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

Reducing waste

Posted: October 17, 2019

As you might have already seen, the registration page provides different options for carbon offsetting. Another measure towards a more sustainable UIST conference is that we push for reducing waste.

No conference bag

A first measure is to drastically reduce and ideally eliminate promotional items, so-called “swag”. As such, you will not receive a conference bag at UIST this year. The reasoning is simple: if there is no container for putting “stuff” in, there will be no “stuff”. We are happy that our sponsor chairs and sponsors are very supportive of our push towards sustainability.

If you feel that you need a conference bag, consider packing one of the durable tote bags from past conferences. Maybe your favorite UIST so far? This can even serve as a good conversation starter.

Experiences instead of items

Although we do push for a reduction of promotional items, we do support sponsors in promoting their investment in UIST. We have researched ideas and recommendations for sustainable promotion, including sources such as this guide.

We encourage moving away from objects and towards experiences. Experiences can include vouchers for local traditional, food items such as the New Orleans’ beignets, vouchers for local bike rental services, tickets to events like museums, etc. Similar to experiences, supporting a cause can be a valuable gift. This might include contributions to carbon offsetting, or to charity such as local homeless shelters, food banks, etc. Such sponsored experiences and charity might leave an even more memorable impression, compared to pens or flyers, while producing virtually no waste.

All paper badge

As we push for reducing waste, we realize that the plastic badge holders are typically not reused. To avoid plastic waste, we decided to design our own all paper badge. Badges will be degradable yet have the same features as conventional badges. They are made from FSC certified, 100% recycled paper. For future conferences, we provide our design as an Illustrator-editable PDF here.

Sustainable Transport and Housing

Posted: October 1, 2019

As part of our work to help make UIST more sustainable this year, we would like you to consider your plans for housing and transport during the conference. We have curated a set of resources this year to help make choosing more sustainable options easier during your conference planning.


Carbon-free transport

The best thing you could do to minimize your carbon footprint during transport is to walk or bike. This year UIST is located in a highly walkable urban area: the French Quarter of New Orleans. We have put together a transportation guide to help you navigate the French Quarter by foot or by bike. We have also secured vouchers from the local bike share company, Blue Bikes, to give you a free 30-minute trial.

Minimize your carbon impact by sharing transport

In the event that walking or biking is infeasible—you need transport from the airport to the hotel—we encourage you to consider sharing your ride with others either through the public bus and trolley system or through splitting a cab with other conference goers. We also ask that you consider the many ways you might share rides with others to minimize the per-person impact of emissions produced by cars or buses while also splitting the cost.

Offset your carbon impact where it is inescapable

Whether you are flying or driving to UIST, your transport to UIST will produce carbon emissions that contribute to worsening climate change. This year we are offering you the ability the ability to offset your emissions directly from the UIST registration process. Our blog post below describes this in more detail.

Please check out our transportation page to find out more information about transportation in the New Orleans area and to easily access relevant maps.

Conference Venue

This year we worked closely with the conference hotel to understand the sustainability initiatives that they have already implemented and to specify options that are even more eco-friendly. We used the United Nations Environment Program’s Sustainable Events guide to support our decision-making. Please take advantage of the sustainability features at the conference venue and use them as a basis for being more sustainable if you choose to stay somewhere else.

Waste Reduction & Recycling

The conference venue recycles common disposable items such as paper, plastic, aluminum cans, cardboard, newspaper, grease, batteries, and ink cartridges. Recycling bins will be made available throughout the conference. However, should you have any materials that are more difficult to recycle such as batteries, broken electronics, or ink cartridges, please drop them off in the recycling bin located at the registration desk.

Conference Energy Efficiency

The conference hotel, the Royal Sonesta, has taken several steps to use energy resources more efficiently. We are working with the hotel to make best use of these services during our conference. For example, there are meeting space options with natural light rather than electricity supplied lighting, a building automated system controls and turns off both the air-conditioning and lights for rooms not being used, and LED light bulbs and electronic ballasts are used throughout the hotel to control lighting.

Guest Rooms

The guest rooms available at the conference hotel have implemented several measures to improve energy efficiency. Each guest room is equipped with a motion sensor to determine if the room is occupied and a climate control system to adjust the individual room’s climate accordingly. Bath products in each room have been converted to shower dispensers to reduce disposal of individual containers. The hotel’s plumbing incorporates low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets to reduce water consumption. Laundering bed linens and towels uses large quantities of energy and water so please consider reusing your bed linens and towels during your stay. The hotel uses cleaning supplies that are biodegradable and which contain water-soluble chemicals. This minimizes the introduction of pollutants and hazardous waste into the environment through aerosols or limitations in water treatment. Air filters have been installed to improve the efficiency of the central air system’s filtration (a minimum efficiency reporting value, MERV 8).

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
Alexandra Ion's profile image Alexandra Ion
ETH Zurich
Kristin Williams's profile image Kristin Williams