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A Warmer World

Virtual conferences significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions

Samantha Fields Dec 27, 2021
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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.

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