will use clean water and produce waste water.
Water is used for standpipes and free drinking taps, catering and food stalls, cleaning, toilets and other amenities, misting stations/dust suppression at hot and dry events and of course grounds preparation and gardening. It may also form part of the event experience, or in fact some events are held in or on water.
Apart from conserving water, managing wastewater responsibly and protecting waterways, also consider the water footprint of purchases of materials and food. Is your event complicit in contributing to negative water use impacts through its purchasing choices?
So What Can You Do?
Respecting and adhering to local water conservation protocols or regulations is especially important if your event is in an area where livelihoods depend on adequate water supply.
Firstly think about what is water required for during the entire event life cycle? How ‘water intense’ is your proposed event, activity, site or venue? What is the likely water intensity of the event – per person per day?
If your event plan predicts that it is going to use more than its fair share of water, or is going to draw an unusually large amount from local water sources, investigating whether there is water scarcity in the event destination is your first duty.
Techniques to reduce water use include using low flush or waterless amenities, using water-saving devices and mechanisms on taps and for those with temporary water distribution systems, not having the pressure too high. Have central stand-pipes at outdoor events for caterers and vendors rather than plumbing everyone straight in. Supply hand-sanitiser at toilets.
In some venues and climates, condensate capture is an option to harvest water.
To engage water users by using the event as a showcase for water conservation, and to inspire contractors, stallholders, bars, caterers and site owners to adopt water conservation tactics.
How will water be supplied to the event/venue? Is it from town mains supply, drawn from an onsite natural source, or is rainwater captured and provided through water tanks? Perhaps it comes from a desalination plant. Consider the climate impact of the water source - how energy-intense is water provision?
If you have your own event site year round, it is advised you consider capturing rain water and storing it in tanks for use.
Events can produce large peaks in wastewater and is a big management issue for many events.
What types and volume of wastewater will be produced? How will wastewater be disposed of and treated? Does wastewater removal need to be transported by tanker/truck?
Can more sustainable techniques for wastewater capture, treatment and re-use be innovated at the event site or venue? Consider reedbed systems.
Capturing and reusing grey water is the ultimate in wastewater management.
Be sympathetic to local wastewater treatment facilities and restrict toxic substances from entering wastewater.
This means no chemical ‘toilet blue’ and overuse of bleach or other cleaning chemicals.
Are there natural waterways that need protection from event activities? Is the event held in a watershed (water-capture zone)? Are any chemical/toxic substances used? What are the contamination risks?
Ensure you manage event activities so that they don’t negatively affect waterways, watersheds, riparian zones, coastal dunes and beaches, and other land/water interfaces. Avoiding erosion, pollution and habitat destruction or disturbance are key.
Ensure there is no liquid waste run-off from your event, or rubbish blowing into waterways.
Prevent trampling by event attendees and vehicle impacts on the water's edge. Conduct a waterways protection campaign at an outdoor event to protect the riparian zone, and prevent urination and other emissions to surrounding waterways.
Use chemical-free cleaning products, and have strict protocols onsite for chemical use, including paint wash-up. Use environmentally sound fertiliser and water wise grounds and gardening techniques.
Adhere to strict protocols to protect waterways such as exclusion zones, careful use of soakaways for waste water and other techniques which should be mandated by local environmental management regulations.
Moving people, infrastructure, equipment, supplies, food, waste adn water are all essential aspects of most event logistics! Without these things you have no event.
Moving people, goods and equipment are all necessary, and the greenhouse gas impact of travel and transport is a major issue the events sector must urgently working on .
The impact of mobility is likely, in fact, to be the largest greenhouse gas contributor for many events.
Despite the fact that we know that urgent decarbonisation across every sector is needed, convenience rather than anything else is a main influencer in travel and transport event decisions.
The good news is though, that cities are taking action to decarbonise urban mobility, the global freighting sector has a major focus on efficiency, and even the airlines are investing heavily in R&D to innovate a fossil free future.
