World Wildlife Fund Looks at Telecommuting as Carbon Emissions Solution

virtual conference meeting photo

Photo via SplitHorizon via Flickr CC

Allowing employees to telecommute goes a long way in helping a business green up. So too does virtual conferencing instead of flying all over the place for business meetings. But just how much does it help? The World Wildlife Fund has released a couple studies that take a look at what impact virtual conferencing and telecommuting have on reducing the carbon emissions of doing business. The first report is on virtual conferencing. It's a technology we've come a long way with, but still have a long way to go for business people to have high quality meetings. Yet the data is clear that virtual conferencing would make a significantly smaller impact than flying to business meetings.

Whilst there is plentiful data on conventional transport, no detailed studies have been done on the direct environmental impacts of videoconferencing. However, a comparison by the Japanese telco, NTT, found that a 115 minute videoconferencing call created 400 kilos of CO2 emissions, compared to 2000 kilos for a face-to face equivalent involving 674 kilometres of air travel. Moreover, less than 10% of the videoconferencing-related CO2 was related to running the equipment - over 90% was related to the 'rebound' effect of the avoided costs being spent on other activities, which generated their own CO2.

The second WWF report focuses on telecommuting. Many businesses are starting to realize that telecommuting is a great thing - even if it is just one day out of the week. However, there is still some resistance. According to the WWF report, however, that resistance may be blocking opportunities to cut their carbon footprint.

The difference in emission savings between the carbon world (lowest savings overall) and the smart world (highest savings overall) is significant - e.g., for teleworking about 1 billion tons of CO2 emissions differentiate the two scenarios in year 2030 (approximately equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions from UK and Italy combined) and almost 3.5 billion tons in year 2050 (almost as much as the EU's total CO2 emissions or more than half of the US's current CO2 emissions).

When we asked TreeHugger readers if they'd take a pay cut in order to telecommute, 43% said yes, they would. That proves that the willingness among workers is there, we just have to get businesses to think a little more progressively.

While technology for virtual conferencing is still in need of some improvement, the basics are there, as it is with telecommuting. As that technology improves even more, the carbon footprint of business will hopefully shrink a good deal.

The studies were peer-reviewed by scientists, economists and expert bodies, including WWF, and the research was funded by both HP and Microsoft. Read the studies here:
Virtual meetings and Climate Innovation in the 21st Century
From Workplace to Anyplace
More on Telecommuting
Telecommuting is Green and Saves Money, but Most Employers still Resist it
IPCC Scientist Encourages Companies to Replace Travel With Video Conferencing
Survey: Would You Take A Pay Cut To Telecommute?

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