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Sustainable Conferencing with The Company of Biologists

In-person interactions at conferences provide unparalleled opportunities for biologists to collaborate and connect.

The events of 2020 have changed the way we work as the whole world transitioned online. A major impact on the biological community was not only the closure of labs, but the cancellation of major international conferences and meetings.

“I have become increasingly worried about the impact of conferences on the environment, and now there are other reasons not to travel internationally. We are all aware of how important conferences are to bring people together, so we have a problem.”

Dr Sally Lowell, a member of the Board of Directors

Before the pandemic struck however, the academic community was already assessing the merits of virtual and hybrid conferencing. There is an urgent need to find new ways of interacting with each other that are greener and more accessible than traditional conference models.

Now is the time to rethink scientific conferences.

As the pandemic crisis continued, scientists have experienced a number of successful remote conferences. Many aspects work well, but it remains a challenge to capture the many social benefits and scientific interactions that happen in-person.

We now need to experiment with different formats to continue successful virtual collaborations. We also need to learn how to adapt virtual conference technologies to support hybrid or hub conferences. What we learn this year by going digital will create new opportunities to share research in a more sustainable way.

The Company of Biologists is pleased to launch a new Sustainable Conferencing Initiative to help make this happen. Initiated by Sally Lowell, Alastair Downie, Kate Storey and Holly Shiels, members of the Board of Directors, the Initiative will provide technical, logistical and financial support to help biologists make their conferences more sustainable.

Sally Lowell, Kate Storey, Alastair Downie and Holly Shiels

The Sustainable Conferencing Initiative will support biologists to continue to communicate productively while minimising their impact on the environment.

Why has the initiative been created?

With so much uncertainty surrounding the future of international travel and large gatherings, now is the time to trial and develop successful virtual conferencing formats.

“There are lots of innovative ideas out there and the Sustainable Conferencing Initiative will provide a central hub of information, advice, technical solutions and funding to help overcome existing barriers to sustainable conferencing.”

Dr Sally Lowell, Board of Directors

Conference organisers have already taken important steps towards more sustainable conferencing. To become ‘greener’ still, many face a number of logistical and financial barriers:

Lack of resources

With no central source of information available, conference organisers often struggle to find out about additional sustainable changes they can make.

Lack of funding schemes

A gap in available financial support raises concerns about the additional cost of new technology or rail travel.

Lack of experience

With no tried-and-tested case studies, organisers face uncertainty about unreliable technology, unsuccessful formats and poor attendance.

The Company of Biologists Sustainable Conferencing Initiative will help overcome these barriers and support sustainable science communication.

What support will be available?

This new scheme will pilot and facilitate practical solutions for sustainable conferencing via:

Sustainability Grants

  • Help pilot specialised IT and innovative technology solutions. The results from these pilots will be available for the community to learn from.
  • Deliver a financial supplement to conference organisers to help accommodate cost differences between plane and train travel for meetings sponsored by The Company of Biologists.

Online information hub

  • Supply information and guidelines on how to set up a sustainable conference via a dedicated website.
  • Encourage the community to give feedback and share ideas through active social media accounts and an online forum.

Sustainable Conferencing app

  • Provide additional technology for online sharing and commenting on posters and talks to support remote attendance.
  • Overcome logistical difficulties when coordinating talks and networking.
  • Coordinate car-sharing for local travel to conferences.

We want to hear from you

As we begin this project, we want to gather brief case studies from conference organisers, speakers and delegates about interesting conference models and intriguing new technologies.

Get in touch to share your thoughts.

Join our mailing list

Keep up to date with the latest news from our Sustainable Conferencing Initiative.

Introducing Viktoria, Sustainable Conferencing Officer

New to The Company of Biologists, Viktoria Lamprinaki is here as our Sustainable Conferencing Officer. Viktoria is on hand to offer guidance and support when planning sustainable events and implementing new technologies. To share your experiences and ideas, or ask any questions you may have, email the Initiative at sustainability@biologists.com.

Additional financial support

The Company of Biologists offers other grants for the benefit of the biological community.

Stay updated

Follow us on Twitter for regular updates on the Sustainable Conferencing Initiative.

Meetings and Workshops

Find out more about our upcoming schedule of Meetings and Workshops.


Visit our journal websites

Development Journal of Cell Science The Journal of Experimental Biology Disease Models & Mechanisms Biology Open

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