Video Conferencing Cuts Emissions, Delivers Quick ROI

by | Jun 16, 2010

U.S. and U.K. businesses that substitute some business travel with video conferencing can cut CO2 emissions by nearly 5.5 million metric tons in total and achieve total economy-wide financial benefits of almost $19 billion, by 2020, according to a new study commissioned by the Carbon Disclosure Project and sponsored by AT&T.

The study determined a business with $1 billion or more in annual revenue implementing four “telepresence” rooms could achieve a financial return on investment in as little as 15 months, save nearly 900 business trips in the first year of using “telepresence” and reduce emissions by 2,271 metric tons over five years—the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 434 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

As part of the study, Verdantix developed a model to calculate the ROI and carbon reductions of video conferencing.

The model looks at projected video conferencing adoption among companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue and forecasts how the financial and carbon reduction benefits achieved by early adopters of telepresence would translate into economy-wide financial and environmental benefits in the U.S. and U.K. by 2020.

According to the model, carbon emission reductions among U.S. companies with annual revenues over $1 billion were forecast at approximately 4.6 million metric tons by 2020, the equivalent of removing more than 875,000 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

Among large U.K. companies, carbon emission reductions by 2020 were forecast at approximately 940,000 metric tons, the equivalent of removing more than 179,000 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.  Total economy wide financial benefits that could be generated by 2020 as a result of large companies using telepresence in place of some business travel were forecast at over $15 billion for the U.S. and almost $4 billion in the U.K.

The CDP study picks up where the SMART 2020 report, a separate initiative authored by the Climate Group in 2008, left off. “SMART 2020″ identified four key areas, including travel substitution, where greater use of the products and services from the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) sector could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15% by 2020.

Accenture is a company that has embraced video conferencing. “Since adopting telepresence, Accenture has expanded its network to include more than 50 telepresence rooms across the globe,” says Sak Nayagam, head of climate change solutions, Sustainability Services EALA at Accenture. “The travel saved through their use would have accounted for 6,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions globally from November 2007 through August 2009. For us, it is not so much about eliminating travel but travelling smarter and maximising the time and value of our workforce.”

Aviva, another early adopter, says that when it compared executives travelling from the nine months prior to video conferencing with the nine months following implementation, from an air travel perspective, it observed a 25 percent carbon footprint reduction.

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres,  wrote in a Worldchanging article that Ceres “could buy carbon credits, of course, but why not cut to the chase and replace unnecessary flying with conference calls or, better yet, video conferences – which would allow us to meet face to face without being face to face?”

InterCall  conducted a survey in 2008 where individuals were asked what their companies were doing to reduce the size of carbon footprints – the top response was providing conferencing tools to cutback on travel (66%).

BT claims to have reduced its carbon footprint by 97,000 tons of CO2 per year, that’s 15 percent of its CO2 use, by using phone conferences and videoconferencing to cut back on staff travel for meetings.

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