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Science Wednesday: It’s Easy To Be Green (at Scientific Meetings)

2011 August 10

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Stephen S. Hale

How green are scientific societies? The Council of Scientific Society Presidents represents about 60 organizations with over 1.4 million members. If they all flew once a year to meet together for four days, that’s collectively 2.8 million flights and 11.2 million dirty coffee cups from breaks. Travel to and from meetings pours large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 1 For many frequent-flying scientists, air travel produces our biggest personal greenhouse gas impact, often making the carbon footprint of ecologists and conservation biologists exceed the U.S. per capita carbon footprint.  2 Many scientific societies are striving to make their meetings greener.

Recently, I helped prepare a green meeting policy for the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF), an international scientific organization that “advances understanding and wise stewardship of estuarine and coastal ecosystems worldwide.” The United Nations Environment Program says a green meeting is one where emissions of greenhouse gases are minimized and unavoidable emissions are compensated for, natural resource consumption is minimized, waste generation is avoided where possible and remaining waste is reused or recycled, and the local community benefits economically, socially, and environmentally.

Among other things, the policy calls for meeting attendees to make voluntary donations to a carbon offset fund. Offsets are not meant to replace reducing your emissions; offsets are to be used for emissions you cannot avoid. To be credible, it is important to buy certifiable carbon offsets that result in a real reduction of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise not have happened. The Nature Conservancy website lists what to look for in carbon offset programs: permanence, additionality (would it have happened anyway), no leakage (the old practice just displaced to a new area), and standards of verification by third parties. Alternatively, CERF conferences can provide environmental footprint offsets for impacts other than carbon dioxide emissions (e.g., water use, paper consumption, waste products). Donations to local projects that, while not a certifiable carbon offset, would enhance other environmental values (e.g., local oyster reef restoration, small coastal vegetated buffer), serve to engage the community and provide local benefits.

The CERF Board hopes the policy will reduce the environmental footprint of CERF meetings and encourage other scientific organizations to follow down the same green path.

About the author: Stephen S. Hale joined EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a Research Ecologist in 1995. He is currently serving on the Governing Board of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.

  1. H.E. Fox. 2009. Front Ecol Environ 7(6): 294-296.
  2. T.M. Hamill. 2007. Bull Am Meteorol Soc, Nov 2007. pp. 1816–1819; B. Lester. 2007. Science 318:36–38.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action; and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog post.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    August 10, 2011

    Oh No…., It’s Difficult !

    Domino Effects !
    Russians Roulette !
    Those are drawing of our environmental in the world now and the future. The Green means just utopia and just symbolize toward our goal. But nature always destructive and egoist smashing itself. Only human is survive against it. However the human has much problems. Both of this, it is war forever and neither of them have won.

  2. Patricia Kane permalink
    August 10, 2011

    Our company-Bits Limited, inventor of the Smart Strip (energy saving surge protectors) walks the walk-recycling virtually everything-we buy back our products to recycle, all comp’s are on Smart Strips, reducing power usage by over 70% while reducing carbon footprint! We use geothermal heat/AC, small orders are walked or bicycled to Fed Ex Drop-off, printers use soy-based ink & recycled paper, but we try to use only digital format. All paper that comes in is shredded & used for packing material. We eat from plates/glasses, & utensils that we wash-all employees pitch-in and we clean our entire facility ourselves using green cleaning products. We have low-flow sinks & toilets. Our drinking water comes from a gravity filtration system-no plastic! Our motto: Going Green Made Easy! That’s what I call “walking the walk” Please try it-it works-Happy Greening!

  3. Linda permalink
    August 10, 2011

    One terrific way to reduce the carbon cost of meetings is to provide re-usable coffee cups to the attendees. First, that cuts back on solid waste trash at the meeting itself; second, it will have a lasting impact if the attendee takes the mug to work and continues to use it. There is an investment to purchase the mugs, but if the conference lasts multiple days, it may still be cheaper than buying (and disposing of) all those paper cups.

  4. Jay En permalink
    August 11, 2011

    What about teleconferencing where many participants do not travel to the meetings? This can save a lot of wastes and reduce carbon footprints. It is smart. What do you think?

  5. Jay En permalink
    August 11, 2011

    Audio-video conferencing is another option where participants can see themselves.

  6. Aaron from EPA permalink
    August 11, 2011

    For those interested, here is a link to CERF’s green conferences policy:

  7. Aaron from EPA permalink
    August 11, 2011

    The link above does not seem to be working, so here’s the direct link to the pdf:

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