Green summits: An easy fix to make the conference industry better for the environment

New York, New York - Meetings, summits, negotiations: the conference industry emits as much greenhouse gases in a year as the whole of the United States. But the fix is simple and already tested, and implementing it would take a huge bite out of global CO2 emissions.

Conferences could ditch the business jet and stay virtual, for the good of the land.
Conferences could ditch the business jet and stay virtual, for the good of the land.  © Collage: IMAGO / Panthermedia, ZUMA Wire

In a study published by Nature, an international team of researchers looked at the upside of making the conference industry less of an emissions giant. They found that simply taking all these meetings virtual can reduce their "carbon footprint by 94% and energy use by 90%."

The research team looked at the environmental impact of in-person conferences by adding together a mountain of data, including the emissions from every aspect of the events, and comparing the results with the impact of hybrid and fully virtual events.

According to the study, a swift switch to virtual meetings would be a victory for climate action, because the trillion-dollar industry is growing fast. Over 1.5 billion people travelled to conferences in 2017 and there was a steady increase of events and participants each year before the pandemic hit. As other sectors slowly but surely return to pre-Covid levels, it's safe to say this field won't be any different.

Now that Zoom and other video meeting apps are household names, conferences big and small could embrace holding fully virtual events, and check off another green puzzle piece of solving the climate crisis.

Unlike the considerably more difficult switch to make the cement industry or steel production more sustainable, making meetings green is as simple as ditching the jet for a computer with an internet connection.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO / Panthermedia, ZUMA Wire

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