Sustainability at the Annual Conference
Over the last ten years, we have been thinking about the materials we source and how we use and dispose of them, with an eye to increasing sustainability and reducing the footprint of the conference. We are working on giving more visibility to these efforts, and to ask you for more 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, 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); 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 participation in conferences like this, whether by lack of funding opportunities, the costs and choices for international travel, or restrictions on and refusal of visas (we know the latter particularly affects scholars from the Global South, with delegates unable to attend each year as a result of this issue).
Our policy in all areas of the conference focuses foremost on reduction, then reuse, and then recycling. From 2019, we will not be providing single-use plastic water bottles and we will only offer vegetarian/vegan lunches (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 have reduced the number of printed programme books (please return them after use for reuse or recycling) and are introducing better digital formats for the programme (recognising that digital is not environmentally neutral either). Our 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. This year we are using reusable crockery instead of disposable coffee cups at the Society. We reuse conference lanyards (after washing them!) and the plastic name pouches at multiple 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 all the efforts you’ve made in terms of how you get here. But we want to stress that we value participation by international delegates for whom such travel options are not possible.
As a conference venue, we know that we need to do more, particularly in terms of ways to bring colleagues together and share knowledge in different spaces, online and offline, via different forms of distance engagement and participation. This applies both to this conference and to supporting engagement with other international events that many in the UK fly to. We will be circulating further thoughts on this shortly.
We ask you to send comments and suggestions to email@example.com. We will be working with Uma Kothari, the Chair of Conference for 2020, and with our Research and Higher Education Committee, to take these conversations forward and to make further changes for next year’s conference.
Here we tell you more about what we are currently doing at the conference to support sustainability and minimise waste, and how you can support this with personal actions throughout the conference.
Reducing printed paper material and recycling what is used
We recycle all paper waste from the conference where possible.
What we have done: Over the last 10 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, so that the only printed material we now offer you is a copy of the programme book. We also work with our exhibitors to significantly reduce the volume of printed materials that they bring to conference, including by increasing our offer to exhibitors of digital opportunities within our bookable exhibitor packages (such as adverts in the conference app).
In 2010 we introduced a fully searchable online programme, and in 2016 we introduced a conference programme mobile app. Based on delegate feedback, we will continue to offer a printed programme at registration, for those who want one. However, we have been steadily reducing the numbers ordered each year. We also reuse (handing out unmarked returned copies to delegates) and recycle all returned copies of the printed book. We also have clearly marked paper recycling facilities throughout our venues. We will continue to provide a printing facility for those who need this; however, we ask delegates to be thoughtful about what and how much they print.
The paper you will see being disposed of is paper towels from the lavatories. The toilet paper is from 100% recycled fibre and the hand towels are from 50% recycled fibre. General Waste from the Society is taken by Westminster Council and goes to an energy recovery facility where it is combusted and used as flue gas treatment, steam for power, or ash for roads.
What you can do:
If you are happy with just using the conference app, please don’t take a printed copy of the programme.
Unless you want to keep it, please put your used programme book in the recycling boxes provided at conference registration. We will reuse clean unmarked copies, and recycle all others.
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.
Conference lanyards and name badges
What we do: we reuse the conference lanyards and plastic pouches at multiple Society events after the conference until they are no longer usable (we do wash them first!) and we recycle the paper inserts.
What you can do:
Please make sure to deposit your lanyard and badge in the reuse boxes provided at conference registration.
Try to keep your badge as clean as possible while wearing these (please try to avoid getting biscuit crumbs into the badge!).
Water provision at the conference
What we have done: For a number of years we have been providing additional facilities to refill water bottles. This year we will no longer supply single-use plastic water bottles. Please make sure to bring a refillable water bottle with you.
There will be filling stations available at the Society at these points:
We will also endeavour to have jugs of water and glasses in the presentation rooms at the Society.
We order in tanks of water to replenish these water fountains. The water facilities in the RGS-IBG building (a listed 19th century building) are not sufficient to cope with demand from nearly 2,000 delegates, especially if it gets very hot. We will also have a number of refillable bottles available for a small fee at the registration desk – we no longer supply these free of charge as we did in 2018 at the Cardiff conference, as we saw significant numbers of these thrown away by delegates. If you see small cups at the water fountain, these are made of corn starch and are 100% biodegradable. But please use your own water bottle as much as you can.
