Go Virtual or Go Home: The Future of Sustainable and Accessible Conferencing

As academics, conferences, symposiums and workshops are an integral part of our professional lives. They provide us with an opportunity to present our research, network with colleagues and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in our field. However, as we become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of travel, it's worth considering the benefits of virtual meetings as an alternative.

In today's business world, air travel plays a crucial role in how we conduct our professional lives. According to the World Tourism Organization, 13% of international trips are taken for business or professional reasons (UNWTO, 2017). However, as climate change becomes an increasingly pressing issue, it's important to consider the impact of our travel on the environment. A recent study has shown that the carbon footprint from air travel, specifically for work-related activities such as conferences and lectures, can affect the credibility of climate researchers in the eyes of the public (Attari et al., 2016). This highlights the need for businesses and academics to take a closer look at the environmental impact of their travel and consider alternative options. This is particularly relevant for academics as we are often required to travel long distances to attend conferences. A virtual meeting eliminates the need for travel and therefore reduces the carbon footprint significantly. 

But reducing carbon footprint is not the only benefit of virtual meetings, they also offer accessibility advantages over traditional in-person meetings. Traveling long distances can be difficult and expensive, and not everyone has the means or the ability to do so. By holding meetings virtually, we can expand our reach and include a more diverse group of people. This is especially important for academics as diversity and inclusion are crucial for a healthy and productive academic community.

Virtual meetings also offer flexibility that traditional in-person meetings cannot match. Attendees can join from anywhere, at any time, and don’t need to take time off from work or family obligations. This can be particularly beneficial for academics who have limited time and budget for travel. Virtual meetings also allow academics to participate in multiple events in a shorter period of time, and with less time and money spent on travel, we can allocate more resources towards our research.

For academics with families, virtual conferences allow for a better work-life balance as they eliminate the need for travel and the associated childcare costs. Additionally, virtual conferencing tools such as live Q&A sessions and recorded talks allow for increased networking opportunities and accessibility to a wider audience.

Another advantage of virtual conferences is the ability to easily record and archive talks and presentations, making them accessible to a wider audience even after the conference has ended. This can be particularly beneficial for small or niche conferences, as it allows for increased visibility and exposure for the research being presented.

In addition, virtual meetings can also help with timezone issues. For international virtual conferences, organizers can set up multiple sessions to accommodate different time zones, allowing attendees to join at a time that is convenient for them. This helps to increase participation and allows attendees from different parts of the world to connect.

While there are certainly benefits to in-person conferences, virtual conferences are becoming an increasingly viable option for academics. With the right planning and use of technology, virtual conferences can provide a high-quality, accessible and sustainable alternative to in-person events.

Lastly, the cost-effectiveness of virtual meetings can be a major advantage. Traditional in-person meetings require significant costs for venue rentals, catering, and other logistics. Virtual meetings eliminate these expenses, allowing for a more cost-effective solution for organizing and attending conferences. Furthermore, virtual conferences can also have a larger attendance, as individuals from around the globe can attend without incurring the cost of travel.

In conclusion, virtual meetings are a sustainable, efficient and cost-effective alternative to traditional in-person meetings for academics. They can significantly reduce our carbon footprint, make it more accessible to a diverse group of people, provide flexibility, and save time and money. As we become more aware of the environmental impact of travel, it's important for us to consider the benefits of virtual meetings and strive for a more sustainable academic community.

—CarbonFreeConf Team

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