60 Elephants for an MSE Congress

Every two years, the German Materials Society (DGM) hosts the Materials Science and Engineering Congress, a multi-day event with an international character. In the past years, the congresses have taken place in Darmstadt. The MSE 2020 was originally planned on the premises of the local Technical University. However, as is well known, an aggressive virus put a serious crimp in the plans on almost all events. That being said representatives from science and industry stayed at home and connected online from all over the world – which in turn left a weighty green footprint.


Around 1.000 participants made "Materials Science and Engineering" (MSE) a success story again in 2020. From September 22nd to 25th, an internationally diverse audience gathered on the DGM's Conference Platform to listen to lectures, present their own research results, view posters, or stroll through the virtual exhibition. Even though face-to-face contact was omitted, the MSE still offered the opportunity for personal exchange via networking sessions and video chats – which was gladly and actively taken up by all participants.

It was easy to forget that 300 participants would normally have had to travel long distances to be on site in Darmstadt, Germany. However, this is also connected with the fact that the environment was spared by eliminating the need for air travel. And this to an extent that takes on an impressive dimension in the sum of its individual international particles.

The much-cited "green footprint" represents the amount of CO2 emissions that an aircraft emits per passenger over a certain distance. In the case of the MSE, only the kilometers traveled by the international participants were taken into account for the following calculation, for the sake of standardization each from the capital city airport of the home country to Frankfurt am Main – including the outbound and return flights. The range was from short trips from Luxembourg (400 kilometers) to intercontinental flights to and from New Zealand (37,200 kilometers). All in all, this would have added up to just over 2,000,000 kilometers of air travel - or 50 circumnavigations of the earth!

Even more impressive is the focussed view of the burden on the environment, which was exposed in this way. Considering the mentioned travel kilometers, the 300 international MSE participants would have emitted 354.49 tons of CO2 – this corresponds to the weight of 60 adult African elephants!

According to the common definition, one beech tree binds approx. 12.5 kilograms of CO2 per year. This in turn means that 80 trees would have to be planted to compensate for the emission of one ton of CO2 respectively. With reference to the MSE, correspondingly over 28.300 saplings would have had to be planted to compensate for the impact of conference participants traveling via plane.

The year 2020 has come with many restrictions, it has literally demanded sacrifices. At the same time, people around the globe have demonstrated, sometimes impressively, that they defy these adversities, that they develop alternative solutions, and that they think outside the box despite spatial limitations. It is precisely this view that allows us to look at our own green footprint from a positive angle.

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