The Environmental Benefits of ePosters: A Look at the Emissions Math

Printed or Electronic Posters: which is more eco-friendly?

In recent years, many organizations have committed themselves to reducing their environmental footprint for the sake of the planet. But lately, some have pointed to the ecological burden of internet and electronic use, the carbon footprint of which might surprise you.

When it comes to posters, do the arguments against digital have much merit? In this post we delve into the math of it all, and compare the carbon footprints of print versus electronic posters.

Enviromental Benefits

The Emissions Math

Let’s assume that we are comparing printed posters to eposters at an in-person conference. So, in both cases, the same number of attendees, and the same number of posters presented. Let’s say you want to show 1000 posters over the course of three days, with about four hours of presentations per day.

For an ePoster hall, a conference space of roughly 100m2 would be required. For printed posters, on the other hand, over triple the space would be required to comfortably display the same number of printed posters per hour. Add to this the added costs of lighting and air conditioning a significantly larger room. In this sense, electronic posters are much more time and space efficient as well as resource-efficient.

For these calculations we used and this kWh to CO2 calculator.

For one 55-inch LCD/LED monitor, four hours of use requires roughly 0.5 kWh. With 15 monitors changing posters every 10 minutes, this means you can show 90 posters per hour, or 360 posters per day.

Using 15 monitors for four hours per day uses approximately 7.5 kWh of electricity, or about 22.5 kWh for the entire conference duration. If each monitor is paired with its own laptop that uses 40 watts, then for the same duration those laptops would use 7.2 kWh over the course of three days. This totals to about 30 kilowatt-hours to show 1000 posters, or 6.9 kilograms of CO2-e.

Printed posters, on the other hand, require different resources than eposters, and demand more energy and types of materials, particularly in the short term. A commercial printer uses an average of 400 watts when printing.

Printing 1000 pages with a five year old 42-inch printer takes roughly 1,443 kWh, or 336 kg CO2-e. If the printer is 10 years old, this rate skyrockets to 672 kg CO2-e to print the same number of posters–almost 100 times more CO2 than presenting the same number of posters digitally! Then, the printed posters, which are packed up by individual authors at the end of the conference, are either kept in a closet or disposed of, never to be seen again.

There are a few limitations to these back-of-the-napkin calculations. Many variables are not accounted for, including the materials needed to make the monitor and laptop, the printer and chemical inks, the paper or fabric the poster is printed on, or the gloss and finish on the poster. Those variables are challenging to calculate because of how much the emissions vary based on time, the type of resources used, and how those resources were accumulated, as well as poster material and size.

What about the Internet?

In this article Ben Clifford writes that “a typical website produces 6.8 grams of carbon emissions every time a page loads.” ePostersOnline, our online scientific poster repository, hosts tens of thousands of posters from over 600 conferences. It takes a bit more than the average website–about 15 grams of CO2 per page load, for the entire domain. While this may seem like a lot, it is still drastically less energy than what would be needed for resources to print all those posters. Hosting the content online makes them available for years to come, improving research access and extending its longevity.

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All of SciGen’s web domains are sustainably run as part of AWS's pledge to use 100% renewable energy by 2025 and to go carbon neutral by 2040.

Enviromental Benefits of ePosters

ePosters: the Better Choice for the Planet

Making the switch to the electronic display of posters can be seamless, even for decades-long printed poster users and conference attendees. It’s a great first step toward reducing your organization’s carbon footprint.

While understanding and calculating digital carbon footprints is complicated, it’s clear that eposters are the friendlier option for the planet. They demand less energy, don’t contribute as much waste, and can remain available to large audiences for longer. They’re also more accessible to people with disabilities and learning differences.

Back in the day, we’d take pictures of posters at conferences with digital cameras because we knew the posters would be put in storage or thrown away. In this sense, displaying posters electronically is not only more sustainable for the environment, but for the researcher as well. With eposters, content is easily preserved, making scientific communications accessible to interested parties long after a conference has ended.

Although printed posters were the go-to option for scientific conferences for decades, the old model demands resources and event structures that are taxing on the environment. Especially with the move away from fossil-fuel powered data centers and tools to make websites and data storage better for the environment, it seems like the eposter model will become the default format in years to come.

We are always looking for new methods to improve the eposter experience while at the same time protecting the environment. Have ideas about how to make your conference or ePoster service more environmentally friendly? Contact us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ePostersLive, or email us at [email protected].