The subject of environmental footprint has come up in a number of Wildlife Disease Association venues and discussions over the last year or so, and it is clear that many members may not know about the efforts we are already making in this area. WDA’s
motto is “All Wildlife Diseases, All Conservation, All One Health, All the Time!” Part of our commitment to conservation and improving wildlife health includes decreasing our environmental footprint, or resaid, increasing the sustainability of our activities. A completely holistic look at this could get very complicated. But energy usage and its contribution to global climate change, although not the only measure to consider, can provide us some useful concepts, and is certainly relevant to some of WDA operations. (First 3 graphs provided by Thijs Kuiken)
contributions to global warming are likely primarily through the process of producing Journal of Wildlife Diseases (paper pulp, packaging, fossil fuels, transportation); conduct of conferences (fossil fuels for travel, supporting hotel operations, food waste, packaging debris, etc); WDA business operations (Editor, Executive Manager and Officer travel and activities); and maybe some contributions from other things we do (compiling and emailing weekly News and Announcements and quarterly WDA Newsletters, committee activities, granting, and student support efforts). WDA, being a fairly small organization, has not commissioned its own energy audit or sustainability analysis, but we can take useful lessons from the efforts of larger organizations. The below shows the Society for Conservation Biology carbon footprint (a surrogate for energy consumption) for 5 years, including one year where no conference was held.
Clearly conferences are a major contributor to carbon footprint but are also one of the most useful and beneficial ‘products’ for members, particularly younger members seeking mentorship and experience. And, it may be a fallacy to assume that people attending conferences would not use energy if you didn’t hold your conference. If people go to WDA conferences for education, making professional contacts, and/or to see something new or interesting, would they just go to a different conference if WDA didn’t hold one? Would they go on vacation? Would their energy consumption really be less? Clearly, we (WDA) can’t control what our members do, but we can influence them, and we can provide less energy consumptive conferences. We can help show them the way.
The subject of conference energy footprint came up at the recent EWDA conference and an ad hoc committee to investigate it is being considered. But, for almost 10 years WDA has experimented with various ways of reducing energy use and waste at conferences. In some years we asked people to bring their own mugs, in others we provided a drink cup in the conference bag to avoid Styrofoam or paper. We have worked with conference hotels to reduce waste (with variable success). A number of good conference greening efforts were made, including use of recycled materials to make conference bags, at the European Section’s recent conference in Thesally, Greece. EWDA also experimented with projecting posters rather than printing them (it didn’t work very well). In most years we have only offered printed proceedings for the small number who really want and/or need them, providing that information to the majority on jump drive, app or by link.
In 2011 we experimented with recording the first couple days’ talks and providing them at the WDA website (it was expensive, member usage was low, but user format was primitive). We have offered conference attendees opportunities to contribute to carbon offsets, or conference specific greening opportunities (revegetation of the Rio Grande riverine corridor in New Mexico).
Our experimentation has been instructive, but now we need to pull together our experiences and make information more available to conference attendees and conference hosts. Over the next several years we will be trying to implement changes that will considerably reduce our conference energy footprint.
Travel to Conferences
Above is the carbon footprint of Society for Conservation Biology conference of 2017. As can be seen, air travel contributes about 70% of the total. Some alternatives are less frequent conferences, selecting conference venues that minimize air travel, optimize less energy intense local transportation, virtual conferencing, and purchasing carbon offsets. But something that WDA has pioneered is regionalization of conferences, holding several smaller conferences yearly, so that trans-ocean air travel can be minimized. This is often overlooked, and would seem to have significant potential.
Thijs Kuiken has recommended a paper “Sustainable Science? Reducing the Carbon Impact of Scientific Mega-meetings” (Ethnobiology Letters, 2011;2:65-71). It shows that an alternating schedule of national and regional meetings can reduce related CO2 emissions up to 73%. Assuming the proportions for air travel, waste, hotel, local travel etc. are similar, how much more sustainable (and energy/climate sparing) is having a WDA Conference in Florida (or California or Mexico for that matter) for 300-400, largely attended by North Americans; and a conference in Greece for 195 attended largely by Europeans and folks from the Mediterranean region; and one in Bali for about 150-200 attended largely by Australasian and Asian Pacific colleagues? The total attendance is about 750-800 (like WDA’s total in 2018), with far fewer airline ocean crossings required. If we wanted to do an actual pertinent comparison we could calculate trans-ocean airline carbon footprint of WDA’s three smaller meetings in 2018 with a single similar sized conference (750-800) for an entire organization, like AAZV-EAZWV this year in Prague or last year in Atlanta. Whatever we use for comparison, it appears regionalization of conferences is something positive that can be done to reduce the largest contributor to professional society conference carbon (energy) footprint.
