The local organizers are taking steps to minimize the environmental impacts of the Thinking Through Nature summit. If you have suggestions for how we can improve our efforts in this direction, please contact us.
The majority of our conference panels will be held in the Lillis Business Complex at the University of Oregon, recognized as a national model for environmentally friendly building design. The Lillis Complex is the most environmentally friendly business school facility in the country and houses the second-largest photo-voltaic array in the State of Oregon. More information...
Our catering services take many steps to provide the most sustainable services possible. Local and organic products will be supplied whenever possible. More information concerning the conference banquet will be posted soon.
Carbon Offset Project
To offset the greenhouse gases produced by travel of summit participants, we are arranging a local carbon offset project. This project will be funded largely through a voluntary "carbon fee" that participants will have the opportunity to contribute when registering for the conference.
Determining the "Carbon Fee"
The project team calculated the "carbon" fee to offset carbon dioxide and equivalent green-house gas emissions (CO2e) from the participants' round-trip travel to the conference. The calculations allowed for a 75% discount for students and included a $1,000 contribution from the University of Oregon toward the total offset cost on behalf of participants from the UO.
After making some simplifying assumptions, the team calculated a flat fee of $40 for nonstudents and $10 for students. The team shares their assumptions and calculations in more detail at the bottom of this page.
About the Local Carbon Offset Project
With the contribution from the UO, these fees will contribute a total of $5,454 to offset a total of 404 tons of CO2e from air travel for a total of about 154 participants.
The offset fees will be used to insulate sections of chilled water and steam piping on the UO campus. This use has advantages in that (1) it can be scaled to match the fees actually received and (2) it reduces the release of CO2, by reducing the consumption of energy (which even in the Pacific Northwest comes substantially from coal), instead of (for example) temporarily sequestering CO2 in vegetation.
In the course of this work, the team came to better understand the meaning of CO2e offsets. Specifically, they came to better appreciate that:
1. By definition, CO2e offsets only avoid increases in the emission of CO2e. To avoid catastrophic effects of global warming under current widespread estimates, more drastic action will be required, to reduce current emissions, and not merely offset new emissions. (For related comments by others, see notes for the "Clearcutting the Climate" conference at
2. Some types of offsets seem to be more effective than others. Here, the offset is reducing energy consumption, rather than temporarily sequestering CO2e, such as through planting trees (which of course can nevertheless help offset emissions and provide other benefits).
3. Current emission levels might be reduced through innovations such as by redesigning academic conferences to take place online, as "virtual" conferences, in which (for example) all participants participate through Webcams. Ideas to capture the benefit of realtime, personal contact include
(a) a virtual "hotel bar" (BYOB!) and
(b) lecture presentation screens in which all attendees appear as thumbnail images, so that participants can see who else is attending a presentation, raise their hand, and communicate directly with each other. While obviously sacrificing some of the benefits of more direct contact, perhaps such innovations will offer some advantages in addition to helping achieve sustainability.
Assumptions for Carbon Fee Calculations
Except where specified otherwise, all figures are in metric tons and US dollars.
1. All travel is by air.
2. The CO2e emitted from travel is 100% from air miles. (The actual figure is reportedly closer to 95%.)
3. Offset costs are shared by participants (not distributed according to individual travel distance).
4. Students receive a 75% discount (relative to the fee for nonstudents).
5. 90% of 154 participants (estimated) will choose to pay the offset fee.
6. CO2e release rate: 1.9 lbs CO2e/mile. (This assumption is especially arbitrary and debatable.)
7. CO2e offset cost: $13.50/ton CO2e (reportedly typical for the US and lower than the cost of $20/ton reportedly typical for Europe).
Carbon Fee Calculations
- Total roundtrip travel distance (calculated using http://www.webflyer.com/travel/milemarker/index.php): 468,780 miles
- Total CO2e discharged: 404.01 tons
- Offset cost per mile: $0.011635/mile
- Total offset cost (before UO contribution): $5,454.14
- Total offset cost (after UO contribution): $4,454.14
- Flat fee for nonstudents: $41.59 (rounded to $40)
- Flat fee for students (at 75% discount): $10.40 (rounded to $10)
Carbon Offset Project Team
This project was designed by a team of graduate students in Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon: