The Sustainability and Economic Benefits of Video Conferencing

Every business is different, and each organization will have different sustainability priorities based on their business models. However, one thing that most companies have in common is that they need to balance sustainability goals with business realities – i.e., green projects need to have business and operational benefits to the organization.  Luckily, there are a number of opportunities that meet this test. One such example that CA Technologies has been committed to for several years is Video Conferencing and Telepresence. It intuitively makes sense that taking advantage of video meetings and avoiding unnecessary travel (whether that be driving to meetings or domestic or international flights) would have significant business and environmental benefits. 

So this got me thinking. Is there current research out there beyond our own experience that supports and quantifies this concept? It turns out there is. 

A recent report commissioned by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and sponsored by AT&T provides some fascinating insights. The study, which performed in-depth analysis with fifteen multi-national corporations, developed a business case on the financial and environmental benefits of video conferencing based on these organizations having four telepresence enabled conference rooms. The results were impressive (although four video conferencing rooms seems a little low for Fortune 500 companies). According the report:

Sustainability Benefits of Video Conferencing

  • Telepresence can avoid millions of metric tons of CO2

  • An individual business implementing four telepresence rooms can reduce its CO2 emissions by 2,271 metric tons over five years. These reductions are equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from over 400 passenger vehicles.

  • From an economy-wide standpoint, US and UK businesses with annual revenues of more than $1 billion can cut nearly 5.5 million metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2020 as a result of deploying a total of almost 10,000 telepresence units. These reductions are equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from over one million passenger vehicles.

  • US firms can reduce CO2 by 112,000 metric tons in 2010 to 963,000 metric tons in 2020, a total of almost 4.6 million metric tons in cumulative cuts in CO2. These reductions are equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from almost 880,000 passenger vehicles.

As impressive as these results are, the business benefits of video conferencing are just as meaningful.

Economic Benefits of Video Conferencing

  • Through the global deployment of telepresence, US and UK businesses with annual revenues of more than $1 billion can achieve economy-wide financial benefits of almost $19 billion by 2020.

  • US firms can save over $15 billion in the next ten years; annual net financial benefits start at $315 million in 2010, rising to over $3.5 billion in 2020.

  • UK firms can save over $3.5 billion in the next ten years; annual net financial benefits start at $79 million in 2010, rising to over $894 million in 2020.

  • Telepresence delivers a rapid return on investment (ROI) – A firm could achieve payback of its investment in as little as 15 months.

  • Reducing air travel, improving productivity, better work-life balance all drive telepresence use.

  • Significant non-monetary benefits of telepresence include increased employee productivity, better work-life balance and faster decision making.

More and more companies are finding this dual benefit in their own operations. The auditing, tax and advisory KPMG recently announced some impressive results from their telepresence effort.  When they determined that over 60% of the company’s carbon footprint came from employee air travel, they looked to take advantage of video conferencing whenever appropriate. According to  

  • “Employees continue to use it not only as a cost-savings measure but because of the social benefits they discovered from their initial experience,” McGann said. “Users have said that it allows them to maintain closer relationships with global teams and decrease frequency of travel, thus improving their work-life balance. And it makes them feel good about working for KPMG since the firm has these technologies available.”

  • Beyond boosting productivity and morale, telepresence has helped KPMG achieve its financial and environmental goals. The firm has shaved a cool $1 million from its travel budget and 100 metric tons from its total carbon footprint.

And it is not just big companies lowering their air travel that are reaping the benefits of Video Conferencing. The Energy Saving Trust, a UK based organization found: “Through detailed analysis of inter-office travel over an annual period it was deemed that 58% of inter-office travel was unnecessary. These saved journeys represent a total of 37,620 travel miles, 11 C/tn when converted to carbon savings.” 

Keep in mind, these studies are just looking at telepresence and video conferencing systems, which can be involved and in somewhat expense to implement. Most laptops today come equipped with a built-in camera, providing a ‘good enough’ solution when that’s all that’s required. Granted, video conferencing is not the right answer in every situation and many times a face-to-face meeting is critical. But with the environmental and business benefits inherit in using video conferencing, it seems to make sense to encourage it wherever and whenever appropriate. 

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Cynthia Curtis

As vice president and chief sustainability officer, Cynthia oversees the CA Technologies Office of Sustainability and is responsible for global sustainability strategy and initiatives for the company. Cynthia also meets with customers looking to use IT management solutions to further their sustainability efforts. Since joining CA Technologies in 2010, Cynthia has established a track record with measurable results for the company's sustainability program. She has extended the scope of the company’s sustainability initiatives, and established a cross-functional advisory board and program management office. In addition, she has helped enhance the environmental performance of CA Technologies operations by working with internal teams to further leverage the use of the company’s energy, carbon and sustainability management solution, CA ecoSoftware. Cynthia earned a master of business administration degree from Thunderbird School of Global Management and a bachelor of arts degree from Boston College. She speaks German and lives in a LEED-certified home in Massachusetts.

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