Smaller regional meetings have other advantages. They can be held in places nearer to nature, at a more human scale, and can accommodate regional interests, customs and languages. They can be more personal (no 8-12 minutes talks, or triple split sessions), and allow more time for students and special topics. They also reduce our environmental impact and help us live up to our motto.
WDA has already gone further than many other organizations. Several of our regional (Section) meetings (EWDA, LAWDA and NWDA) are already every other year. And in many years the WDA-A meeting is one many folks drive to and camp at. The WDA pattern of meetings and conferences did not develop solely out of concern over sustainability, but it could be argued that their development for cost reasons, time constraints, and respect for local interests and customs, has been a surrogate for sustainability. WDA can be justly proud that its pattern of conferences is likely greener than most.
Other WDA Efforts to Increase Sustainability
One of the recommendations coming out of the ‘Futures Committee’ process is investing in virtual conferencing capabilities. The recording of presentations and sharing of them in some secure and efficient format. This is not as easy as it may first sound. Concerns have been voiced about compromising unpublished data, intrusion of critics or opponents of wildlife research, and loss of ability to have frank discussions. But, WDA is going to continue to experiment with this at the WDA 2019 Annual International Conference in North Lake Tahoe, California. U.C. Davis will be doing the recording and we are considering the most efficient and secure means of distribution.
Another WDA effort toward increasing our sustainability is encouraging movement toward receiving JWD online. Online content delivery is not free. About 60-65% of costs associated with the JWD would remain even if we went to online only, and some current revenue streams (advertising and other author paid fees) would be eliminated. Another future alternative may be ‘print on demand’ or other small batch printing options.
As seen above, the last 10 years show a very clear trend, and we have now just about reached the ‘crossover point’ where we have about as many regular online members as regular online plus print. Since essentially all student members and associates only get JWD online, only about 1/3 of WDA regular members, and about 1/3 of institutional members, now get print. A recent cost analysis has shown that the cost differential for print memberships was not sufficient to support the extra costs of printing, assembly, packaging, mailing and storage. So starting in 2019, WDA members who want print will need to pay $40 more, so other membership categories are not subsidizing those who want print. This adjustment, and an aging membership, may move us to the point where JWD is essentially an online journal in the next 10-15 years.
JWD has also joined the Forest Stewardship Council to assure all paper products are sustainably harvested. And we will be moving away from plastic wrapping of JWD, to the extent allowed by US Postal regulations.
Where do we go from here?
It’s easy to find fault with one aspect of a conference or another, various travel related issues, room temperatures too cold, too much plastic or paper waste, food wastage, etc, etc. But, Team California has vowed to take this on in a big way for the 2019 WDA Annual International Conference. This includes a venue that requires almost no climate control; yoga studio, gym, volleyball, swimming tennis and hiking all on grounds; 1 ½ miles private trail into town; bikes for local transportation; airport shuttle; and rooming, catering and drink services that are expressly green (no plastic bottles or styrofoam cups, all waste recycled). Beside winning gold and silver local chef competitions, Granlibakken has won multiple awards from the State of California for ‘greening’ of conferences. Our 2020 conference hosts in Spain have similar goals.
As noted, in New Mexico in 2014 we set aside some conference fees toward native plant restoration along the Rio Grande. Supporting more direct local conservation efforts is another thing WDA may consider in the future. WDA takes its commitments seriously, it takes your concerns seriously, and we take conservation and sustainability seriously. We hope this makes you proud to continue being a WDA member and assures you we want to ‘do well by doing good’.
Thanks to Thijs Kuiken and Marie-Pierre Rysser for comments and conversations of this subject.