Sustainability at UIST 2019

UIST 2019 is placing an emphasis on sustainability. Sustainability comes in many forms including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing resource consumption and waste, and minimizing the disruption to the local community. In a series of updates, we will report on the various sustainability initiatives we are putting in place for UIST 2019. You can reach out to the sustainability chairs directly about the topics discussed here, or any other topics, at

Carbon Offsetting at UIST 2019

Posted: August 1, 2019

One thing you will notice is that the registration site this year now gives an option to help offset the carbon emissions associated with people travelling to and holding UIST. Recent reports identify an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions to keep climate change manageable. Although UIST 2019 will realize emissions reductions by reducing the use of disposable goods, sourcing food locally, and making available greener transportation options, a large percentage of the emissions resulting from UIST cannot be eliminated; much of the carbon footprint for a conference like UIST comes from long-distance air travel, which is unavoidable barring massive changes to how the conference is run.

Our colleagues in the SIGPLAN community performed an extensive analysis of the options and their report concluded that an effective way of reducing the impact of the carbon emissions associated with air travel in the short term is through carbon offsetting. With carbon offsetting, extra funds are collected to support projects that verifiably reduce the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. Examples of these projects include: updating equipment in factories to be cleaner, providing more efficient stoves that reduce the amount of energy required to cook, or developing alternative energy sources such as wind power plants. These projects counterbalance the carbon impact of UIST in a way that is feasible for our community at this moment.

To streamline the process of offsetting, UIST 2019 registration includes an option to make a flat-rate contribution. This rate was computed by splitting the cost of offsetting an estimate of the total emissions due to UIST across all attendees (see detailed computation in the appendix below). We believe that a flat-rate contribution during registration is both fairer and simpler. It is fairer because the conference—as a whole—benefits from diverse attendance, and should, therefore, equally share in efforts to reduce environmental impact. It is simpler because this will save you the trouble of computing an amount based on your specific travel itinerary. Some institutions already do carbon offsetting automatically. In this, or any other case, you are free to adjust your contribution accordingly (including opting-out fully). One thing you should be aware of is that some institutions may not reimburse for expenses around carbon offsetting, so we encourage you to check with your institution to avoid any surprises.

All funds for carbon offsetting go to CoolEffect, who will in turn disburse the funds to offsetting projects. As an organization, CoolEffect vets projects to ensure that the claimed carbon emission reductions are verified to be genuine and monitors whether projects deliver on their promises. Please visit their site to view the projects they support and their policies.

Whether you choose to contribute or not, your responses to the carbon offsetting option during registration is valuable. Your responses help us, and future organizers, gauge the response of the UIST community toward offsetting and other climate-related initiatives. Furthermore, we very much welcome your direct feedback about our carbon emissions offsetting efforts.

Appendix: How we computed the flat-rate contribution

  1. We computed an estimated emission amount for every country that has sent attendees to UIST in the past 7 years by using the calculator for one round trip economy class flight from the largest airport in that country to New Orleans. In North America, we assume travel from San Francisco for the USA and Vancouver for Canada (rather than the largest airport) to ensure we are not underestimating emissions.
  2. We estimated the percentage of UIST attendees that would likely be coming to UIST in New Orleans from each region of the world (North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, Other) by averaging the percentages of attendees at previous North American UISTs from that region (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017).
  3. For each of the regions above, we determined the percentage of UIST attendees that will come from each country in the region by averaging the percentage of attendees coming from that country over the last 7 UISTs.
  4. We multiplied the estimated emissions by the percentage of attendees from each country to compute a weighted emissions amount for each region (North America: 1.02 tonnes, Asia: 3.14 tonnes, Europe: 2.17 tonnes, Australia: 6.66 tonnes, Other: 4.25 tonnes).
  5. We multiplied the weighted emissions for each region by the expected proportion of attendees from that region to obtain a weighted average per UIST attendee (1.76 tonnes).
  6. We added in 0.4 tonnes as an estimate for local emissions. This value was based on estimated local emissions data computed for the COP15 Climate Summit in December 2009 (6000 tonnes generated by an estimated 14000 attendees).
  7. We used 2.16 tonnes at the current CoolEffect price of ($8.37 / tonne) to come up with a total of $18. We then rounded up to $20.

Sustainability Chairs

Questions? Contact:

MNicholas Chen's profile image Nicholas Chen
Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK
Alexandra Ion's profile image Alexandra Ion
Kristin Williams's profile image Kristin Williams