Estimating the global warming emissions of the LCAXVII conference:
connecting flights matter
Miguel F. Astudillo
Received: 8 April 2018 /Accepted: 30 April 2018 /Published online: 28 May 2018
Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018
Purpose Conferences are an important element of scientific activity but can also be a major cause of environmental burden. With
this in mind, we analysed the global warming emissions of the 2017 annual conference of the American Center for Life Cycle
Assessment (ACLCA), in order to estimate the carbon footprint and identify potential ways to reduce it.
Methods We used survey data from participants as well as literature sources to complete an attributional assessment of the
greenhouse gas emissions per participant. A method to calculate the ‘ideal’ location is proposed, which can be used to identify
‘unreasonably’ distant conference locations.
Results and discussion The average emissions per participant were found to be 952 kg CO
, but with a large variability due to
differences in travelled distance. Connecting flights were found to increase emissions up to 32% compared to direct flights, due to
the increased number of take-offs and landings.
Conclusions Results indicate that future studies should use distance-dependent flight emissions to increase the accuracy of the
assessment. Some measures, such as meat-free menus, had a relatively minor contribution to emission reductions, but could be
important as scientists advocating for the reduction of environmental burden should lead by example.
Keywords Conference footprint
The objective of organising scientific conferences is to
bring a community of scientists, engineers and other spe-
cialists together to solve specific problems and update the
current state of the knowledge. Although participating in
any conference plays an essential role in scientific endeav-
ours, over the years, scholars have argued for the impor-
tance of minimising the environmental footprint of scien-
tific conferences (EPA 2017; Favaro 2014; Spinellis and
Louridas 2013). Indeed, several studies indicate that con-
ference participation is one of the most substantial burdens
associated with research (Bossdorf et al. 2010; Spinellis
and Louridas 2013; Stroud and Feeley 2015).
Previous estimates of the carbon footprint of a conference vary
widely, from 92 to 3000 kg CO
/participant (Bossdorf et al.
2010; Stroud and Feeley 2015). Transport-related emissions
tend to dominate in most of the life cycle assessment (LCA)
indicators, including global warming (GW) emissions (Hischier
and Hilty 2002). Notwithstanding, food and accommodation
have been reported to be responsible for 31% of total conference
emissions (Bossdorf et al. 2010); therefore, mitigation
strategies should consider them. A thorough review of the liter-
ature is provided as Electronic Supplementary Material.
The potential carbon footprint of the LCAXVII conference
organised by the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment
(ACLCA) was evaluated to suggest effective means for estab-
lishing sustainable academic practices. This event was held on
October 3–5, 2017, at a hotel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire,
with the participation of 228 delegates. In this conference, 41
sessions were held and 40 poster presentations were included
in the conference program. The conference had a number of
Responsible editor: Mary Ann Curran
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-018-1479-z) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
* Miguel F. Astudillo
Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on Sustainable Engineering
and Ecodesign (LIRIDE), Civil Engineering Department, Université
de Sherbrooke, 2500 boul. de l’Université, Sherbrooke, Québec J1K
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment (2018) 23:1512–1516