More zoom, less climate gloom as conferences move online, study finds

ByMike V. Cooper

Jan 4, 2022
  • A new study has found that moving conferences online can reduce carbon footprint by 94% and energy consumption by 90%.
  • It also found that hybrid events, which some attendees attend in person while others attend online, could cut carbon and energy footprints by two-thirds by taking steps such as carefully choosing a location and only serving than plant-based foods.
  • While some professionals are dissatisfied with online conferences, mainly due to poor networking opportunities, others have expressed satisfaction with the accessibility of these formats and the reduced carbon footprint and cost.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of daily life, including the way we work. Now, more than ever, professionals are working from home due to health and safety concerns and local restrictions. The pandemic has also forced the trillion-dollar events industry to undergo a fundamental shift, as many organizers move conferences from physical venues to online platforms like Zoom.

Moving conferences online can be a significant change for those used to interacting with peers while munching on canapes in auditorium hallways. But a new study published in Nature Communication argues that keeping conferences virtual or using a hybrid format, in which some attendees attend in person while others attend online, can be a productive strategy for mitigating climate change.

In 2017, trade events alone engaged 1.5 billion attendees from 180 countries and contributed to $2.5 trillion in spending while supporting 26 million jobs, according to a 2018 study. study by Oxford Economics. A report by Allied Market Research also found that the events industry will grow from around $1.1 billion in 2019 to $1.5 billion by 2028.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the global conference industry contributed 0.138 to 5.31 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GT CO2e) per year, the same as the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the entire United States, says Fengqi You, co-author of the new study and professor of systems engineering at Cornell University.

“There are significant carbon emissions in the events industry globally,” You told Mongabay in an emailed statement. “We believe that moving conferences fully or partially online can reduce a significant amount of global carbon emissions.”

According to the new study, moving conferences from meeting rooms to online platforms can reduce carbon footprint by 94% and energy consumption by 90%. What little carbon and energy is still emitted at virtual conferences comes from things like home electricity use, although this is only a fraction of what is emitted at a full in-person event. .

The IUCN World Conservation Congress used a hybrid format for its 2021 event, with some participants attending in person and others online. Image by IUCN/Ecodeo/Margarita Corporan.

The study also found that a hybrid system could reduce a conference’s carbon footprint and energy consumption by two-thirds while maintaining more than 50% in-person attendance. Conference organizers can help reduce an event’s carbon and energy footprint by doing things like carefully choosing a hub that allows in-person attendees to travel only a short distance, or choosing to serve only plant-based foods, suggest the authors.

While many professionals have complained about “Zoom fatigue“After spending countless hours on online platforms, a survey conducted by Nature in 2021 found that 74% of 900 respondents agreed that virtual conferences would continue after the pandemic. The main reason for wanting to pursue virtual conferences was accessibility, followed by reducing carbon footprint and cost. The main reason for not wanting to continue virtual conferences was the lack of networking opportunities.

You said he personally attended many virtual and hybrid conferences in 2021, and while he lacked in-person interactions with colleagues, he said those modes worked “pretty well” for him.

“I saved time getting to the conference location/venues and avoided some potential logistical hassles in finding hotels and accommodations,” You said. “I am happy that ‘avoided’ transport stages can contribute to climate change mitigation in general. Yet, I’ve found that conference organizers have to put more effort into hosting online/hybrid events due to the new mode of operation. »

One conference that took a hybrid approach was the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which took place in Marseille, France, in September 2021, after the pandemic delayed the date of the initial conference to 2020. There were 5,700 registered participants in person and 3,200 online participants, as well as 25,000 public visitors, according to the IUCN.

“Overall, this turned out to be a very good solution, as it maximized the accessibility of the event,” Marc Magaud, head of global meetings and events for IUCN, told Mongabay in a press release sent by e-mail. “It allowed those who were able to travel to Marseille to come together in person, which remains very important based on the feedback from participants that we received through an exhaustive survey. It also allowed those who could not make the trip to have a voice in Congress. In the future, as the technology – and our ability to make full use of it – improves, we believe this model will increasingly become the new standard for major environmental conferences.

You said he hopes the new study will help raise awareness of the benefits of climate change by moving lectures online or even adopting a hybrid format. It also points out that moving conferences online can help reduce 0.13 to 5 GT CO2e, or 0.3% to 14% of global carbon emissions, which can help the world meet crucial goals to mitigate. the worst effects of climate change.

“The 2021 IPCC report indicates that if no reductions are made, the remaining carbon budget of 300-350 GT CO2 stay at 1.5℃ [2.7°F] global warming will run out in 8.3 to 9.7 years,” he said. “Reducing virtual events may extend the timeframe by about 1.5 more years.”


Global economic importance of business events. (2018). Retrieved from Events Industry Council and Oxford Economics website: 2018.pdf

Tao, Y., Steckel, D., Klemeš, JJ and You, F. (2021). The trend towards virtual and hybrid conferences can be an effective climate change mitigation strategy. Communication Nature, 12(1). do I:10.1038/s41467-021-27251-2

Vig, H., & Deshmukh, R. (2021). Events Industry by Type, Organizer and Age Group: Global Opportunities Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021-2028. Retrieved from Allied Market Research website:

Remmel, A. (2021). Scientists want virtual meetings to stay after the COVID pandemic. Nature, 591(7849), 185-186. do I:10.1038/d41586-021-00513-1

Banner image caption: The recent IUCN World Conservation Congress held in Marseille, France used a hybrid format. Image by IUCN/Ecodeo/Liz Rubin.

Business, carbon, Carbon dioxide, Carbon emissions, Carbon footprint, Climate change, Conservation, Energy, Energy efficiency, Environment, Technology, Technology and conservation

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