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The STLHE Green Conference Initiative

Each year, the STLHE conference participants exchange ideas, communicate research findings, and connect with old and new colleagues. This year’s conference, A World of Learning, invites the exploration of the challenges and possibilities of internationalization, the impact of globalization trends in post-secondary settings, and the international and intercultural dimensions of teaching and learning.

However, there are global and environmental impacts associated with conferences. As award-winning scientist, environmentalist, and broadcaster, David Suzuki notes, meetings “leave a heavy footprint on the environment” (Doyle, 2006). Given the global theme of this year’s conference, we feel that this is the ideal time to take greater initiatives to minimize our energy consumption, in order to limit the conference’s ecological impact. This is why we are incorporating principles of environmental sustainability into our conference planning as articulated in our green vision statement:

  • to minimize our waste generation and use of energy,
  • to transform thinking and action on environmental issues, and
  • to establish lasting environmental legacies.

Many organizations have set comparable principles into action at their own conferences, including Deloitte (Copenhagen, 2007), a Scottish Parliament conference, Engineers without Borders, the Education Safety Association of Ontario (ESAO) Conference, Green Goal – 2006 World Cup, etc. Going green can also be less expensive (Spatrisano as seen in Doyle, 2006). For example, according to the Environmental Defence Council, “[u]sing 1,000 disposable plastic teaspoons consumes over 10 times more energy and natural resources than manufacturing one stainless steel teaspoon and washing it 1,000 times” (Desmond, 1998). Also, a number of organizations offer material support to conferences who wish to minimize their use of energy. Therefore, another long-term benefit may be access to goods (e.g. recycling equipment) that will facilitate environmental practices on our campus.

We aim to minimize material use and provide participants with environmentally friendly alternatives in areas such as advertising, registration, transportation, accommodation, promotional items, food, poster sessions, presentations, and more. An ongoing literature review enabled us to access documents, such as the Environment Canada Green Meeting Guide, as well as research and results on comparable initiatives. Our own conference will be assessed using a model such as life cycle analysis (LCA) in order to evaluate chosen alternatives (e.g. the use of Styrofoam versus glass cups). The ecological effect of the conference on the environment will then be calculated, and compared to similar events of its size. Results of our analysis will be included in a new chapter of the STLHE conference final report, providing insight into sustainable conference practices which we hope will serve as one element of the environmental legacy of our initiative. Prior to and during the conference, we will provide information regarding environmentally sound practices and choices that will be made available to conference participants. In all of these ways, we hope to reduce the environmental impact of this year’s conference, while enriching its opportunities for global learning.