12 April 2023 – At the onset of the COVID pandemic, EMBO Courses and Workshops were either postponed, cancelled or became virtual events. This led EMBO to evaluate the value of conferences for the scientific community. We found that while virtual meetings are clearly more environmentally friendly, especially regarding eliminating the travel footprint, we must recognize that there are irreplaceable advantages of meeting in-person. The benefits of in-person meetings must be carefully weighed against their environmental impact. Therefore, EMBO also funds virtual meetings and encourages hybrid meetings by providing funding for the additional costs incurred.
EMBO Courses & Workshops is now introducing a sustainability badge for meetings that implement measures to reduce the environmental effect, including the CO2 footprint. The aims are to raise awareness about the impact conferences have on climate change and to encourage scientists to consider choosing sustainable options.
As a funder of almost 90 meetings with more than 11,000 participants every year, EMBO can also contribute to encouraging a discussion in the wider scientific community on how to reduce the environmental impact of conferences. We have put together a quick guide that can help conference organizers think about ways in which the environmental impact of a traditional in-person meeting can be lessened.
- Virtual, hybrid or in-person meeting
- Do your participants need to meet in-person?
- If so, could you also offer remote attendance for those who may not want to travel?
- Put in place reliable videoconferencing for a hybrid meeting.
- Adapt your programme: make virtual attendance engaging and interactive. Spread out content over several days if possible.
- Would it be useful to provide a parallel meeting in another location, i.e., a multicity hybrid event?
- Sustainable venue
- Choose a certified environmentally friendly venue, e.g., EU Ecolabel or Green Key are common certifiers
- Choose a convenient location with good public transport connections, close to major transport hubs, to reduce additional travel
- If the venue is not certified, check whether it implements energy efficiency measures, and participates in waste sorting and local recycling
- Reduce the CO2 footprint
- Offset the CO2 footprint of your meeting
- Encourage speakers and participants to donate to environmental causes to offset the CO2 footprint
- Require some speakers who would need to travel between continents to participate virtually
- Provide information and directions for local public transport and encourage its use
- Encourage participants to walk where possible by providing maps and directions, or organize an activity that is reachable by foot
- Reduce – Reuse – Recycle
- Reduce or eliminate distribution of promotional material, or offer natural products or edibles as freebies
- If promotional material is needed, source responsibly and order the minimum quantity you will need; encourage reuse beyond the meeting where possible
- Opt for distributing information digitally
- Use paper badges
- Sustainable catering
- Check if your venue sources local and organic products
- Opt for vegetarian menus
- Adapt the quantity of ordered food to the confirmed number of participants
- Avoid single-use cutlery, cups, etc
- Avoid bottled water and opt for water fountains/tap water
- Opt for digital advertising, including via social media
- Inform participants about the sustainability measures you are adopting for your meeting
- Ask participants for feedback and suggestions on the sustainability measures at the end of the meeting
Combining several of these measures that we list in our application guidelines will qualify an EMBO Course or Workshop for a sustainability badge. Which of these measures do you, or would you, implement? Do you have additional ideas? Please feel free to comment below and discuss.