Dec 20, 2021 - Economy

The climate toll of business conferences

Illustration of green chairs around a flat Earth.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Post-COVID revival of businesses conferences could bring substantial carbon emissions, but planners can curb the impact while still enabling lots of in-person interaction, new analysis shows.

Driving the news: The paper in Nature Communications attempts a holistic look at the resource footprint of conferences, looking at travel and food demands for big in-person events, but also energy needed for remote communications, to name a few big categories.

What they found: Looking at virtual, in-person and hybrid models, they conclude that moving meetings and conventions to all-virtual formats can cut emissions by 94%.

  • But it also explores hybrid formats and strategies that curb emissions from travel involving multi-location conference "hubs," careful flight planning and more.
  • "[S]patially optimal hubs for the hybrid conferences have the potential to slash carbon footprint and energy use by 60–70% while maintaining <50% of virtual participation," Cornell University researchers write.

Why it matters: They write that the annual impact of the event industry has reached the same order of magnitude as the yearly greenhouse gas emissions of the entire U.S.

  • However, that finding relies on an expansive definition of the "global event industry" via the Events Industry Council, which defines "business event" as "10 or more participants for a minimum of four hours in a contracted venue."

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