Last updated: 10/05/2023
- 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.
- 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
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Green Meetings. Published 2022. Accessed May 9, 2022. Link
- Aase S. A Guide to Greener Meetings. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(5):800-4. PubMed
- UN environment programme. Green Meeting Guide Summary. Published: 2009. Accessed: September 17, 2023. Link
- 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
- 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
- Sarabipour S, Khan A, Seah YFS, et al. Changing scientific meetings for the better. Nat Hum Behav. 2021; 5: 296–300. PubMed
- 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
- Desiere S. The Carbon Footprint of Academic Conferences: Evidence from the 14th EAAE Congress in Slovenia. EuroChoices. 2016;15(2):56-61. Link
- Rowe T. Green Meetings. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2008;30(6):461-2. PubMed
- U.S. Green Building Council. Convention Centers in the United States with Platinum LEED designation. Accessed: September 17, 2023. Link
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