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Virtual conferences significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions
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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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