RSNA Annual Meeting Makes Sustainability a Priority

Largest radiology meeting seeks ways to have a positive impact on the environment

Curtis P. Langlotz, MD, PhD

This is the fourth in a series of articles addressing radiology's role in climate change. Read part one, part two and part three.

For more than two decades, RSNA has been updating its processes and making changes to its annual meeting to ensure that the carbon footprint of the world’s largest radiology conference is reduced.

“We have all experienced how in-person connections and information sharing at the RSNA annual meeting can lead to improvements in patient care and breakthroughs in scientific research,” said Curtis P. Langlotz, MD, PhD, chair of the RSNA Board of Directors. Dr. Langlotz is also professor of radiology, medicine, and biomedical data science, director of the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine and Imaging, and associate chair for information systems in the Department of Radiology at Stanford University. “RSNA continues to reduce the environmental impact of the meeting while providing an efficient, centralized forum for radiology professionals and our industry partners.”

One of the biggest benefits to help RSNA make eco-friendly choices is that the meeting is held in Chicago, which is also home to RSNA headquarters.

“Because RSNA headquarters is in Chicago, many staff and vendors are local, eliminating the need to travel to and from the meeting each year,” said Marissa Ritter, director, RSNA Meetings & Convention Services. “We also reuse many components of our meeting for multiple years, as they can be built and stored locally.”

The scientific assembly and annual meeting is held at McCormick Place, which has incorporated sustainability into its business plan and has prioritized green initiatives into each of its events. McCormick Place boasts a 150,000-square-foot green roof that improves air quality and lowers heating and cooling requirements, as well as a half-acre rooftop garden that yields more than 8,000 pounds of seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs every year. In addition, the facility has committed to using Green-e Wind Energy certified renewable energy certificates to offset 100% of the facilities energy use.

Attendees at the meeting will find water filling stations throughout the facility to encourage the use of refillable water bottles to reduce plastic waste. Recycling bins are readily available and energy- efficient LED lighting is used throughout.

“RSNA continues to reduce the environmental impact of the meeting while providing an efficient, centralized forum forradiology professionals and our industry partners.”


Reducing, Reusing and Recycling

RSNA’s long-standing general service contractor for the annual meeting is also committed to helping conserve resources, Ritter said.

“Our contractor continually reviews and refines our business practices and the key partners with whom we work to provide sustainable solutions,” she said. “All of this behind-the-scenes work is invisible to our attendees, but helps to reduce the meeting’s environmental impact.” 

Improving the sustainability of all flooring options is one of the service contractor’s top priorities, noted Lisa Lazzaretto, director, RSNA Corporate Relations & Exhibition Services. 

“The reuse of carpeting has the largest impact on sustainability,” Lazzaretto said, noting that reusing or recycling carpeting reduces energy and water use, as well as carbon emissions. The annual meeting technical exhibits typically cover nearly 400,000 square feet, which is a lot of carpet.

“Carpet padding is always sent back and reused many times before it is recycled at the mill,” Lazzaretto explained. “After the 2022 annual meeting, RSNA had more than 10 tons of carpeting recycled.”

RSNA’s general service contractor also works with technical exhibitors to encourage recycling when breaking down booths, and to help them determine how much to rent versus ship to the meeting.

Getting to and from any large meeting once you’ve arrived on site can be challenging, especially if you’re trying to avoid contributing to air pollution and traffic. RSNA’s shuttle system brings attendees from hotels throughout Chicago and reduces the need for attendees to find their own individual transport to the meeting.

“More than 100 motorcoaches are used during peak times as part of the RSNA shuttle system, giving attendees a free and more sustainable way to get to and from their hotels and the convention center,” Ritter said. “Using the express bus lanes limits the stop-and-go downtown traffic, thereby reducing emissions, as does the city ordinance that limits diesel engine idling at McCormick Place.”

According to Ritter, one gallon of fuel provides more than 200 passenger miles on a motorcoach.

“Motorcoaches are seven times more efficient than traveling by car when measuring passenger miles per gallon,” she said. “In addition, motorcoaches are two times more efficient than traveling by train and four times more efficient than traveling by air.”

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Establishing a “Digital First” Philosophy

RSNA has eliminated several print publications throughout the organization and reduced the amount of paper at the annual meeting. Onsite printed meeting materials are printed with recycled paper and display the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo.

“Digital resources at the annual meeting improve the attendee experience by assisting with navigation and providing the most up-to-date information,” said John Jaworski, assistant executive director, RSNA Meeting Services & Corporate Relations. “While some directional signage will always need to be printed each year—on recyclable honeycomb material— RSNA has slowly eliminated many print pieces, such as the annual meeting program and subspecialty brochures, to meet our sustainability goals.”

The RSNA meeting app, launched more than a decade ago, eliminates the need for a printed program and assists attendees in building their meeting agenda, locating exhibitors and navigating the meeting, all on their personal devices.

“Attendees appreciate the convenience of access to the meeting information at their fingertips instead of having to carry a large program book,” Jaworski said. “Staff is well-trained in supporting attendees via phone, email, chat and in-person should they need any help navigating the meeting or digital resources.”

The 2023 onsite meeting bag is an ecofriendly alternative to previous years—a recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), which is PET plastic that has been recycled and made into new products.

In addition to the in-person meeting, RSNA offers virtual access to nearly all annual meeting education. Attendees can use their own device to access sessions at their convenience. This increasingly popular and convenient option enables attendees to benefit from valuable educational resources without needing to travel. Virtual access reaches more than 5,000 attendees each year who choose to only attend online.

The issue of sustainability is also evident in the increased number of sessions on this topic at the meeting.

At RSNA 2022, a number of presentations focused on climate change and radiology, including a plenary session with Reed Omary, MD, MS, professor, Radiology & Radiological Sciences and professor,  Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, entitled “Designing Radiology for Patients, Communities and the Planet.” The number of sessions on this topic is expected to continue to grow over the next few years as radiologists and industry work together to develop sustainable practices.

Overall, RSNA plans to continue to implement practices that protect the environment and help raise awareness about sustainability during its annual meeting.

“Each year, we strive to find new ways to decrease our carbon footprint,” Jaworski said. “This is something our attendees expect and ask for, so we’re pleased to be able to address concerns and make changes as necessary.”

For More Information

Read previous RSNA News articles on radiology’s impact on the environment:

Access the following articles in Radiology on climate change and radiology:
• “Climate Change and Radiology: Impetus for Change and a Toolkit for Action
• “Radiology and the Climate Crisis: Opportunities and Challenges—Radiology in Training”
• “All Specialties in Radiology Must Address the Climate Crisis