Beyond the obvious benefits of helping to keep attendees safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19, the virtual format of this year’s Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education offers some major sustainability advantages over in-person meeting format:
- Greater accessibility – Removing the costs of travel and lodging dramatically reduces the total cost of participation, thereby enabling access by individuals who would otherwise be unable to participate. It also means participants from outside the United States (where AASHE’s in-person conferences have previously been held) no longer need to worry about securing a visa in order to participate.
- Reduced carbon footprint – The carbon footprint of a virtual conference is tiny relative to a typical in-person conference to which air travel is necessary for most attendees.
- Minimal operational impacts – Not having physical meeting spaces means the waste, water and energy consumption, and cleaning chemical usage caused by in-person meetings is largely eliminated.
Although the emissions associated with a virtual conference are vastly reduced compared to an in-person conference, we recognize that the technology used to support virtual events (e.g., servers, personal computers, etc.) all require energy, which is often generated via combustion of fossil fuels. Using estimates from the International Energy Agency on the carbon footprint of streaming and assumptions about the number of attendees and the average hours of streaming per attendee, we anticipate that GCSHE will generate approximately 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, less than one percent of the 2000 metric tons we estimated were generated by the 2019 AASHE Conference & Expo.