We’re getting ready to head off to Sustainable Brands Vancouver next week to engage with amazing people and bright ideas. As always, we love data and knowing our impact so we’ve been doing our research to find out all about conferences and their green future.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of heading off to a conference in new country or city, listening to captivating speeches, and meeting interesting people. But getting lost in the excitement, we often tend to overlook what conferencing means for the planet.

Green Story anti-swag green conferencing

Photo by Jacky Lo on Unsplash

How dirty are conferences?

It’s quite easy to overlook the impacts, especially seeing that between 60% to 90% of all conference emissions come from the commute (Kaiser, 2014). Conferences are known to attract people from all over the world, and thus the most common way to arrive is by plane.

Did you know that 60% to 90% of all conference emissions come from travel? Especially air travel. Have you considered the train? (tweet me!)

While it’s great to bring together great people from across the globe, all that air travel is a lot of CO2 released. And CO2 released high in the atmosphere is actually 2.7x more damaging than gasses released at the ground level (Høyer & Næss, 2001). Yikes.

Green Story Anti-swag green conferences

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Okay, okay…but what about our impact at the conference?

While most of the damage is done before arriving at the venue, attending a conference still has a large impact.

For example, ever been to a meeting and ate too much? Venues will often try to provide attendees with the best and greatest variety of food – but that often leads to far too much food in the trash. While the exact number of food waste at events is unknown, some experts guess that approximately half the food at a conference is wasted.

Yikes! The average conference attendee generates 60lbs of food waste, or 75% more than home-based food waste. (tweet me!)

On average, a person spending their time at home will accumulate about 13.5 lbs of solid waste on a 3-day period. But when at a conference, a person will have an average of 60 lbs of food waste, that’s the equivalent of two large bags of trash ­– or 75% more than at home (Meeting Strategies Worldwide, 2008).

Now image the food waste for a 3,000-person conference!

Green Story Anti-swag green conferencesPhoto by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

What can we do about it?

One major aspect of waste from conferences comes not only from extra food, but the sheer amount of extra stuff.

You know, the stuff that gets handed to you throughout the conference that you just throw away at the next trash can? This can include flyers, handouts, merchandise and swag, aka stuff that is practical for the conference and not afterwards.

In terms of paper alone, one conference attendee can bring home as much as 10 pounds of paper waste. A single 500-person conference can produce the equivalent to 170 trees worth of paper waste (North Carolina Central University, n.a)!

Green Story anti-swag green conferencing

So what kind of swag are we bringing to conferences?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

We are bringing no swag, no extra stuff, no garbage making paraphernalia. We’re greening up our conferencing at Sustainable Brands Vancouver by practicing anti-swag.

By simply eliminating handouts at a two-day conference with 1,300 people, we could save almost 500 lbs of wood, 617 gallons of water, 150 lbs of emissions and 80 lbs of waste (Meeting Strategies Worldwide, 2008).

Conferences are dirty business! Go anti-swag & save (at least) 500lbs of wood, 617 gallons of water, 150lbs of emissions & 80lbs of waste. (tweet me!)

Given that little bit of data, why would we bring anything at all?

Ditching the swag, making use of today’s technology (book a meeting with us here) and connecting in-person (the whole point of a conference) are 3 simple ways to bypass some of the impacts of conferencing.

Our next step is to tackle those emissions!