How to be a (more) sustainable conference delegate

30 November 2019 - By: Caroline Wood

How to be a (more) sustainable conference delegate

The latest insights, exciting discussions, new collaborations – annual conferences are certainly a highlight in the research calendar, but bringing together so many scientists from across the world has inevitable environmental consequences. Caroline Wood has some tips for how to lessen your environmental impact at SEB Prague 2020.

Travel: Flying is such a disproportionately large greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter that it really does make a difference to travel by train if you can. If you have to fly, consider carbon-offsetting this through a certified scheme, or through a donation to the World Land Trust which restores rainforests. Your institution may even have a policy for this. But however you make the journey, why not combine the trip with a summer holiday after the conference, saving on travel later in the year? The Bohemian Switzerland National Park can easily be reached by train and offers stunning scenery for walking and cycling. Whilst in Prague, embrace the public transport system: the Metro is particularly effective for speeding across the city.

Accommodation: Hotels can seem the easy option, but these typically have high energy and water demands, especially all-inclusive options. For a more authentic (and typically cheaper) experience, book a self-catering apartment or find a local host through AirBnB. If you have to use a hotel, see if they have a policy where you can opt-out of having fresh towels and your room cleaned every day.

Say no to single use: Disposable items are a scourge to the environment as they are typically not recycled and this includes single-use coffee cups. Minimise your waste footprint by bringing y our own reusable mug, water bottle and basic cutlery set/spork, in case you ever need to grab something on the run. Many food outlets will happily fill up a bottle with water for free. If you find you never tend to use the whole soap bar or shampoo bottle included in your accommodation’s free toiletries, why not bring your own? Or at least take them home to finish later.

Take only what you need: The ‘freebies’ on offer on the exhibition stands can be so alluring, but how many branded pens do you really need? Try not to pick up items that will likely only end up in the bin once they get home. See if you can avoid adding to your collection of cotton bags by bringing one of your own your own to put things in. After all, it has been estimated by the World Wildlife Fund that producing a single kilogram of cotton requires over 20,000 litres of water. As for business cards and leaflets, you could photograph them instead of taking them home - this also means they won’t get buried in the bottom of your bag and lost!


Eating: Talking science is hungry work, but try not to run away with yourself at the lunch buffet. Food waste in landfill is a major source of GHG, not to mention a waste of the resources used to produce it. Take only what you know you can eat – you can always go back for more! You could also opt to have a vegetarian trip. Traditional Czech cuisine may be heavy on meat, but there are vegetarian delights, such as Smazeny Syr (fried cheese), Bramborak (potato pancake) and Smazeny Kvetak (fried cauliflowers).

Before departure: Don’t forget to hand in your delegate badge for recycling and if you’re not likely to visit Czechoslovakia soon, don’t let your spare change go to waste: drop it into a charity box before you depart the country.

Wishing you a happy – and greener – SEB 2020!

Word count (excluding title): 596

Suggested pull out quote: “You could combine the conference with a summer holiday – the Bohemian Switzerland National Park offers stunning scenery for walking and cycling”