February 17, 2023
Many arguments exist about the environmental benefits of remote work in the wake of the 2020 lockdown, from reduced travel emissions to reduced use of big event centers and office buildings. It all seems common sense with just a bit of contemplation, and much of the data supports this conclusion. However, one also needs to consider the opposing arguments. For example, some evidence indicates that attending an event from home is not quite the miracle for environmentalism that some think it is.
At first glance, the environmental benefits are unambiguous. According to 2020 monitoring, worldwide CO2 emissions decreased by 8.8% in the first six months of 2020. But measuring how much virtual event attendance contributes to drops like this is hard. Reductions in commuting and office work are only a few factors among many that contribute to this shift.
It’s easy to forget remote attendees still use power; they just do it from their homes rather than in an office or conference venue. Until all electricity comes from environmentally sustainable sources, any use has an impact. Running lights, computers, and a high-bandwidth internet connection from every home, not to mention air conditioning and other conveniences, all add up over time. It’s hard to measure the exact impact these have, spread out among many employees, and mixed in among additional household power uses, the exact numbers are difficult to come by.
The reduction of environmental impact at home is a nuanced process. Common sense actions like turning off unnecessary appliances and lights aside, one specific step has the most dramatic effect on power waste. Studies have shown that simply not using one’s webcam can reduce the power waste total by 96 percent. This is because the more data transmitted, the more power is used, and video streaming is far and away one of the most data-heavy activities on the internet. But, of course, this practice must be balanced against the benefits of using webcams for engagement in the first place, as I’ve outlined in The Virtual Events Playbook.
One neglected solution is to change the resolution of webcams used in a virtual event. For attendees, switching from HD to SD represents a significant reduction in grams per carbon dioxide equivalent, especially for high-attendance events. (As an added bonus, it also reduces network traffic overhead.) Event presenters and panelists should still use high-resolution devices, however, when it comes to participants, think about the objectives to determine if it warrants having everyone on camera at the same time.
Maintaining environmentally responsible practices for remote attendees can't be done randomly or on a voluntary basis. These measures require event management and oversight by producers who know how the technology works and how to reduce energy and emissions overall.
Ultimately hybrid and remote events still have a clearly positive environmental impact, but they could have an even greater one. This could easily happen with better procedures for remote attendees to minimize waste. Unfortunately, today, not all companies follow through on their claims of environmental responsibility. However, by holding more sustainable virtual events and documenting the actual net energy savings, they will find it easier to back up their sustainability claims.
Post-COVID, remote work and virtual events were a net positive for the environment, but the reality is much more complex. We must not let ourselves be drawn into complacency by initial gains. Extra work is needed to benefit our world and get everything we can out of this trend. The path to making business environmentally safe is a long and complicated one, but it’s a path we need to take. Based on everything we have seen, environmental sustainability is another added benefit to virtual meetings and events, and Leading Edge Training Solutions wants to be your environmental sustainability partner to ensure your company is more environmentally friendly when it comes to meetings and events. The most important part, and our mission, is to make sure your participants meet the objectives you have set for the event.
Lee Deaner is President of Leading Edge Training Solutions (www.letstrainonline.com), a leading producer of hybrid and virtual events, informational meetings, and training programs since 2009. He is also the co-author of The Virtual Events Playbook, available on Amazon and directly from Amplify Publishing..