Offsetting Conference Carbon Emissions?

Hal Nelson proposes that ISA as an organization take steps to offset the carbon emissions from the annual convention. He’d like the support of the Environmental Studies Section to bring this proposal (next year) to the Governing Council. We’ll discuss this issue at this year’s business meeting.

Proposal to ESS members: Offsetting Greenhouse Gas Emissions from ISA Annual Conventions

Large conferences and meetings are increasingly being recognized as significant sources of greenhouse gases. The 2004 Democratic National Convention, the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, and the 2007 Super Bowl offset all or part of the emissions associated with travel, onsite energy use, and solid waste related emissions. With 3,000+ attendees from around the world the ISA annual convention contributes to global climate change and ISA needs to mitigate this source of pollution. Using an rough estimate of 1 ton per participant, each ISA annual conference is responsible for 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

We propose to the Environmental Studies Section (ESS) that ISA offset the emissions associated with its annual conventions. Because participants have to travel to the convention location, the only way to reduce these emissions is to buy offsets. Offsets are renewable energy, forestry, methane or other reduction projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to “offset” the emissions associated with ISA activities. Conference emissions from heat and electricity and solid waste disposal can be mitigated directly by introducing green procurement requirements when choosing a convention site.

Following ESS acceptance, the proposal would then be submitted as a recommendation from the ESS to the ISA Board of Governors to pursue carbon neutrality for its annual conventions. Such a program could include the following steps:

1. Conduct an estimated inventory of convention related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the following sources:
a. Travel related emissions: A weighted average of estimated total travel miles for attendees times emissions intensities of estimated modes of travel.
b. Conference related heat and electricity related emissions.
c. Estimated emissions from solid waste disposal for the convention.

2. Perform a vendor scoping process to identify entities that can provide high quality offsets that represent real emissions reductions at a competitive cost. A recent analysis of offset providers is available to help analyze vendor quality. Preferences could be given to not-for-profit organizations that are determined to provide quality projects at competitive prices.
a. Given the cost of offsets from the chosen vendor, the next step is to determine the amount of the surcharge added to each participant’s conference registration.
b. A heuristic for participant cost is to assume one ton of emissions per participant at a cost of $10/ton. Given this admittedly rough estimate, those ISA members who choose to stay in the CO2 offset program would pay an extra $10 for their conference registration.

3. Authorize a surcharge on annual convention registration to pay for CO2 offsets.
a. When registering, attendees need to have the ability to opt-out (decline) to pay the surcharge when they register on line to attend the convention.
b. Behavioral finance research tells us that participation rates are much higher when people have to opt-out rather than opt-in. Higher participation rates increase the effectiveness of the program and could contribute to economies of scale to reduce program costs and yet give participants the same degree of choice while registering.

4. Green procurement requirements for siting conventions. Precedence should be given to convention centers and hotels who can guarantee renewable energy and recycling. This reduces the direct emissions of the convention and reduces the need for offset purchases.
a. One other way to reduce direct emissions is to encourage less carbon intensive form of travel such as trains and carpooling. There is a large education component to this as well that the ISA could be performing via its website and emails to members reminding them about hotels and conference deadlines.

5. Due to the potential complexity of this proposal, a subcommittee of interested and experienced ESS members could perform steps #1 and #2 above, and answer questions that the Board or its committees might have regarding the proposal’s implementation.

Trexler Climate and Energy Services. (2006). A Consumer’s Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers.