The RGS-IBG Annual International Conference regularly attracts over 2,000 geographers from around the world. This year, the conference is taking place at Newcastle University, with in-person, online, and hybrid ways to participate.
For many years we have been thinking about how we deliver the conference, the materials we source and how we use and dispose of them, with an eye to reducing the footprint of the conference and increasing sustainability. We welcome ideas on how we can all improve what we do and what we consume.
A large international conference such as this by its very nature (in-person and online) poses particular challenges in terms of resource use and sustainability including: the waste generated; use of plastics, rare metals and minerals; energy, water and food use (and waste); carbon used in travel; and much more. We are keen to minimise negative impacts, while also recognising that we do not want to make interventions that further disadvantage those who are often excluded from in-person participation in conferences like this.
In our move to hybrid conferencing, we are now able to offer ways to participate remotely online, which has a significant positive impact on making the conference more sustainable.
Our policy in all areas of the conference focuses foremost on reduction, then reuse, and then recycling. We do not provide single-use plastic water bottles, and we only offer vegetarian/vegan lunches to minimise waste (see more information below). For a number of years, we have not provided delegate bags or inserts, and we are working with others involved in the conference (exhibitors, caterers, marquee and furniture suppliers etc.) to minimise materials they, or delegates, dispose of. We no longer offer printed programme books and are introducing better digital formats for the programme (recognising that digital has environmental impacts too). The caterers recycle 100% of food waste and we recycle as much as we can of all other waste. You can really help here by putting material into the correct containers. We reuse conference lanyards (after washing them!) and the plastic name pouches numerous times at Society events.
Travel to the conference by delegates obviously has a significant environmental footprint. For those who can travel by train or bus, we appreciate your efforts. But we want to stress that we value in-person participation by international delegates for whom such travel options are not possible. To find out more for options getting to Newcastle, please see our guidance on planning to attend in person.
We ask you to send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here we tell you more about what we are currently doing at the conference to minimise the use of resources and waste, and how you can support this with personal actions.
We recycle all paper waste from the conference where possible.
What we have done:
Over the last 15 years, we have been gradually reducing the volume of printed material at the conference. In 2012 we stopped providing a delegate pack full of printed inserts, and we now no longer offer a printed programme book. We also work with our exhibitors to significantly reduce the volume of printed materials that they bring to conference, enhancing digital opportunities.
What you can do:
Be thoughtful about all conference-related printing that you do, and aim to reduce this where possible.
Make sure to put all paper waste in the provided recycling bins and not contaminate recycling with food waste.
What we do:
We reuse the conference lanyards and plastic pouches at multiple Society events after the conference (we do wash them first!) and we recycle the paper inserts.
Please make sure to deposit your lanyard and badge in the reuse boxes provided at conference registration.
For a number of years we have been encouraging delegates to bring refillable water bottles and providing additional facilities to refill them.
Bring a refillable water bottle with you.
Keep hydrated – make use of our filling stations to stay topped up.
Every day of the conference, we provide a boxed lunch for each in-person registered delegate. From 2019 all lunch options are either vegetarian or vegan.
By offering vegetarian and vegan options as standard each day, and by working with our caterers to accommodate other common dietary requests across the standard menu, at the 2019 conference, we reduced the number of separate labelled special diet boxes from over 200 to just five per day. In the past there has been huge wastage in supplying special diet boxes as much of it is left uncollected.
Enjoy the lunches!
Let us know what you thought via conference feedback.
If you request a special diet at the conference, we do our best to accommodate these within the main menu of lunches. In addition to vegetarian and vegan options as standard, we work with our caterers to make sure we have gluten-free and dairy/lactose free options each day. We will write to all those requesting special diets (beyond vegetarian or vegan) to confirm which lunches are suitable for you to eat each day.
Where you have notified us of more complex dietary requirements, our caterers will put together a named lunch box which is suitable for you to eat. This will be available for collection each day from the special diets stand.
We will also provide a range of non-dairy milks at all serving points, available on request.
If there are any issues, please come and see us at the conference help desk.
Collect your named box, if you have requested one!
Every year we work with our caterers on portion size and numbers of lunches ordered to reduce wastage of food. This is a careful balance between making sure we’re providing enough food for delegates, while also minimising wastage.
Food safety laws in the UK also mean that commercially prepared food can only be served and kept at room temperature for a set amount of time, before it has to be discarded. This is why leftover food from the conference has to be recycled and cannot be donated.
The packaging for the lunch boxes is made from renewable resources and is fully recyclable.
Follow instructions from our catering team about recycling and discarding of waste.
In 2019 we experimented with using reusable crockery across all tea and coffee serving points at the conference. We will review this for 2022 with the team at Newcastle University.
Consider bringing a refillable coffee cup with you.
Be patient with our catering team at peak periods.
We will confirm arrangements at Newcastle this year in due course. In the past we have provided fresh fruit at serving points all day, while biscuits were served in individually wrapped servings. This is for a number of reasons:
To avoid cross-contamination with allergens.
To reduce waste (perhaps counter-intuitively) – any uneaten biscuits from a platter of unwrapped biscuits have to be discarded after that serving, whereas wrapped biscuits can be kept and put out at the next serving
Hygiene - so that unwrapped biscuits are not potentially handled by multiple people before you eat them
We are actively exploring options with our caterers for biscuits with non-plastic, biodegradable packaging, as well as options that do not contain palm oil.
Travelling has been deeply ingrained in academic life and academic researchers are amongst the highest emitters of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. For a conference such as this, one of the biggest environmental impacts, by a long way, comes from the travel of delegates.
While long-haul flights play a key role in the carbon footprint of an event of this nature, we also recognise that many colleagues coming from long distances work hard to make the most of their travel to the UK/Europe, including setting up other meetings/collaborations/visits while they are here.
We are also keenly aware that this conference takes place in the UK. We do not want to disadvantage or discourage international colleagues, and particularly those from the Global South from attending, or to place additional barriers in their way. Conferences such as this are an important part of academic life. They allow scholars at all career stages, but particularly early stages, to see how their discipline is enacted; they are a forum for exchanging and testing ideas and new lines of enquiry; and for the establishment of new connections and collaborations. And for some academics, isolated in their institutions, they can provide a sense of belonging.
Our new online ways of working, developed over the last two years, mitigate but do not avoid this issue. We are committed to continuing to offer viable online and hybrid ways to participate, and to do all we can to ensure those participating online are as fully included as possible within the wider event.
Where appropriate, make use of our online and hybrid ways to participate.
Where you can, make use of public transport networks to travel.
Where possible, make use of trains and buses instead of short-haul flights.
Where possible, if you are flying to the conference, make the most of your time here by arranging other meetings and visits with colleagues here, as many of you already do.
We will add information about the rooms being used at Newcastle in due course.
Find out more about our plans for the virtual elements at this year's conference.
Find out key information about attending the conference.
Find out how we are trying to make the conference as accessible as we can.
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