So how big is your carbon footprint?
Last December I flew out to New Zealand to deliver the final keynote at ASCILITE 2009.
Though entirely possible to have delivered the keynote remotely, part of the reason for going was to attend the conference itself. I wanted to see and hear what was happening in that part of the world in the area of e-learning. I did consider the environmental impact of my journey as I am sure anyone who flies long haul for these kinds of events.
Any conference is going to have an impact on the environment. With hundreds of people travelling hundreds (if not thousands) of miles this will contribute to the carbon footprint of the event. Likewise once at the event there are all the “extra” bits of paper, bags and paraphernalia that you receive at a conference. Paper from the organisers, exhibitors and session presenters. Don’t get me wrong, some of this will be really useful, but a fair amount will end up (hopefully) in the recycling bin and some in landfill.
Yes I know I can hear you saying but I like reading from paper. That’s true, but it doesn’t have to be a one or the other scenario. You can print some of the papers, but not all of them. You can print the stuff you want to read “on paper” and leave the other stuff on the screen. Print what you need, rather than let others print everything! At this point I should say that many physical conferences are moving over to electronic materials, though there is still a fair bit of paraphernalia about at the conference I recently attended.
Now it has to be said that an online conference can help reduce the environmental impact of an event. If you are like me you probably have a laptop with you at a conference, so if you are staying at home or in the office and using the laptop at the online conference this will have a negligible impact on the carbon footprint as you would be using the laptop at both kinds of events.
We should though consider the impact of staying at home and attending the conference, you will be using lighting, heating (it will be November) and making coffee. If you are at a physical conference this energy wouldn’t be used. You might want to consider going into the office to access the conference (travel impact again, cycle to work perhaps) to lessen your personal contribution to the carbon footprint. If like me though there are already people at home, attending from home may be a better option. Also has the advantage you are less likely to be disturbed.
An online conference is not going to have a zero carbon footprint, but I would argue that the footprint will be a lot smaller than a traditional physical conference.
Now it’s not to say every conference should be online, there is something about the social and networking aspects of a physical event, but attending an online conference can not only be a stimulating and interesting experience, it can also have less impact on the environment. You will still be able to network and the social side of the online conference though not the same as a physical conference, it is there and is just different. It is still possible to make new contacts at an online conference, I know, because I have.
See the savings both in cost and in carbon footprint by having an online conference rather than a physical conference in this report by the Centre for Distance Education, Athabasca University: Online professional development conferences: An effective, economical and eco-friendly option.
So if it is proving difficult to justify all the conferences you want to attend from an environmental standpoint, one you shouldn’t miss is the JISC Innovating e-Learning 2010 Online Conference.