Scrapping in-person meetings and conventions could drastically cut our workplace carbon footprint, new research reveals.
The University of Cornell in the US has discovered that moving a professional conference online would cut emissions by 94 per cent and energy use by 90 per cent. A hybrid model, with no more than half of attendees online, would reduce them by 67 per cent.
“We all go to conferences. We fly, we drive, we check into a hotel, give a talk, meet people – and we’re done,” says senior author of the paper, Fengqi You.
“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.”
While online conferences still require energy and equipment, an in-person meeting is a lot more complicated. For each individual participant of a conference, 2,994kgs of CO2 equivalents are released. And in 2017 more than 1.5 billion people travelled from 180 countries to attend them.
“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,” says You.
Before the pandemic, Paul Miller, CEO of the Digital Workplace Group says the whole way of conferencing was “very traditional, very antiquated”.
“The idea of flying in, on an environmental and a human resource basis, if you’re going to go to a two-day conference somewhere, that’s going to cost you. It could take four days of your time, all the travel, all the taxis, the hotels – it’s arduous and straining.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more people that are going to be a lot more selective.”
Saving in-person meetings for something special
Not all meetings are better online, Miller explains, but quality over quantity is a philosophy that can be applied throughout your work life. By saving in-person gatherings for something special and doing everything else online, carbon emissions can easily be cut.
“If you’re going to do that, you’re going to factor in the financial, economic and environmental cost. Make sure it’s something that matters,” Miller adds.
Last year, the Digital Workplace Group launched a scheme called the Work Miles Movement. It involves setting a “budget” for the distance people travel to and from work each day to keep emissions from transport down.
Like with financial budgets, you can’t spend money you don’t have – you only make the effort for what actually matters.
And workplace culture has changed a lot since the pandemic began. Instead of flying halfway across the world to attend a 30-minute meeting, we’re now more likely to look at a digital option.
“Think of it almost like reserving them, like you would a really nice outfit. They are something you use for special occasions,” Miller concludes.