A Warmer World

Virtual conferences significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions

Samantha Fields Dec 27, 2021
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
By hosting a conference online instead of in-person, conference organizers can curb emissions by more than 90%. Fabrice Cofflini/AFP via Getty Images
A Warmer World

Virtual conferences significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions

Samantha Fields Dec 27, 2021
Heard on:
By hosting a conference online instead of in-person, conference organizers can curb emissions by more than 90%. Fabrice Cofflini/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

This year, a lot of companies made pledges to reduce their carbon emissions and work toward being net zero. 

One effective way for companies to do that is to host virtual conferences instead of in-person ones, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Conferences and business meetings that people travel for are a big source of greenhouse gas emissions. Going all virtual, the study found, can reduce an event’s carbon footprint by 94%. 

Before the pandemic brought business travel to a halt and forced conferences online, a lot of people were skeptical that virtual conferences could ever replace in-person meetings, said Shengyin Xu, global sustainability manager at the nonprofit World Resources Institute.

But “people felt that, after experiencing it for so many months, it was not only effective — it was feasible, even post-pandemic,” she said.

The carbon footprint generated by people traveling to conferences worldwide “is pretty much comparable to the U.S. nationwide carbon footprint,” said Fengqi You, a professor at Cornell University and lead author on the Nature Communications study.

While going fully virtual almost eliminates a conference’s carbon footprint, “we do see some negative perspectives about virtual conferences,” You said. “People become more tired, basically you’re sitting in front of a computer all the time.”

A hybrid model might be a good way to go, he said. Even having just half as many people come in person can reduce a conference’s carbon footprint by about two-thirds.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.  

Need some Econ 101?

Our new Marketplace Crash Course is here to help. Sign-up for free, learn at your own pace.