Trend towards virtual and hybrid conferences may be an effective climate change mitigation strategy
Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has urged event holders to shift conferences online. Virtual and hybrid conferences are greener alternatives to in-person conferences, yet their environmental sustainability has not been fully assessed. Considering food, accommodation, preparation, execution, information and communication technology, and transportation, here we report comparative life cycle assessment results of in-person, virtual, and hybrid conferences and consider carbon footprint trade-offs between in-person participation and hybrid conferences. We find that transitioning from in-person to virtual conferencing can substantially reduce the carbon footprint by 94% and energy use by 90%. For the sake of maintaining more than 50% of in-person participation, carefully selected hubs for hybrid conferences have the potential to slash carbon footprint and energy use by two-thirds. Furthermore, switching the dietary type of future conferences to plant-based diets and improving energy efficiencies of the information and communication technology sector can further reduce the carbon footprint of virtual conferences.
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