But while we wait for these innovations to come, events must take every opportunity right now, to optimise the use of any existing low or zero-impact travel options, to design-in efficiencies in event production freight and travel impacts, and of course to be measuring and taking responsibility for their (currently) unavoidable travel and transport impacts.
Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions impact of event mobility is the goal.
The reality is, unless we all stop throwing events, or go completely virtual, people will always need to travel to our events, as does equipment, food and beverage, temporary infrastructure, merchandise, talent, volunteers, stallholders and crew. Waste will likely need to be transported away, as might sewage. Everything that was temporarily taken to the event will need returning.
The impacts of moving all these people and things around of course include the use of fossil fuel in vehicles and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Other impacts include local traffic congestion and disruption to neighbourhood amenity, traffic noise, localised pollution, pedestrian and road safety, and protection of unpaved surfaces. The issue of actual availability of convenient sustainable transport and travel options faces many events.
So What Can You Do?
Design in efficiency
Decide on an event location, format or target audience that reduces the need for travel and transport all together.
Obviously having an event in a destination with excellent urban mobility and mass transit is key. Then choosing an event venue or site which connectivity to the public transit system, bike lanes, easy to walk to etc, is essential.
Travel of attendees aside, the delivery and freighting impact of infrastructure, event content and of course food and beverage all add up.
Look to source as locally as possible on all the big stuff. And where there is a large food and beverage impact, design-in reduction of food miles through seasonal menus and local produce sourcing.
For those events selling tickets you can bundle public transport options into the ticket purchasing process and make it relatively more attractive. Alternatively if you have an event that always sells out, simply put a quota on the tickets that come bundled with mass transit options and don't let them get there any other way!
You can also reward people that come in full cars, with the best parking spots and priority exit lanes, or rewards such as vouchers. And of course electric vehicles should get pride of place with renewable energy sourced charging stations in place!
Partnering with electric car companies might be an option for crew or guest shuttles.
Provide site bikes and encourage cycling by all. Set up a bike valet and secure bike parking. have a bike bus, where event attendees can cycle together.
A walking group with a host to take delegates on a guided walk from venue to hotel is also a popular option for conferences.
It may be difficult but if the first impulse is to jump in a car to drive to the event, and you're sure that the more sustainable options are safe and convenient, then go hard on designing in mobility to the event in such a way as to dampen enthusiasm for driving and therefore making public transit, cycling or walking much more attractive.
Restrict the number of parking spots, and charge for parking. Place the car parks at a relatively less convenient location than direct-to-gate entry for public transport. Incentivise coming on foot or by bike.
Of course you need to make sure the availability, capacity, timing etc is all in place if everyone decides to come on public transport, or that you have enough safe bike parking.
But assuming your house is in order in that department, communication is key. People need to know in advance, and at just the right time (eg when they are making their travel decision) what options are available to them. Don't make it too hard to go by public transport. Put on special services for sure, but make sure people know about them! Publish maps, timetables, integrate with the event app. Consider convenience, and barriers (too many things to carry, kids to wrangle).
Large workforce groups such as security, cleaning and volunteers should all be focussed on carefully and catered for. Pay special attention to roster times so staff won't miss the last bus or the first bus is too late. Limiting staff parking spots will mean staff have to self organise car pooling. And to that point, get this system set up for your event attendees too.
Of course don't forget to arrange sustainable travel options for your talent such as shuttles from hotel to venue. Remember to activate a 'no idling' policy in loading bays for delivery vehicles.
Measure & report
Without measuring you can't manage. Set up what you need to collect, in advance, so that you have a rich data set to analyse for future improved planning.
You'll need things such as: number of people arriving by each mode, number of vehicles and occupancy rates, number of shuttle runs and occupancy, travel distance (postcode?).
In analysing this data you can assess the final number of people that travelled by sustainable or active travel, and ultimately the greenhouse gas emissions associated with that travel.
You should also do exit surveys if that will help to validate your data or assumptions. On the way into an event people are too keen (unless you have long lines of people waiting), but at bus stops or in queues of traffic (no!) grab the info you need from your event attendees.
