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Expert Viewpoint: Green Meetings

Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Craig Malloy

Telepresence enables face-to-face meetings without the carbon footprint.


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LifeSize Communications LifeSize Room

Telepresence systems such as the LifeSize Communications LifeSize Room save time, money, and the environment by eliminating the need to travel for in-person meetings.

Your business professors undoubtedly told you that nothing beats seeing someone face to face. What they might not have told you is that you don't need to get on an airplane to do it — at least not anymore. Nearly half a century after video communications first debuted, it can finally approximate a face-to-face meeting that is essentially as good as the real thing. The technology is so advanced that people separated by thousands of miles can feel as if they are just inches apart. These advancements, plus reduced prices, make videoconferencing an effective alternative to air travel.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, air travel generates 4 percent to 9 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions. (Jet exhaust is mostly composed of one such greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide, or CO2.) What's worse, planes deliver CO2 directly into the most sensitive portions of our atmosphere: the delicate upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, five miles to seven miles above the Earth's surface.

Figure 1. Carbon output counter. To calculate your own carbon output, visit www.carboncounter.org/
offset-your-emissions/
personal-calculator.aspx.
Click image to enlarge

For many companies, business travel is the single largest source of CO2 emissions. A company's total CO2 output, or carbon footprint, can be accurately calculated and tracked. Frequent business air travel greatly increases a company's carbon footprint and can negate any and/or all other conservation efforts the company puts into place. Figure 1 illustrates the amount of CO2 released during a typical round trip between two cities per person. By comparison, the average U.S. household has a carbon footprint of 17 metric tons per year.

Companies are starting to face increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint yet still deliver business results.

A GREEN ALTERNATIVE

LifeSize Communications LifeSize Express

Smaller telepresence options such as LifeSize Communications LifeSize Express allow for videoconferencing in any room including medical and legal applications.

The IT industry is now acutely aware of the energy required to power data centers, desktop computers, monitors, and other IT infrastructure — and the added expense of cooling all of that equipment. Electricity bills are staggering, and green IT solutions abound. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, the benefits of these expensive upgrades are marginal and confined to the IT department.

Because air travel, not electricity, is the single greatest variable in most companies' carbon footprint, reducing travel can have the greatest impact on a company's carbon footprint. Adopting and implementing high-definition video communications results in a direct, measurable and dramatic reduction of an organization's CO2 emissions as routine travel is reduced or eliminated.

Today's high-definition video communication products (or telepresence) have a tremendous potential to reduce CO2 emissions and deliver on the promise of true face-to-face interaction. Employees can work with global colleagues without leaving the office — and each car, train, or plane trip avoided is a direct and measurable reduction in a company's carbon footprint. Implementing video communications may be the greenest move a company can make.

Cisco Telepresence System 3000

For large group meetings, systems such as the Cisco Telepresence System 3000 can enable a true around-the-conference-table feel and increase productivity. If the members were just on the phone, it would be hard to know if they were paying attention or multitasking.

Vanguard Truck Centers — a full-service truck dealership with headquarters in Atlanta and dealerships in Tucson, Ariz.; Phoenix; Austin, Texas; and Houston — used to send senior managers to each dealership once a month for staff meetings. These meetings are a tremendously valuable management tool, but the travel associated with the meetings wasted time and money — and polluted the air needlessly.

To reduce the burden of travel on the environment, while still providing valuable face time with key staff in the branch locations, Vanguard implemented high-definition videoconferencing systems at its five dealerships. By doing so, Vanguard eliminated two monthly round trips from Atlanta to Austin, Atlanta to Houston, Atlanta to Phoenix, and Atlanta to Tuscon — and reduced its yearly CO2 emissions by 66 metric tons.

Now imagine larger companies with 10, 15, or 100 offices applying the same sense of responsibility. Your business professor would be proud.

“Using high-definition video communications, our executives have practically eliminated the need to fly, enabling us to be a more environmentally friendly company as a result,” says Greg Baxter, director of IT and targeted marketing at Vanguard. “In fact, the systems have been so cost effective, they actually paid for themselves within the first month of operation.”

Figure 2. Average time saved with videoconferencing versus a business trip. Typically, the time saved is 18 hours per person who is in the meeting.
Click image to enlarge

Today's videoconferencing products enhance employee productivity by saving the time originally spent traveling to meetings (see Figure 2). Of course, by reducing travel, you're also are saving the company money. Because high-definition videoconferencing systems operate over standard Internet, there are no additional costs for long-distance calls.

HD videoconferencing also makes meetings more productive than regular telephone conferences. When someone is on the phone, it's hard to know if the person on the other side is paying attention or if they're doing something else like surfing the Internet and/or checking their email. When people are on camera, they're more likely to actively participate in the conversation.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SYSTEM

When it comes to selecting a high-definition videoconferencing system for your company, there are a number factors to consider.

  • What is the budget? Videoconferencing systems can range from as high as $300,000 to outfit one room to as low as $5,000 for a simple, portable plug-and-play system. Additional costs must be taken into consideration as well, such as monthly service fees and/or system support fees.
  • What type of network do you have? High-definition videoconferencing systems require a minimum bandwidth of 1Mbps. Adding bandwidth may also lead to additional costs.
  • How many systems will you need? Do they all have to have the same set of features? You may only need a larger, more elaborate system in the main office, while smaller, less expensive systems may be sufficient at smaller remote locations.
  • Are the systems interoperable with other videoconferencing products? It is important to know that the system your company buys will work with the systems of the clients or customers you are trying to communicate with.
  • Does it have the features you need? Do you need data-sharing capabilities, dual monitors, and/or multiple camera support? Not all products offer the same features.
  • What kind of flexibility does the system have? Will the system be permanent to the room it's installed in, or will it need to be moved occasionally? Some products are locked into place and can't be moved at all once set up.
  • What is the timeframe for installation? Some systems require an entire room overhaul complete with building permits, while smaller systems can be set up relatively quickly.

The practical applications for videoconferencing today are only limited by your imagination. Today, the technology is used for everything from selling products to treating medical patients, from casting actors and educating students to training tech support and recording depositions.


Craig Malloy cofounded LifeSize Communications in January 2003, and he currently serves as its CEO. His video-communications experience dates back to 1994 at VTEL in Austin, Texas.



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