By Emily Wong

Most of us love to travel. It adds spice to our lives, whether learning new ideas, discussing our research at medical meetings, creating friendships, encountering cultures, or visiting loved ones. But travel’s “dark side“ is its environmental cost: the carbon dioxide and other pollutants created from the fossil fuels burned for travel. My Green Doctor offers ways to calculate and reduce your travel carbon footprint.

Traveling to just one U.S. medical conference releases an estimated 0.68 metric tons of carbon emissions per attendee, which is about 5% of the average American’s greenhouse gas release for an entire year.1 A new free calculator makes it easy to determine a trip’s environmental impact and offers easy ways to reduce it. The calculator, called Network Greener, was launched in 2024 by the GreenHealth Lab at University of California, San Francisco. This calculator is useful for academic conference attendees, conference organizers, or anyone wishing to understand to their travel carbon emissions. To learn the carbon footprint for your entire household, including travel, try Cool Climate’s calculator:

Dr. Katie Lichter, a UCSF radiation oncologist, Dr. Ali Sabbagh, and colleagues created Network Greener to raise awareness of the climate impacts of travel and to help planners to mitigate the carbon footprint of conferences. She explains, “As physicians, one of our duties is to care for the health of our planet. Network Greener gives meeting attendees and pleasure travelers the information to make better choices that create a healthier future for both our patients and our communities.”

To use Network Greener, travelers enter their departure city, destination, method of transportation, and lodging to calculate the trip’s carbon footprint. A unique feature of the calculator is that users can learn how different lifestyle changes, such as switching to a plant-based diet or to live car-free for a year, might offset the carbon emissions from planned travel.2 Meeting organizers can calculate their conference’s carbon footprint by inputting the event location, estimated attendance, and whether the conference is in-person or virtual.

Here are nine ideas for making travel more climate-friendly:

  1. Stay home. “Staycations” are vacations close to home, which can be less stressful, less expensive, and less polluting. Many conferences and meetings now offer virtual attendance, which decreases the environmental impacts of attendees and improves social equity by making a meeting’s information accessible to people whose finances or other obligations may make traveling impossible. Organizers can also plan hybrid meetings that offer both in-person and virtual attendance.
  2. Consider regional meetings. Attending regional meetings rather than national or international ones may allow shorter, less expensive, and more climate friendly travel.
  3. Pick an environmentally preferred venue. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency posts a list of companies that rate hotels and conference sites for their environmental impact and sustainability.3
  4. Use the best vendors. Meeting planners can ask the destination hotel or convention center to recommend suppliers and vendors with sound environmental sustainability policies and practices.4
  5. Choose a meeting site with transportation in mind. Pick conference centers that can be reached by public transportation, carpool, foot, or bicycle, and ones that are convenient to environmentally preferred accommodations.
  6. Rent green. Pick an energy-wise car when you rent. Think electric, hybrid, or small. Electric cars are lots of fun to drive; a trip is an opportunity to try one.
  7. Pack light. Traveling with fewer items reduces the weight hoisted by you and by your plane’s engines, meaning lower carbon emissions.
  8. Choose plant-based foods. Land use, agriculture, and forestry together are responsible for 22% of annual greenhouse gas production by humans.5 A plant-based diet—one that includes few or no animal products—is tasty, healthier for people, and better for the climate. If your family is  not familiar with plant-based eating, consider learning about it on your travels by trying plant-based menu items. And meeting organizers can make sure that their events offer plant-based meals that are sourced from local and organic vendors. Organizers should minimize food waste and use washable or biodegradable dishes and cutlery.4
  9. Purchase carbon offsets. Offset companies decrease greenhouse gases by investing in renewable energy like solar and wind power, by encouraging energy efficiency measures, and by funding sustainable agriculture. Once you have calculated your voyage’s carbon footprint, you can pay an offset company to reduce greenhouse gases by the same amount. This is called buying offsets.

Many airlines, including JetBlue and Delta, offer options to buy carbon offsets together with the plane tickets. Some conference organizers offer an offset project for meeting attendees. Two reputable websites where you can buy your offsets in just minutes are and For example, using Cool Effect, you can offset the greenhouse gases from a roundtrip flight across the US for $12.86.7

By planning ahead and using free tools such as Network Greener , you can attend conferences and travel with the health of the planet in mind.


  1. Lichter KE, Drew T, Demeulenaere S, et al. Environmental Outcomes Associated With Transition From In-Person to a Virtual Oncology Conference During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Oncol. 2022;8(9):1351–1352. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2022.1925
  2. Katie E. Lichter et al., Reducing the Environmental Impact of Health Care Conferences: A Study of Emissions and Practical Solutions. JCO Glob Oncol 10, e2300209(2024). DOI:10.1200/GO.23.00209
  3. Green Hotels – Resources, Ecolabels and Standards Accessed 6.25.2024.
  4. A Meeting Planner’s Guide to Going “Green” Accessed 6.25.2024.
  5. Global Greenhouse Gas Overview Accessed 5.26.24
  6. Wi Wan . Accessed 6.27.2024.
  7. Todd L Sack Accessed 6.24.24

 About the Author:

Emily Wong is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley; a member of the GreenHealth Lab at UCSF; and a member of Class of 2025 at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Her email address is [email protected].



Photo Credits: Ink Drop/Shutterstock,

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