CES Not green
The carbon impact of the Consumer Electronics Show could be eliminated if participants took part in a virtual, teleconferenced event, says ON 24. REUTERS

While the Consumer Electronics Show is showcasing green devices, and bills itself as the greenest one so far, one company is making a case that technology could make the gathering even more environmentally friendly -- by eliminating the need for it altogether.

ON 24 is a company in San Francisco that organizes 'virtual events' such as webinars and teleconferences. Tricia Heinrich, Senior Director of Strategic Communications, says the company has organized some 300 of them since the company was founded.

The problem, she says, with something like the CES is that the sheer numbers of people that arrive in Las Vegas vastly offset any kind of initiatives that the organizers could take.

Looked at in terms of carbon emissions, some 125,000 people will come to the CES. Given that most of them are flying, that works out to about 136 million miles in the air, given an average flight distance of a little over 1,000 miles.

Air travel is one of the more carbon-intensive ways to travel, as jets use huge amounts of fuel. Using even very generous assumptions about carbon emissions (the World Resources Institute uses 0.28 pounds per passenger mile), that is 19,500 tons of carbon from the flights all by themselves.

Adding in the electricity use, the car travel, and the additional waste generated. a virtual event would reduce the carbon emissions by about 179,000 tons, according to Tricia Heinrich, Senior Director of Strategic Communications at ON24.

Heinrich says while there are some differences in the way people interact face-to-face and via teleconferencing, she said the company's research shows that sometimes a teleconference is more interactive. For example, in a huge meeting room participants are less likely to ask questions, because they are conscious of being in front of other people. So given the environmental impact of travelling long distances, it is harder to justify the traditional trade show.

The CES organizers, however, say there is a green case for such a big meeting. The organizers say that the average participant has 12 meetings while at the event, and attendees collectively avoid more than 960 million miles in business trips that they otherwise would have to take. As a result of attending CES and consolidating trips, the estimated net savings in travel miles is more than 549 million miles, says a statement from the CES.

If one assumes that 75 percent of those miles are air travel, that works out to 60,000 tons of carbon saved by going to the CES.