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Key Points

  • Travel to conferences is a significant contributor to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
  • Virtual and hybrid meetings result in drastic reductions in carbon footprint and energy use primarily due to a reduction in travel emissions.
  • Centrally locating conferences to attendees can play a significant role in mitigating CO2 emissions.
  • Minimizing meat products or promoting a vegetarian diet at the conference can help reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Having a voluntary/mandatory contribution to offset CO2 emissions is another way to mitigate the environmental effects of conferences.
  • Dissemination of sustainability efforts will help future organizers continue to expand efforts and encourage participants to value green meetings.

Green Meeting

  • A green meeting is organized and implemented in a manner that lessens the impact on the environment and socially impacts the host community in a positive manner.1
  • Green meetings attempt to reduce waste and energy consumed at each stage of the meeting.2
  • Checklists created by the Environment Protection Agency,1 United Nations,3 and International Standard Organization (ISO) 201214 provide a blueprint for meeting organizers.
  • Having a voluntary/mandatory contribution to offset CO2 emissions can be helpful. In a 2017 study of 116 international/national academic conferences, only 4% (n=5) offered carbon-offset options for participants and 9% (n=11) advertised any efforts to mitigate the meeting’s environmental impact.5
    • Arguably, purchasing carbon offsets does not reverse the damaging impact of the meeting. Additionally, the scale and cost to actually offset emissions may be too high to make a substantial difference.6
  • A study completed a life cycle assessment of an international conference in Europe. The authors then simulated three environmental impact reduction strategies: switching to vegetarian meals, eliminating the printed booklet and bag, and reducing air travel by having participants traveling by train within an 8-hour travel distance.4
    • These measures together resulted in a nearly 10% reduction in both the total global warming potential (GWP 100 years) and abiotic depletion potential (fossil). Eco-toxicity was decreased by 13.5%.4
    • Hotel overnight stays contributed a significant amount to some of the impact categories, such as GWP, but was not included as a strategy because the authors deemed hotel stays as unavoidable, less eco-toxic than the other strategies, and depended on individual hotel practices.4
  • Hybrid meetings, with carefully chosen hubs, can reduce the carbon footprint and energy use by up to two-thirds.7
  • Completely virtual meetings reduced emissions by 94% and energy use by 90%.7
    • In order to increase engagement and collaboration during and after virtual conferences, organizers should record content, disperse presentation slides and hand-outs, provide presenter contact information, and open question-and-answer sessions to all participants. These practices could help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion and facilitate career advancement.7
  • Publishing and disseminating a meeting’s green efforts helps hold conference organizers accountable and encourages meeting attendees to value green meetings.
    • However, a study of international conferences revealed that only 9% of conferences announced measures to reduce environmental impacts.5


  • Air travel is one the fastest growing causes of global warming.4
  • A life cycle assessment of an international conference held in Europe found travel, specifically long air travel, to be the dominant contributor to the conference’s environmental impact.4
  • Centrally locating the conference and utilizing an area that is well-connected to other modalities of mass transportation can help mitigate the environmental impact caused by air travel.4
  • A carbon footprint evaluation of an academic conference held in Slovenia found that while only 10% of participants live outside of Europe, those participants contributed 50% of the emissions.8
  • Some airlines and car rental companies have their own carbon-offset programs.9


  • Meat and seafood meals are shown to have a negative impact in all environmental impact categories examined.10
    • Offering a vegetarian day during the conference8 or switching to a completely vegetarian menu will reduce the environmental impact.
    • A smaller conference could lend itself to working with a local executive chef who serves locally grown and sustainable food.2
  • To reduce waste related to food, one-time use cups, silverware, and plates should be eliiminated2 and attendees should be encouraged to bring their own water bottles.


  • The location of the venue and hotels should be near mass transit and/or walkable.2
  • Environmental impacts from hotel stays largely depend on the business practices of the hotels.5
    • Conference organizers should evaluate the hotels’ sustainability practices and green certifications, such as Energy Star or Green Seal program.2
  • Meetings could encourage participants during registration to share hotel rooms to mitigate the amount of energy used.5
  • Conference planners should seek out convention centers, such as the Vancouver Convention Center that are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.9
    • US Convention Centers that Platinum LEED certified:10
    • Oregon Convention Center, Portland, OR
    • Monona Terrace Convention Center, Madison, WI
    • David L Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA
      There are 29 US Convention Centers that are Gold LEED certified.10


  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Green Meetings. Published 2022. Accessed May 9, 2022. Link
  2. Aase S. A Guide to Greener Meetings. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(5):800-4. PubMed
  3. UN environment programme. Green Meeting Guide Summary. Published: 2009. Accessed: September 17, 2023. Link
  4. Neugebauer S, Bolz M, Mankaa R, et al. How sustainable are sustainability conferences? – Comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of an international conference series in Europe. J Clean Prod. 2020; 242:118516. Link
  5. Holden MH, Butt N, Chauvenet A, Plein M, Stringer M, Chadès I. Academic conferences urgently need environmental policies. Nat Ecol Evol. 2017;1(9):1211-2. PubMed
  6. Sarabipour S, Khan A, Seah YFS, et al. Changing scientific meetings for the better. Nat Hum Behav. 2021; 5: 296–300. PubMed
  7. Tao Y, Steckel D, Klemes JJ, et al. Trend towards virtual and hybrid conferences may be an effective climate change mitigation strategy. Nature Communications. 2021; 12:7234. PubMed
  8. Desiere S. The Carbon Footprint of Academic Conferences: Evidence from the 14th EAAE Congress in Slovenia. EuroChoices. 2016;15(2):56-61. Link
  9. Rowe T. Green Meetings. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2008;30(6):461-2. PubMed
  10. U.S. Green Building Council. Convention Centers in the United States with Platinum LEED designation. Accessed: September 17, 2023. Link