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A Step Towards Carbon Free Meetings

A change for good that we can all help with

The wave of participants attending conferences has grown continuously over the last five years. According to IBISWorld we spend $14B a year on conferences in the US alone.

As much as 70% of the carbon footprint of a meeting comes from travel. Wired Magazine published a headline stating that the Paris Climate Talks generated 300,000 tons of Greenhouse Gas emissions. By our calculations this was exaggerated, but the point is that it’s a big number and such emissions impact our global climate in a way that most people believe will cause a host of problems for all of us. For any organization that claims a commitment to environmental and social responsibility, headlines like that are a liability.

Until we all feel comfortable wearing Virtual Reality headsets to engage with each other - and recognizing the value real, live interactions will always have - the emissions from conference related travel will be a significant part of the professional world’s carbon footprint. 

With NASA & NOAA announcing that 2016 was the Earth's warmest since record-keeping began, companies are claiming a leadership position by purchasing carbon offsets to balance out the carbon footprint from employee travel.

Proceeds go to fund additional alternative energy, forestry and other projects that will reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by the same amount the meeting travel creates.  This demonstrates a real commitment to sustainability - something that goes beyond a resolution not to have your hotel towels laundered every day (still a good thing to do).

If you are a meeting organizer, the first step is to measure the carbon footprint from attendee travel. This will vary depending upon the number of delegates and where they are flying from. Here at The Good Traveler we can take care of that calculation and provide the offsets too.

For an upcoming aviation industry meeting of 595 professionals in the US, The Good Traveler estimated 270 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions will be generated.  Imagine a massive pile of 270 hot air balloons inflated with carbon dioxide.   The cost to offset this was $2,000, less than $4 an attendee.

While more expense is not good news for conference operators, the host in this example – Airports Council International – North America – has made a commitment to offsetting attendance travel within their Sustainable Conferencing Guidelines after realizing that corporate sponsors are ready to step up to cover the cost. In this example C&S Companies, a sustainable planning, design and construction firm, has become a regular sponsor and picked up the tab for the offsets.

Carly Shannon, Senior Project Planner and Aviation Sustainability Leader for C&S, said “Our whole business is about helping our clients develop and maintain the built and natural environment in a socially, economically and ecologically responsible manner.  This involves not only conserving and restoring our resources, but looking at the impacts of our activities and how to adapt to the changing climate.  Funding the cost of carbon offsets is one way we can minimize our own impacts and encourage others to do so. It’s not enough, of course, but a good start.”

So, what to do if the organizer of a conference that your firm is attending hasn’t adopted this latest best practice?  C&S recently purchased offsets to cover their attendance at another meeting that has yet to commit to a zero-carbon footprint.   $24 offset the carbon from the eight C&S attendees.  Armed with the approximate mileage from their flights, buying the offsets took 2 minutes online at thegoodtraveler.org.

“When prospective clients ask about C&S’s commitment to sustainability, it’s great to be able to tell them that we offset the carbon footprint from our travel to the meeting” said Carly.

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