The COVID-19 pandemic affected many different parts of daily life. Now we could sneak in a quick online game in our lunch break and cook nutritious meals while working from home. Meetings and conferences moved primarily online, which meant we’re missing out on the social aspect of meeting in person.
But this, in particular, had another not-so-surprising effect: a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study conducted by Cornell University, moving a professional conference online reduces its carbon footprint by up to 94%.
But we have to see people at conferences
“We all go to conferences. We fly, we drive, we check in to a hotel, give a talk, meet people – and we’re done,” says senior author Fengqi You in their latest research.
“But we looked at this problem comprehensively and behind the scenes, conventions generate a lot of carbon, consume a lot of energy, print a lot of paper, offer a lot of food – not to mention create municipal solid waste. Yet, video conferencing also requires energy and equipment use. Conference planning means a lot to consider.”
When attending an international industry conference, any one individual can easily rack up a carbon dioxide bill of around 6,600 pounds (or 3,000kg for the metric friends). While sitting at home in your PJs will have little effect.
Carbon emissions > your professional network
Of course, scrapping industry events and conventions as a whole may not be ideal for most. Humans are social by nature and expect to network at these events to increase their LinkedIn connections.
While the health of our planet is far more important than any one person’s career, there are a few things humans can do to limit their greenhouse impact during an in-person event.
“For in-person conferences, Tao and You suggest participants should reduce stopovers when booking flights. Hybrid and in-person meeting organizers should carefully select hubs and take transportation modes and distances into consideration,” the Cornell Chronicle details.
“For virtual conferences, carbon-reduction opportunities include improving the energy efficiency of the information and communication technology sector and increasing the share of renewable energy in the power grids.”
The bottom line? Moving to virtual/online professional environments provides far more positive outcomes for our future. But there is space to develop optimised hybrid-style events, including taking carbon emissions into account when planning in-person events.