Managing the carbon footprint of New Zealand’s Expo 2020 Pavilion

Managing the carbon footprint of New Zealand’s Expo 2020 Pavilion With the end of Expo 2020 Dubai nearing, the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion has welcomed more than 1.2 million visitors since 1 October 2021. Featuring a pavilion and visitor experience developed in partnership with Whanganui iwi –Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi – the six-month World Expo has been an opportunity to showcase how the nation innovates to Care for People and Place.

World Expos are global celebrations of creativity, innovation, humanity and world cultures, and Expo 2020 Dubai has brought together 192 nations , which have been discovered by more than 23 million visitors.

The project involved the construction of a 2,000m2 pavilion on a 3,600m2 site, flying a small team from New Zealand to Dubai, freighting materials, operating the pavilion, and finally deconstructing the pavilion and relocating the team back to New Zealand.

Sustainability has been at the forefront of global discussions over the last few decades, and New Zealand has always seen the importance, value and the benefits sustainability can have environmentally, economically and socially.

Expo 2020 Dubai has been a platform for New Zealand to show the world how it can lead a globally relevant conversation and follow through with actions that aren’t just good for New Zealand but the world.

The New Zealand Pavilion is located in the Sustainability District of the Expo Park. New Zealand at Expo 2020 wanted to reflect its focus on sustainability by ensuring New Zealand’s participation was carbon-neutral.

To do this the NZ at Expo 2020 team needed to find out the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would be created by the construction and operation of the pavilion, as well as from travel to Dubai and operating costs from July 2019 until the end of June 2022.

NZ at Expo 2020 worked with Toitū Envirocare to calculate the likely GHG emissions and then put a plan in place to minimise the emissions and offset the remainder that could not be avoided, such as air travel and vehicle emissions.

Toitū Envirocare leads positive change through a system of world-leading environmental programmes, which are science based and supported by evidence. Initially developed for New Zealand business needs, their programmes now serve more than 400 clients worldwide. Toitū carbonzero event certification is proof an organisation is positively contributing to the sustainability of our future through measuring, reducing and offsetting their carbon footprint.

NZ at Expo 2020 made targets that address several emission sources which they have direct day-to-day control over. This was achieved through the clever initiatives and projects, such as incorporating passive design into the pavilion to reduce cooling requirements.

Due to the emission’s intensive nature of water desalination in the UAE, projects and technologies have also been identified to reduce consumption, which will reduce emissions from electricity that is not part of the event’s 100% renewable initiative and non-renewable itself.

How we do this?

Once Toitū gained a detailed understanding of the project, it calculated the potential emissions from all aspects of the event. It then looked at how emissions could be reduced. The remainder were offset or neutralised by NZ at Expo 2020 buying gold standard carbon credits. Finally, Toitū issued a Carbonzero verification certificate.

The first part of the process was to understand what would be in scope and what would need to be excluded.

An event such as the Expo 2020 Dubai has three phases:

  1. Pre-event which includes travel, accommodation and printed promotional material.

  2. Event operation which involves electricity, catering, travel, accommodation, and other consumables.

  3. Post-event pack down and de-construction waste.

Early on it was decided that general visitors to the pavilion and delegations would not be included in the carbon “inventory” as these emissions are attributable to, and the responsibility of, the attendees and delegations themselves.

Identifying the carbon footprint

Carbon emissions from the event will largely come from four core activities:

  1. Travel – international and domestic flights

  2. Construction – materials and post-event waste

  3. Energy and water use – electricity and water use in the pavilion for six months

  4. Waste – created daily in the pavilion by staff and visitors

Emissions Management and Reduction Plan

Firstly, the design and construction of the New Zealand Pavilion needed to align with the sustainability standards set by the Expo 2020 Dubai organiser. For example, at least three quarters of the pavilion would have to be either recycled, reused or returned to the manufacturer at the completion of the Expo. The New Zealand Pavilion was designed and constructed to meet this requirement and easily allows the elemental building components to be disassembled, relocated, repurposed, recycled, or returned to the manufacturer.

Next, Toitū and NZ at Expo 2020 looked at each of the main sources of emissions and determined how they could be reduced.


New Zealand is 14,233 kms from Dubai, making it one of the farthest countries from the United Arab Emirates. Travel to and from Dubai for the pavilion team (and some family members) was unavoidable. Also plans to send New Zealand cultural ambassadors and performers to the Expo required long-distance travel.


A significant amount of material was required to build a 2,000m2 pavilion. The design team, led by architects Jasmax, chose a pavilion construction that uses lightweight steel that can be easily dismantled and then recycled or reused.

The visitor experience space has been also designed using lightweight steel framing with a lightweight modular membrane façade. The steel was sourced in Dubai, while New Zealand Forest Stewardship Council certified Abodo timber was used for internal feature linings.

An innovative New Zealand-made building product – Kaynemaile Architectural Mesh – was used in the façade. Kaynemaile is 100% recyclable and includes 10% of recycled material. It can also be repurposed.

Electricity and Water

Expo 2020 Dubai ran for six months, seven days a week and 12 to 16 hours per day. There was significant electricity use for lighting, hospitality and air conditioning, as well as water use in the exhibition and hospitality areas.

The pavilion was designed to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent compared to a similar sized structure – this is for both electricity and water use. To keep the pavilion cool in the hot Dubai climate, the design featured shading, screens, umbrellas and increased insulation. All bathroom facilities are low-flow, and energy efficient lighting will use a smart lighting management system, LED technology and lower-than-standard lighting power densities. An energy recovery system was also planned for the air conditioning system. Solar energy was also proposed to be the sole source of electricity to the Expo 2020 site.

Operational waste

A waste management plan was introduced for the pavilion to ensure there was good use of recycling bins and collection systems. New Zealand and local catering staff working in the pavilion also received training on waste separation with a commitment to achieve a minimum of 85% diversion of waste from landfill.

How much carbon will be created?

Following the consideration of all these factors, Toitū created an estimated greenhouse gas inventory based on the Emissions Management and Reduction Plan and advance construction and travel plans. Eighty percent of these emissions were offset through carbon units and the remaining 20 percent would be offset in mid-2022 after the pavilion has been dismantled and the final actual emissions are calculated.

Who was behind the carbon footprint project?

Since 2006, Toitū Envirocare has certified over 2,000 GHG inventories for companies from five countries, representing more than 196 million tonnes of GHG emissions – more than twice New Zealand’s annual emissions.

The Toitū carbonzero and Toitū carbonreduce programmes help companies to measure, manage and mitigate their carbon emissions. Programme members have reduced emissions by over 8.5 million tonnes – equivalent to the annual emissions of 2.4 million medium-sized petrol or diesel-fuelled cars. On average, Toitū members achieve over 20% reduction in emissions in a three- to five-year period.

The team working on the NZ at Expo 2020 Pavilion Emissions Management Plan included Technical Advisor Andrew Mackenzie, Certification Advisor Kate Walsh and Karen Tipper, Toitū Envirocare’s Head of Client Delivery.

Toitū Envirocare is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, a Government-owned Crown Research Institute.