Are virtual conferences better for the environment?
Working virtually has a positive impact on employees morale and productivity. But could it also help save the environment?
According to research by engineers at the University of Texas at Austin, a single attendee at an in-person conference in 2019 had the same environmental footprint as 7,000 attendees at a virtual conference.
“One of the many shared priorities in the boardrooms of America’s largest corporations is how to reduce our environmental footprint,” says Adam Riggs, founder and CEO of online collaboration platform Frameable. “And virtual spaceswhether you use them temporarily for an event that you would otherwise have hosted in a hotel ballroom, have a huge potential positive impact on the environment.
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In fact, a University of Michigan study found that a virtual conference hosted by AirMiners, an initiative to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the air, produced 66 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse than an in-person gathering in San Francisco due to commuting alone.
“We understand that there’s a lot that needs to happen in person, and some meeting software is really far inferior to the in-person version,” Riggs says, noting that while business travel leaves a killer mark on the environment, the lost economic benefits should not be overlooked. “But if [companies] are willing to explore with virtual spaces like the ones we are building, it can have a huge uplifting impact on morale and it can also have a corresponding effect decrease in emissions.”
Between March and April 2020 – the first full month workers worked fully remote – paper purchases in the United States have fallen by 90% according to a 2020 study conducted by the Office of Sustainability at Yale. In turn, US businesses saved $105,000 and saw 97% fewer emissions from copiers, printers and purchased paper compared to the same time last year.
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However, a transition to a completely virtual approach can have its own detrimental impact on the environment, according to Riggs — even if it’s less than in-person work. An hour of streaming or video conferencing can emit between 150 and 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, depending on the service, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“We can’t assume that if something happens virtually that means it’s zero impactsays Riggs, encouraging employers and employees to stay vigilant and informed about the impact of all their actions on the environment. “Look how much you save by doing this [virtually]. There are many options, but it starts with transparency of information.