We are all acutely aware of the climate crisis and our role in minimising it. As a Society operating across the globe and hosting annual, in-person Congresses, we know we have to work harder than others to reduce our environmental footprint. 

Since 2022, our Sustainability Committee has been working to make both the WMS and our Congresses more sustainable. The Committee, chaired by Gabriele Siciliano and Teresa Gerhalter, has held several meetings and is coordinating a WMS-wide approach to sustainability. 

In the meantime, we have already been taking action. 

Image shows three people gathered at a poster presentationTo help explore sustainability themes as a whole community, this year, we have added some sustainability subtopics to our abstract submission process for WMS 2024. The subtopics are:

  • Sustainable practices in healthcare facilities (energy efficiency, waste management)
  • Sustainable materials or approaches in orthopaedics, research etc.
  • Environmental impacts (air quality, heat waves etc) on patients' health

We have removed printed programmes and journals from our Congresses, providing the information to attendees digitally instead. We have also done away with our delegate bags and gifts and replaced them with our Legacy Tokens scheme, so instead of increasing our environmental footprint, we are supporting local good causes financially. These steps alone have made a big difference to the amount of resources we use at each Congress. 

Image shows people sitting on park benches in the shade of native trees at the WMS Congress in Charleston, South Carolina.When it comes to selecting Congress destinations, we have a close eye on the environment. A new approach to our requirement from bids is that they come from travel hub cities, removing the need for internal flights once delegates arrive in the country. 2024 will be the first year we apply this rule and there are 116 airports with direct flights to Prague from 44 different countries. 

We also specify that teams bidding to host future WMS Congresses include an environmental impact section in their application. Our hosts in Helsinki for WMS 2028 have promised it will be the “greenest Congress ever” and we’re already working with the venues there to see what we might be able to learn from them and apply to other meetings. 

On the ground, we rely on local suppliers to reduce the travel miles of the things we use. We also insist on local food and drink rather than imported produce where possible to reduce food miles and have increased the amount of vegetarian food available because of the environmental impact of meat production which in turn compliments our accessibility efforts. We try to closely anticipate how much food we need, but for times when there are leftovers, we partner with local food waste organisations to make sure the food goes to people who need it. 

This year, for the first time, we are also introducing an exhibitor's incentive to be more environmentally sustainable. We are encouraging exhibitors to bring reusable stands and will be asking attendees to vote for the most environmentally friendly exhibitor.

Images shows the tech set-up at WMS 2023 that enables us to provide a full virtual experience to people attending online. Having moved to a virtual Congress during Covid, we have continued to make the virtual platform available to people who are unable to attend in person or who simply don’t want to travel. Virtual attendance at a WMS Congress gives delegates access to the full scientific programme while eliminating the environmental impact of travel to and from the venue. Member feedback suggests there is still a substantial appetite for in-person meetings and the networking opportunities of meeting face-to-face are particularly valued. As well as the virtual platform, we continue to invest in the app, to make our events as valuable as possible for in-person and virtual attendees alike. 

And it’s not just our Congresses where we’re reducing our travel footprint. The Executive Board has also moved to more virtual meetings. Of the four annual meetings, only one is now held in-person and that’s the meeting that takes place at the annual Congress. All other meetings take place online. 

If you have ideas for how we can continue to make the WMS more environmentally sustainable, please contact us with your suggestions or consider joining the Sustainability Committee.

Published on 26 March 2024.

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