Research suggests virtual conferences are better for the environment

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ANI |
Update:
Dec 12 2021 22:57 STI

Texas [US], Dec. 12 (ANI): Virtual conferences, which have exploded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are easier for people to attend and have even reduced the environmental footprint, the findings of a recent study suggest.
The study was published in the “Nature Sustainability Journal”.
A research team led by engineers from the University of Texas at Austin analyzed several scientific conferences that went virtual for the first time in the early months of the pandemic. Researchers examined the environmental, social and economic costs of virtual conferences compared to in-person events and analyzed how the online move has changed the participation of women, early career researchers, and scientists from institutions and countries. under-represented.
The study found that virtual events reduced costs and time and travel commitments that had previously prevented some conferences from attracting diverse groups of attendees. In addition, the environmental costs of hundreds or thousands of people from all over the world to attend a conference have been eliminated.
“When we went virtual it brought a lot more voices to the table who just couldn’t be there for in-person events due to cost, time and other reasons,” Kasey Faust said. , assistant professor at Cockrell School. of the Engineering Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.
The cost of in-person attendance by African scientists at several recent conferences averaged between 80% and 250% of their country’s annual gross domestic product per capita, compared with around 3% of gross domestic product per capita for US participants.
In addition to the cost, in-person events also required a huge investment of time. These events required travel, which often lasted several days and took up all the time of participants during their stay.
“It can be a major challenge, especially for women. For many young workers, this period of life tended to fall around the time when many had children. young children.

According to the study, women’s participation in virtual conferences increased by 253% compared to previous in-person conferences. And in academia, attendance by students and postdoctoral fellows increased 344 percent.
The magnitude of the climate impact was also staggering. The researchers estimated that a single in-person conference attendee in 2019, on average out of the conferences analyzed, had the same environmental footprint as 7,000 virtual conference attendees.
The researchers said the virtual events open up opportunities for greater international participation, which is limited by cost and travel documents. For example, a woman in the study who was a mother of young children said that she did not need travel documents to travel outside of her country, which prevented her from attending conferences. in the whole world.
“She could network more than she ever did in the past year, and that would never have happened with an in-person conference,” said Manish Kumar, associate professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Engineering. environmental.
The team included researchers from UT Austin, University of Ottawa, Arizona State University, Cornell University, University of Notre Dame, and University of Southern California. The study was originally launched to assess the unexpected success of the North American Membrane Society (NAMS) annual meeting in May 2020, one of the first engineering conferences to go virtual. The authors expanded the study to compare in person with virtual attendance at the NAMS meeting and several other engineering conferences.
The study found many benefits to virtual conferences, but challenges remained. Among them is the lack of engagement and the lack of in-person networking. About 75% of attendees at one science conference and 96% at another said they preferred in-person networking and that virtual sessions felt inauthentic and contrived.
In-person conferences are starting to return, but researchers expect many events to create hybrid offerings, potentially at lower prices.
“Tech companies are already doing this with their events,” Kumar said.
“Smart people will hybridize their events at least to some extent,” Kumar added. (ANI)


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