By now, you’ve probably heard the following claim: Video conferencing, when done right, can offer companies significant benefits when it comes to travel. By eliminating the need to send employees to on-site meetings, companies can cut both the cost and the nasty carbon emissions bill associated with such journeys.
That’s the message used to help market next-best-thing-to-real-life video conferencing services like Cisco’s TelePresence. collaboration service — that virtual meetings can save both money and the planet. But look beyond the headlines and the soundbites, and you’re likely to find a somewhat less verdant tale.
Digging into the data
Those may sound like some big numbers, but if you look at the actual research, not just the press releases and marketing tie-ins, they start to shrink. The study from Australia? It goes on to say that those 2.4 million metric tons of emissions are just 0.43 percent — less than half a percent — of the country’s total. (To be fair, GreenBiz also notes this fact
The impact of video conferencing in the BCG/Climate Group study was equally lukewarm, if not more so. Emissions reductions from “dematerialization,” the category under which teleworking and video conferencing fall, account for just 0.9 percent of the total potential emissions reduction in its scenario, while video conferencing on its own accounts for just 0.15 percent of the total potential.
What’s more, the actual travel-replacement effects of video conferencing aren’t exactly carved in stone. According to the WWF study, some research indicates that video conferencing may actually have a neutral or negative impact on employee travel, because travel time and budgets associated with internal meetings are shifted to strategic meetings with contacts outside the organization. That may be good for business, but it doesn’t do much for the polar ice caps.