SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
15 December 2016
Volume 17 Issue 12

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Mapping the Environmental Footprint of a Conference: The Life Cycle Assessment of the 22nd SETAC Europe LCA Case Study Symposium

Marcial Vargas, Quantis International, Paris, France

Global events run in a cycle. Whether it's every four years, such as the Olympic Games or the many annual conferences held around the world, event organizers are increasingly reevaluating their position on sustainability stewardship, and the SETAC Europe LCA Case Study Symposium is no exception.

22nd SETAC Europe LCA Case Study SymposiumConferences involve a significant increase in activity regarding the hundreds of speakers’ and participants’ transportation to and from the venue, the merchandising and food and beverage value chains, as well as the room nights of delegates in numerous hotels around the area. Since the entire theme of the 22nd SETAC Europe Case Study Symposium, which was held in September in Montpellier, France, was sustainability and impact assessment, the organizers of the conference wanted to self-assess their environmental impact from the meeting and to not only talk the talk but also walk the walk by evaluating their own footprint. 

This kind of evaluation is traditionally used to measure and identify environmental impact hotspots and reduction opportunities. Since the organizers of the event were placing sustainability at the heart of the event, it was also interesting to see how the decisions made during the planning stages would impact the environmental performance of the conference and how the participants could be guided to make better choices.

With this in mind, Quantis, a leader in event environmental assessment, worked with the organizing teams (both SETAC Europe organizers and members of the Environmental Life Cycle and Sustainability Assessment [ELSA] Pact) to collect all the information needed and calculate the footprint of the symposium.

At first, the results were quite disheartening to all involved. By coming to the conference, the average participant was multiplying his carbon footprint by a factor of 8, while increasing their water consumption by 60%. Most of these impacts could be allocated to two main contributors, travel (with 88% of the carbon footprint linked to air travel) and food and beverage (responsible for 93% of the water footprint).

However, this meant that both organizers and participants were responsible and that both could make an effort in order to reduce the footprint of future events:

  • Participants should consider all travel possibilities. For example, is the train really going to take more time if you take into account the time spent going to the airport?
  • Organizers should pay special attention to and question the food they serve. Is it local? Is it seasonal? Is the production responsible? These are all worthwhile considerations. It is also important to determine how they can reduce food waste. By asking themselves these questions, it is possible to reduce the impacts of food and beverage significantly (with a 30% reduction being achievable).

These results must remind us that we all have a role in the environmental impacts of our activities. If we want to reduce our footprint, organizers and participants should work hand in hand and push each other to improve their practices, but most importantly, once you have made the effort to participate in a conference, make it worthwhile. It is your responsibility to use conferences as a key for learning, sharing and imagining new ways to create a sustainable world.

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