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Striving for Sustainability while Travelling to Conferences

By Yana Wilson and Sarah McIntyre


In June 2023, Sarah and I attended the European Society of Human Genetics Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As two of the current Sustainability Committee members for the AusACPDM meeting in Cairns, we decided to "put our money where our mouth is" and explore how simple (or difficult) it would be to travel carbon neutrally. Recognising the importance of minimising our carbon footprint, we set out with a strong commitment to sustainable practices. This article explores the efforts we made to offset flight emissions, adopt eco-friendly transportation modes, utilize reusable items, and support local establishments. However, despite these endeavours, the quest to find credible carbon offsetting options for other aspects of the trip proved challenging, compounded by the intricate nature of carbon pricing and consumption calculations.

Offsetting Flight Emissions

The first step was to offset the substantial carbon emissions resulting from our long-haul flights from Australia to Scotland. We made a conscious decision to “pack light” to reduce our emissions and booked tickets in economy class. Travelling long-haul economy is the best option! Less emissions and cost of course. Carbon offsetting involves investing in projects that either reduce or capture an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted during air travel. We both travelled with airlines that offered carbon offsetting initiatives that could be paid for during the purchase process, which made neutralising the carbon impact of our flights straight forward and easy.


Choosing an apartment over a hotel for accommodation during our stay in Glasgow played a pivotal role in minimising water consumption. Unlike hotels, where bed linen and towels are often replaced at least once and sometimes daily, opting for an apartment allowed us to take personal responsibility for their usage. By reusing towels and linens throughout our six-night stay, we significantly reduced the water consumption associated with unnecessary laundering. The apartment was also fitted with flow-restriction to minimise the water usage during showers. This conscious decision aligns with the principles of sustainability, emphasising resource conservation and minimising environmental impact. Additionally, the apartment experience provided a more immersive and local-centric stay, as we were not staying at the conference centre venue, but had easier access to local cafés, pubs, and grocery stores.

Adopting Sustainable Transportation

We deliberately tried to reduce our dependency on carbon-intensive means of transportation. We used one of the bus routes specified on the conference website to travel to- and from the airport to our accommodation. Upon disembarking from the bus, we needed to walk about 10-minutes. Additionally, we had chosen an apartment that was within 10–15-minute walk to the conference venue. By prioritising walking, we not only reduced our carbon footprint, but this also allowed for a deeper immersion in local culture and the serendipitous discovery of hidden gems. There was also one shared taxi ride that we would offset at the end of the trip, along with the bus trip.

Embracing Reusable Commodities

To further mitigate our environmental impact, sustainable choices were made regarding food and beverage consumption. Carrying a reusable water bottle and keep cup minimised the use of single-use plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. The conference centre included a couple water refill stations, making it simple to replenish the water bottle. We also opted to eat in at local restaurants and cafes, which significantly curtailed plastic waste. Moreover, when visiting local cafes and pubs we asked for local options to support regional economies while enjoying sustainably sourced, farm-to-table meals.

Challenges in Carbon Offsetting

Upon our return, the task of offsetting any residual carbon emissions stemming from accommodation, local transportation, and miscellaneous activities presented formidable challenges. Identifying reliable carbon offsetting options proved onerous due to limited transparency, limited option control over activities, and the difficulty in assessing the credibility of providers. The absence of standardised approaches and transparent methodologies has impeded our decision-making and we have yet to make a final decision on how to offset these other activities without giving into possible greenwashing endeavours. Additionally, the difference in prices per metric ton of carbon among various offset providers emerged as another challenge. This raised concerns about the airline carbon offsets that we had purchased when booking our flight. Better transparency, option control, and standards would empower consumers to identify reliable and effective carbon offsetting options.


Promoting sustainability while travelling requires thoughtful decision-making and familiarity with the nuances of carbon offsetting. People can efficiently lower their carbon footprints while travelling by compensating flying emissions, embracing eco-friendly transportation, adopting reusable goods, and supporting local businesses. However, greater transparency and standardised procedures are required in the quest of dependable carbon offsetting possibilities for other travel-related issues, promoting a more sustainable future. We had fun travelling for work with our new focus, and found having two people reminding each other about daily decisions really helped. Our aim is to provide you with some trustworthy recommendations (to cut down the time taken researching and confusion) for nearby dining, travel, and carbon offsetting for our next AusACPDM meeting in Cairns, August 2024.