While we don't recommend trying to track every delivery that comes to the event site, it is prudent to estimate the proportion of impact that comes from the transport of equipment, infrastructure and supplies to the event. Identify in advance which will likely be your big impacts, and set up a system to capture that data. This could be the number of truck runs offsite to take sewage away. Or the number or distance for deliveries such as for staging, portable toilets, fencing, structures etc.
Ultimately you want to measure the greenhouse gas emissions and you will do this by taking your unit of measure (distance, litres of fuel, type of vehicle, number of passengers or similar) and multiplying it by an 'emissions factor'. DEFRA (UK) publishes some great emissions factors spreadsheets or access those published by your country. If you choose to purchase carbon offsets then you have some good data to work with.
Choosing a venue for your event can be an overwhelming job. Added to the logistics requirements, now also needs to be sustainability performance!
For those organisers holding events in venues or sites owned and managed by others, choice of venue is a key decision that frames the event, the experience of attendees and the potential for sustainable event outcomes.
Events held in venues will often rely heavily on sustainability credentials of the venue.
For those organising events held within venues managed by others, the organiser may have little control over many of the typical sustainability issues and impacts. In this case, organisers wanting to produce their event as sustainably as possible should seek out venues can prove they are operated sustainably.
Luckily convention and exhibitions centres and hotels hosting venues have stepped up and are now providing impressive sustainability credentials and performance outcomes.
Most major cities will have venues and hotels which are at a minimum considering resource efficiency, as well as many that are over-achieving. As well as convention and exhibition centres, sports stadia, major concert venues, large hotels and resorts are all venue types with many examples of excellence.
Choosing a venue with sustainability credentials in place is the goal.
Look for venues which are been initially built sustainable (materials and design) as well that are operated sustainably (efficient energy and water operations, resource recovery systems). Obviously being powered on renewable energy is a massive plus. Rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling, onsite composting, green roofs, worm farms, passive solar, good air quality, is considerate to the natural environment and sensitive to protecting biodiversity, uses green cleaning products and processes, has water-wise gardening, does not have wasteful buffets (!), offers sustainable catering, these are all aspects to look for.
Look for existing certifications such as LEED, GreenStar, or BREEAM for the building and sustainable operating certifications such as Green Leaf, Green Key Global, Green Globe, Green Star, EcoRooms & EcoSuites, Audubon Green Leaf.
There is a greenhouse gas emissions and therefore climate impact in almost every activity at events.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory
The urgent need for a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the event industry today.
Events bring people together and create awesome opportunities for collaboration and innovation - including advocating for a low-carbon society. Together, at events, we can take direct action and make a massive impact to collectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases come from many sources at events: electricity from the mains power supply or through burning fuel in our mobile power generators, from gas in catering kitchens, fuel in plant and vehicles, and of course from production and attendee air travel. They’re embedded in the materials and supplies we purchase, in the food we serve, the water we use and in the processing of the waste events create. Virtual events generate power from the servers used to broadcast the event, and the devices and their internet providers used to receive the content.
Whether you choose to lead with GHG reductions as your primary directive or whether you’re focusing on the consumption and processes and resulting GHGs, both viewpoints are getting us to the same point – a responsible attitude to GHG management by our industry.
The focus should be on estimating the potential GHG emissions impact, finding ways to reduce this, measuring our inventory and always focussing on drastically decarbonising, and fast.
Drastically de-carbonising your event is the goal.
Making a commitment to reducing an event’s GHGs, and actually successfully implementing this is probably going to be a bit uncomfortable a little inconvenient and might cost you some dollar. But it's where we need to be.
If you're running an event of any considerable influence, you should be wholeheartedly throwing your support behind climate change and GHG reductions campaigns.
So What Can You Do?
The first thing to do is to understand what your measurement boundary should be.
You will have two considerations here - one is the GHGs you are actually in financial and operational control of. And secondly, looking from the outside in (from the viewpoint of a stakeholder or any other interested person), what does the entire GHG impact of the event look like? Who are those other parties that you need to engage on this GHG reducing journey?
Once this is identified, you will then be in a position to document exactly what is in your measurement boundary - such as power, mobility and purchasing impacts.
