By Charlotte Rae, Nikhil Bhagwat, Peer Herholz, Irene Faiman, and Niall Duncan
As we prepare for the 2023 annual meeting in Montreal, many of us have started looking into travel arrangements, accommodation, and generally getting ready for the annual meeting. From booking travel to planning your time in Montreal, there are lots of ways that you can make your 2023 meeting experience more sustainable. Here we highlight some often overlooked tips, from getting around the city to poster printing and more
Travel to Montreal
96% of a conference’s carbon emissions come from attendees flying to the meeting (Gattrell et al., 2022). Nevertheless, we value the opportunity to see each other and to network in person. An upcoming publication in Aperture Neuro (Epp et al., preprint), authored by the SEA-SIG, has investigated the carbon footprint of previous annual meetings and made suggestions for how we could change the meeting format to reduce our aviation emissions. This could include meeting in multiple locations rather than just one, and attendees travelling to their nearest ‘hub’. However, for the 2023 conference, OHBM will be meeting only in one location. In this post, we focus on how selecting particular flights can help reduce emissions, and how colleagues based closer to Montreal can travel to the city via more sustainable forms of transport.
Travelling to Montreal by plane
Although all flights have a climate impact, some routes have higher emissions than others, depending on whether they are non-stop flights or occur at different times of day (i.e., when some planes will be more full and therefore more efficient). Google Flights shows the carbon emissions of different flight and route options. Consider if you can save some carbon by selecting a particular journey, route, or time of day. It’s also important to fly economy, rather than business class. This is because the more people that fit on the flight, the fewer the planes that need to take off in order to transport the same number of people. This means economy seats are more efficient, carbon-wise, than business class seats.
Travelling to Montreal by train
Taking the train can reduce emissions by up to 90% compared to an equivalent journey by plane (Epp et al., preprint). For those based within Canada or the Northeast United States, getting to Montreal by train within one day’s travel may well be feasible. It could also be more relaxed and enjoyable than a trip by plane, with the ability to work or socialise en route. You also get to enjoy the beautiful local scenery as you travel! The popular Amtrak NYC-Montreal route runs through the scenic Hudson Valley, and will get you to Montreal in 10 hours - not much more time than flying, once you add in travel to and from airports and check-in time.
There's also now even more reason to take the train from within Canada, as VIA Rail Canada has partnered with the SEA-SIG to offer a 10% discount to conference attendees.
VIA Rail will take 10% off the cost of roundtrip fares to Montreal when booked via the VIA Rail Canada website. Details are as follows:
To use this offer, you will need to enter a discount code. This will be distributed via the next OHBMonthly newsletter. To receive the 10% discount code, you can also contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or DM us on Twitter @OhbmEnvironment.
Another possible mode of travel for those in Canada or the Northeast USA is carpooling. If you drive to Montreal with colleagues, this can save carbon relative to everyone taking a flight, especially if travelling in an electric vehicle. The more people that carpool with you, the lower the carbon emissions per person.
Getting around the city
Montreal has very convenient public transport, operated by Société de transport de Montréal (STM). The STM metro and buses are a great way to get around the city. The conference center is located next to Place-d'Armes metro on the Orange line and is also walkable (8-10 mins) from Place des Arts metro on the Green line. The transport fares are listed here. If you are there for the entire conference we recommend getting the weekly pass which also includes airport bus fare. Note that the weekly pass is valid from Monday! SEA-SIG is working on a bulk discount for conference attendees. If you are interested in receiving an STM public transport discount via SEA-SIG, please express interest on this form.
Montreal also has a bike-share system called Bixi. There are even electric bikes available for when the Mont Royal looks like a little too much of a challenge. Bixi stations are located all around the city so you should never have far to go to find one. If you are planning to use Bixi bikes regularly during OHBM, we recommend the $20 for 30 days option, as this will be cheaper than multiple one-way passes.
Hotels and accommodation
Hotel stays can have a significant environmental impact, from the frequent laundry of towels and sheets, to energy-hungry air conditioning. You can reduce these impacts by:
Staying in AirBnB or rental apartments instead of hotels can also help reduce your accommodation footprint, as you can control the resources being used! However, holiday rental apartments can have significant negative effects on local communities. Quebec is actually in the process of changing their regulations around AirBnBs, significantly restricting them. Note that all legal AirBnBs will have a CITQ number, and this should be confirmed when booking.
Google Travel has ‘eco-certified’ badges for accommodation options with a lower environmental footprint, or membership of sustainable hotel accreditation schemes.
Colleagues often tell us that they are worried about the environmental impact of printing posters. In the grand scheme of things, compared to flying to conferences—or even the energy consumption of our neuroimaging analyses—this is small. Nevertheless, we recommend that poster presenters:
Some poster print facilities near the conference center are:
Catering and eating out
One of the many activities we enjoy at OHBM is socialising over food and drinks. When purchasing food, consider choosing plant-based options, and reducing consumption of animal products. Livestock farming has a significant environmental impact, from carbon emissions to water usage and biodiversity damage. In fact, eating a primarily plant-based diet can save 1 whole tonne of carbon over a year (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017).
To help attendees find vegan- and vegetarian-friendly places to eat, SEA-SIG has created a GoogleMap of cafes and restaurants near the conference center that are either entirely vegan and vegetarian, or have strong plant-based offerings. We have also included on the map some sustainability-themed visitor attractions, such as the Biosphere Environment Museum and Mont Royal Park.
Although these actions may seem small, it is important to recognise the effect that our lifestyle choices have on wider society, via the shifting of social norms (Rae et al., 2022). So talking to others at the conference about the ways in which you are choosing to have a more sustainable meeting will likely have an even greater impact than the actions themselves.
SEA-SIG meeting schedule
To find out more about ways in which human brain mappers can tackle the climate emergency:
We look forward to meeting you in Montreal, or connecting with you online! Follow us on Twitter @OhbmEnvironment, and take a look at the SEA-SIG website for info on how you can get involved with our activities.
Epp S, Jung H, Borghesani V, Klower M, Hoeppli ME, Misiura M, Thompson E, Duncan NW, Urai AE, Veldsman M, Sadaghiani S, Rae CL. (OSF preprint). How can we reduce the climate costs of OHBM? A vision for a more sustainable meeting. https://osf.io/6zysw
Gattrell WT, Barraux A, Comley S, Whaley M, Lander, N. (2022). The carbon costs of in-person versus virtual medical conferences for the pharmaceutical industry: Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic. Pharmaceutical Medicine, 36, 131-142. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40290-022-00421-3
Rae CL, Farley M, Jeffery KJ, Urai AE. (2022). Climate crisis and ecological emergency: Why they concern (neuro)scientists, and what we can do. Brain and Neuroscience Advances, 6, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1177/23982128221075430
Wynes S, Nicholas KA. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: Education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7), 74024. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541