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Leading the way for inclusive, sustainable conferences

Earlier this week, our colleagues at SUNRISE conducted the first online UK-India workshop on electrochemical energy storage. Talks, questions and networking were all available online.

SUNRISE is an international project to address global energy poverty with partners from India, Mexico, South Africa, and Kazakhstan. Twice-yearly conferences have been essential to building collaborations and growing capabilities, two key objectives of the funding call (GCRF Growing Research Capability). However, they recognise the impact of international travel on the climate and are looking into ways to reduce travel whilst still maintaining strong partnerships, such as hosting online conferences.

Our Electrical Storage Research Lead and the Head of our Sustainability Committee, Dr Jenny Baker, chaired the conference, which saw over 50 attendees from India and the UK.  Viewers were a mix of academics, students and industry professionals – including companies that have not previously collaborated with SPECIFIC, SUNRISE, nor Swansea University.

Research conferences are usually hosted in a central location, meaning most participants are required to travel. Online conferences result in reduced carbon emissions emitted due to travel, as well as hotel stays, refreshments, complimentary gifts, and more.

Air travel to conferences, talks, and meetings can account for a third or more of the carbon footprint for a typical scholar or university. The digital conference had a significantly lower carbon footprint compared with an average conference as it was held exclusively online. The Nearly Carbon-Neutral conference model is freely available for guidance and recommends that all proceedings take place online.

The reduced carbon impact is not the only advantage to holding an online conference. The cost of hosting the event was negligible, which meant that it was free to attend. Usual conferences can cost upwards of £500, in addition to flights and accommodation costs. As the conference was exclusively held online, attendees were able to take part from all over the world without the concern of the cost.

A recent study showed that there is no direct correlation between flying and academic publication output, so attendees were not at a disadvantage for not travelling. The conference enabled those who attended to network and collaborate via chatrooms, with opportunities to ask questions both to the presenters and to each other.

This UK-India workshop conference eliminated all of these factors as attendees tuned in from the comfort of their usual offices and homes. Additionally, the conference removed diversity barriers as many cannot travel due to reasons such as health conditions, caring responsibilities, visa complications and cultural issues, as well as busy schedules.

Event organiser, Dr Jenny Baker, said, “I know there were both speakers and audience members who would not have been able to attend even a hub conference due to childcare issues and teaching commitments. This gives an opportunity for people who are not always part of the conversation.”

We hope to host (and attend) an increasing number of online conferences as more organisations realise the advantage to both the organisers and the attendees. Watch this space!

“Fab idea from Dr Jenny Baker to help reduce CO2 associated with conference travel and make science more accessible
– Dr Billy Wu, Imperial College London

Massive kudos to Dr Jenny Baker for organising. A brave but, in my opinion, entirely appropriate step for energy researchers particularly.
– Dr Claire Hansell, Senior Editor, Nature

“We should have them every 2 months!”
– Dr Chithambararaj Angamuthuraj, IIS Bangalore

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