Is the Greenest CES the One That Doesn't Take Place?

CES, the massive trade show for the consumer electronics industry, kicks off tomorrow in Las Vegas. This year's event continues a trend we've highlighted for the past three years -- here, here and here -- of an ever-more-prominent focus on sustainability and green IT.

Although CES is unlikely to ever be known primarily as a green technology conference, the Consumer Electronics Association (the trade group that puts on CES every year) has made strides in greening both the materials on offer and the event itself. There's an extensive list of the ways CES is reducing its environmental impacts on the CES website, including cutting paper printing by 50 percent, recycling nearly two-thirds of the waste from the show and choosing venues that have worked to cut water and energy use.

But by its very nature, the trade show is still going to have a huge carbon footprint, and be responsible for thousands of tons of waste. ON24, a vendor of virtual meeting solutions, has estimated the impacts of this year's CES based on Conservation International's Carbon Calculator, and come up with a carbon footprint of 179,000 tons of CO2 emissions for the four-day event.

ON24 of course has a vested interest in promoting virtual meetings instead of or in addition to physical gatherings, and CES, with a reliance on hands-on experiences with the latest in technology, would be perhaps the least likely candidate for an all-virtual gathering. (As a wide digression, perhaps the most likely candidate would be the annual Adult Entertainment Expo sideshow at CES, but that's another story entirely.)

But in an interview yesterday, ON24's Chief Marketing Officer, Denise Persson, said that even events that rely on in-person experiences can benefit from what she called a "hybrid event" -- part physical, and part virtual.

"The green benefits of virtual events are becoming more and more relevant to our customers," Persson said, "and hybrid events let companies reach an even larger audience than they can in a physical event."

She added that there are a number of reasons why people are cutting back on their business travel: "For environmental, safety reasons, cost reasons, for personal productivity reasons -- people don't want to travel as much as they wanted to before. If they can gain the same knowledge and insights without traveling, then so much the better."