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Plane sailing

Maritime conferences have a carbon footprint of their own. At a time when emissions into the air and water are under scrutiny, perhaps the time has come to assess the footprint of networking

Most conferences are a combination of speakers and networking. If the speakers can be heard online, where does that leave networking and the carbon footprint it leaves behind?

WE stood for a minute in memory of a fellow conference attendee who boarded the flight to New York with two colleagues but had to be carried off after suffering pulmonary embolism. It’s a risk the globalised shipping industry — surely we are not alone in this — is prepared to take for the sake of face-to-face networking.

As I prepared to disembark or, as Americans say, deplane from my last trip of the year, I worked out I had spent nine and a half days in the air during 2018. That was a shock to me, but not to anyone I shared that with. They had all spent multiples of that time strapped to a hard seat, for their safety as well as their comfort.

During a conference lunch, I discussed the carbon offset sponsorship with Rightship chief executive Martin Crawford-Brunt. He tells me that the estimated carbon footprint of that event — the cost to the planet of every attendee’s flight, road, rail, heating, cooling, per capital hotel stay, and so on — was pretty much half the footprint of a capesize bulk carrier running from Port Hedland, Western Australia to China.

The ship’s operator is under pressure to reduce emissions into the air and water; the conference organiser is not.

Why not? Because people in conferences believe that ship emissions should be reduced to save the planet; ships don’t have an opinion.

No one is advocating that conferences are a bad thing per se. Nor is there any suggestion that frequent air travel is inherently unhealthy (as opposed to unsafe), although there are better ways for a young mother or father to spend a weekend than nibbling chlorinated chicken while pretending to enjoy Game of Thrones at 38,000 ft. Even so, digital disruption should visit the world of corporate travel.

If thought-leaders of our industry passionately believe they can control multi-million-dollar assets from an iPad on the other side of the world, maybe it’s time to explore a regional e-conference, an online gathering to listen to an engaging speaker, followed by a slido Q&A session. It would be like a day of webinars experienced individually or as a local meeting. Most conferences are a combination of speakers and networking. If the speakers can be heard online, where does that leave networking?

Networking is the essence of a conference, so the question becomes: would you be prepared to reduce your level of networking by, say 50%, over the course of the next five years to significantly address your carbon footprint and mitigate the risk of shortness of breath and chest pains? Disruption should cover all aspects of our industry, not only those elements without an opinion.

RIP Lars Gerner Jensen, fleet manager, Dania Ship Management.

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