future timeline technology singularity humanity



29th December 2021

Shifting conferences online cuts carbon footprint by 94%

The COVID-19 pandemic – unexpectedly – has shown humanity a new way to reduce climate change: scrap in-person meetings and conventions.


climate conference future timeline remote hybrid
Photo 181678988 / Online Conference © Mongkol Chuewong | Dreamstime.com


Moving a professional conference completely online reduces its carbon footprint by as much as 94%, while shifting it to a hybrid model, with no more than half of conventioneers online, curtails the footprint to 67%, according to a new Cornell University-led study in Nature Communication.

The annual carbon footprint for the global event and convention industry is on par with the yearly greenhouse gas emissions of the entire U.S., according to the new paper.

"We all go to conferences. We fly, we drive, we check in to a hotel, give a talk, meet people; and we're done," said senior author Fengqi You, Professor in Energy Systems Engineering at Cornell University. "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."

By studying the amount of carbon needed, adding regional conference hubs at the right locations and boosting virtual participation levels, carbon-reduction benefits can be achieved, according to You. "But environmental benefits become less prominent as the number of regional hubs increases," he said.

In 2017, more than 1.5 billion participants from 180 countries travelled to attend conferences in person, according to the paper. The number of regular, international convention events – of more than 50 people – doubles every 10 years, and the convention industry's market size is expected to grow at a rate of 11.2% over the next decade.


climate conference timeline
Photo 109168523 © Tawanlubfah | Dreamstime.com


This growth is leading to substantial greenhouse gas emissions, said Yanqiu Tao, first author of the paper and a doctoral student at You's lab. The carbon footprint per individual participant reaches up to 3,000 kg (6,600 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), based on life cycle assessments. For comparison, the per capita footprint for the average person in the world is about 4,345 kg (9,579 lbs) each year.

For in-person conferences, Tao and You suggest participants should reduce stopovers when booking flights. Hybrid and in-person meeting organisers should carefully select hubs and take transportation modes and distances into consideration. 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.

"There is a lot of interest and attention on climate change, so moving from in-person conferences to hybrid or remote events would be beneficial," You explained. "But we should also be cautious and optimise decisions in terms of selecting hubs and determining participant levels for hybrid meetings."


Comments »










⇡  Back to top  ⇡

Next »