To follow recognised approaches to robust GHG management, you must establish a baseline. In most cases this means estimating the GHG impact of your event (in advance). This then gives you a picture of your likely impact areas and something to work with to look for reductions opportunities.
It is widely accepted that the best way to reduce GHG emissions is to: reduce energy demand;
replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy; reduce transport demand; reduce consumption of items with high carbon footprints; reduce consumption altogether; reduce waste created, and keep biodegradable waste out of landfill; reduce water use; reduce waste water created.
Some practical steps to take include choosing mobile power generator companies that use renewable fuels such as biodiesel, or zero emissions options such as mobile solar or hydrogen fuel cell.
Keeping food waste and other biodegradable waste like disposable packaging out of landfill means that you will prevent methane from being created in landfill - a powerful greenhouse gas.
GHGs are 'embedded' in the manufacture of things through their own energy used in production and transport impacts all along the supply chain. So using less saves GHGs.
Measure & Balance
Each event will have a certain set of circumstances, responsibilities and impacts, which combine to factor various GHG contributors in or out of the final 'footprint'.
Right now there's no straightforward, clearly defined, industry-wide accepted scope of inclusion for the GHG impacts of events. There are wildly varying methodologies. Some events include electricity only and call that a 'footprint', others go into great detail and measure everything that has a whiff of CO2 about it - such as the embedded (lifecycle) GHGs in food served.
None the less use the tools you can to establish your boundary (see some below). Consider balancing those unavoidable GHGs and engage delegates and other stakeholders to do it too. Balancing or 'neutralising' options for unavoidable emissions include investment in GHG-reducing technologies or techniques internally ‘compensation’, or externally 'offsetting’.
What should be measured?
Because of the huge range of events taking place every day across the world, and the corresponding huge variety of what could be interpreted as the event's responsibility, an industry-wide directive or methodology may not even be practical and could be impossible to establish for our industry. But we do need guidance on methodologies to follow and what claims are acceptable to communicate.
We could make a start by following guidance developed by such protocols and standards as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol prescribes that Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions are included. While Scope 1 and Scope 2 are valid and necessary inclusions in an event's GHG inventory, they are inadequate to authentically cover what common sense would say, should be included as part of an event’s actual GHG impacts.
You may also wish to review the National Carbon Offset Standard (Australia) which gives some more guidance on process an inclusions for events.
Scope 1 emissions are those from sources that are owned or controlled by the event – ‘direct’ emissions. For an event, this translates to 'onsite' activities such as;
- mobile power generators (fuel consumption)
- bottled gas and mains gas (ignition of gas occurs onsite)
- fuel used in site plant, equipment and vehicles (onsite)
- vehicles owned by the company (used on or offsite)
- if waste is disposed of at the event site and emissions are estimated to be created (ie methane from buried waste) these could also be included in Scope 1 emissions.
Scope 2 emissions from ‘indirect’ sources – purchased heat, steam or electricity used by the event. For example most relevant to events is;
- mains/grid electricity supply
- fuel used for heating (indoor venues)
Scope 3 emissions are ‘other indirect’ emissions – these are emissions that occur because of an event’s activities but occur at sources owned by others. This could include:
- transport of employees (including all paid contractors, talent, crew)
- hotel nights for event production (crew, talent, staff, contractors)
- 'significant additional' freight impact of equipment, goods and services required by the event or waste produced by the event.
- hired transportation (shuttle buses, taxis, limos, boats, aircraft)
And then going deeper:
- emissions embodied in the products and materials purchased by the event
- transport of products and equipment for the event
- energy used or emissions created in processing waste (liquid & solid)
- transport of waste (liquid & solid)
- energy and transport to produce and supply water
- attendee travel – the single GHG contributor for many events
- hotel nights of attendees (for example delegates at a conference/convention)
It's a comms minefield!
Many events are claiming measurement of their 'carbon footprint', but the important detail on what this means is lost or buried. To responsibly claim to have measured a 'carbon footprint', events must simultaneously declare and justify what they included their scope of measurement.
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