Sustainably speaking

Monday 26 July 2010

A leading figure in sustainability in Scotland hopes to inspire researchers around the world to think before they travel.

Jan Bebbington, a Professor in Sustainable Accounting at the University of St Andrews, made the point last week by taking part in a major conference in Sydney – without setting foot outside Fife.

In what she describes as an experiment to take part in ‘low carbon intellectual renewal’, Professor Bebbington created a keynote lecture in the form of a film – from the comfort of St Andrews.

Rather than travel the 21,000 mile round trip to Sydney, her hour long lecture on biodiversity was presented on a large screen to amazed conference delegates. It resulted in approximately 3 tonnes of CO2 not being emitted to the atmosphere. The environmentally-friendly videocast also offered a bonus of allowing four colleagues from the University to contribute a multidisciplinary perspective to the conference.

Professor Bebbington, also Vice Chair (Scotland) of the Sustainable Development Commission, explained, “As a social and environmental accountant I have become increasingly aware of the threat that climate change poses to the wellbeing of many of our human family who occupy this planet.

“I firmly believe that intellectual communities are part of a broader group of practitioners and thinkers who will be in part responsible for helping to shape a future where dangerous climate change is avoided. Gathering together to exchange ideas, to challenge each other and to grow our knowledge base is part and parcel of the response to this issue.

“I thought it would be interesting to think about how we can communicate without necessarily having that carbon footprint attached to it.”

Professor Bebbington, who is Director of the St Andrews Sustainability Institute, suggests that now is the time to start thinking about innovative ways to communicate, especially for academics who often travel over multiple time-zones for one meeting.

Rather than replace attendance altogether – for example she believes that first meetings are better face to face – Professor Bebbington believes that real-time videoconferencing could also aid more sustainable university conferences.

She commented, “The message is not a simple one … it is not, never travel … but it is about being reflective about why you travel and when not travelling may offer advantages to being somewhere in person.  And think about the opportunities that sometimes present themselves for communicating in a different way.

“It worked for this particular event because I already know many people that were attending, so it was not imperative that I be there in person. Having said that, it is likely that the future will be very different from the past and that, as a community, some of our behaviours will be challenged.

“Flying around the world to conferences is one aspect of our current lives that may disappear in the future.  The need for intellectual renewal, however, will not go away,” she noted.


Note to Editors

Professor Jan Bebbington is available for interview on 0789 9092 799.

Note to Picture / New Media Editors

The lecture video is available to view online at

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]

Ref:  sustainably speaking 260710

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