There will also be water fountains at key points at Imperial (map of locations will be available shortly, or ask at the Registration Desk). You can also download the Refill app which points you to your nearest public water fountain:
What you can do:
What we have done: Every day of the conference, we provide a boxed lunch for each registered delegate. We stopped serving red meat in these lunches in 2016. Our caterers, Lodge Catering, source their ingredients locally, seasonally, and sustainably to the fullest extent possible. You can find out more here. In 2019 we switched to having all lunch options be either vegetarian or vegan.
In keeping with our wider policies of reducing what we consume and waste, 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, so this reduction signifies a large reduction in the food waste we will produce.
What you can do:
What we do: 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, the entire menu is nut-free, and we have worked 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.
It is really important that if you have requested a special diet box, you remember to collect your named box from the special diets stand. It can only be taken by you. In recent years, we have had to throw away hundreds of uncollected meals each day, significantly adding to food waste from the conference. We are really pleased to have reduced this number significantly at this year's conference.
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 registration.
What you can do:
Food waste and lunch packaging
What we have done: 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. This year we are using reusuable metal forks.
You may see our catering team taking away bags full of rubbish from the conference site. Please be assured that this is being taken offsite to be sorted by Lodge Catering, to be composted or recycled. It does not go to landfill. Lodge recycle 100% of their food waste and have done this since 2009. This includes all cooked food items left over from events and raw food items (vegetable, meat, fish and used oils) generated by both of their kitchens.
There is more information about Lodge Catering's policies available here.
What you can do:
Tea and coffee provision
What we have done: we will be using reusable crockery across all tea and coffee serving points at the Society, and where possible at Imperial College London too. We are also employing additional members of the catering team to make sure that crockery is collected, washed and delivered for reuse at serving points in a timely fashion. At very busy periods, we may make use of single-use paper recyclable cups to manage demand. These are recyclable. You can also help with this by bringing your own refillable coffee cup with you.
All of the tea, coffee and sugar served is covered by one of the Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance schemes.
What you can do:
Bring a refillable coffee cup with you.
Be patient with our catering team at peak periods.
Return your coffee cup to the catering tables.
Snacks at conference
What we have done: We provide fresh fruit at serving points at the RGS-IBG all day. You will notice that biscuits served at the conference are 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 would need 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. If you have suggestions please share these with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travelling to the conference
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 of the power disparities involved in the fact 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.
We know many of you are, individually and collectively, thinking about the environmental impact of your professional practices and travel. We encourage all delegates to think about the choices you can, and do make, and to engage with some of the ideas and principles offered by organisations such as CET.
We know we need to do more in terms of alternative conference models and meaningful engagement in a large conference such as this. There are challenges of scale and infrastructure we need to address.
We welcome suggestions and commit to offer new forms of distance participation for the 2020 conference. We are planning to stream some of the plenary sessions this year and will provide twitter highlights on selected panels. We would also welcome offers to host local/regional hubs instead of travelling from further away. Please contact us if you think you have ideas of locations that could work. (We would be delighted to provide a hub for UK academics for other conferences too – approach us with ideas!). There are good reasons to do this beyond environmental concerns in terms of giving access to those who don’t have the resources to attend or are unable to get visas to do so.
We have considered carbon offsetting the conference (and the Society’s broader activities). This is a topic to be considered again by the Research and Higher Education committee this autumn.
The Society is readily accessible via London’s public transport networks, and we strongly encourage you to make the most of these in getting here. See our venue page for more information. Our location dis-incentivises car travel.
What you can do:
Where you can, make use of public transport networks to get here.
Where possible, make use of non-flight alternatives 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.
Heating and cooling
We know at the Society rooms can become quite warm and it can become uncomfortable (we are hoping the sun will be out for the conference again!). We don’t have air conditioning, but fans are provided for use in session to ensure everyone remains comfortable. Please do open the windows wide (recognising challenges of sound) and turn off fans when you leave.
The Society is engaged in a programme of planning work to make the building less energy-consumptive and more sustainable.
*This page has been amended following delegate feedback, to expand upon and clarify our policies. Please do send additional suggestions to email@example.com.