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Video Conferencing for a Low-Carbon Economy
By Christie Renner

The iPhone 4, which hit shelves today, is just one of many breakthroughs in the world of video calling. Virtual meetings—whether on cell phones or in high tech telepresence rooms—allow participants to see each other’s faces and expressions, and to show objects in real time. As video conferencing becomes more affordable for companies, it could change the way the business world meets by replacing a significant amount of corporate travel and associated carbon emissions.

The financial savings of fewer business trips are a welcome perk for companies looking to tighten their purse strings, and the environmental benefits of reduced emissions are bringing cheers around the globe. A global corporation that adds four telepresence rooms in multiple locations can reduce it’s CO2 emissions by 2,271 metric tons over five years, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) recent report “The Telepresence Revolution.” This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of more than 400 cars.

The CDP report finds that by implementing telepresence technology, U.S. firms with annual revenues of more than $1 billion can reduce CO2 emissions by almost 4.6 million metric tons over the next ten years—equivalent to the annual GHG emissions of more than 875,000 cars. Over that ten year time period, these large U.S. firms would save more than $15 billion, with potential for payback on investment in only 15 months.1

Video conferencing falls under what the report refers to as Information and Communications Technology (ICT). These ICT innovations bring “work to people, not people to work,” writes Paul Dickinson, CEO of the CDP, in the report. The report also notes the improved productivity and better work-life balance that can result from reduced business travel.

Globally, business travel is increasing.2 Economic integration and international trade lead to greater numbers of business travelers and more frequent meetings. As rapidly industrializing countries like China and India consider how their business sectors will grow and change, Dickinson is hopeful they will be able to skip over some of the travel patterns developed by the West. Similar to how the people of many developing countries skipped over wired phone lines and transitioned from not having phones to embracing wireless, perhaps some business sectors will be able to skip over frequent business travel in favor of virtual meetings.

The use of a video telepresence room (or an iPhone 4) to see the person at the other end still requires electricity to create, transport, and power the devices, though the energy consumed during video calls is generally far less than the amount consumed by travel. The materials used to produce cellular phones, video monitors, and other ICT gadgets can also present environmental concerns. But the growth of an industry with the potential to reduce global GHG emissions has been met with excitement. We hope the growth in video conferencing will be accompanied by the use of environmentally-responsible materials to build ITC components, and further development of renewable energy to power them.

1 See the appendix of “The Telepresence Revolution” for model assumptions and variables.

2 According to the “2010 Corporate Travel Global Benchmarking Study” released by Egencia, a part of Expedia, Inc.

Note: Mention of specific companies or securities in this blog should not be considered a recommendation to either buy or sell that security. For information regarding the suitability of any security for your investment portfolio please contact your financial advisor.

Christie Renner
Executive Assistant to the CEO
christierenner@firstaffirmative.com

Posted: June 24, 2010