As travel costs rise and environmental concerns grow, corporations are becoming increasingly receptive to video conferencing technology.
An AT&T-sponsored study from the non-profit Carbon Disclosure Project confirms that it's a practical move: It found that by 2020, if companies in the U.S. and U.K. with over $1 billion in revenue switched from business travel to telepresence, they could reduce CO2 emissions by 5.5 million metric tons—the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing more than one million passenger vehicles from the road for one year—and save nearly $19 billion.
Among the Telepresence Revolution study's other findings:
- A business implementing four telepresence rooms could save nearly 900 business trips in the first year; 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)
- Payback could come in as little as 15 months (based on implementation of four telepresence rooms and a ratio of 60% domestic business flights to 40% international flights).
- East Asia shows growth as a telepresence location. India and China are also popular.
- Qualitative benefits include increased employee productivity, better work-life balance and faster decision making.
Keep in mind that this study is sponsored by AT&T, a telecommunications company that obviously has a vested interest in promoting video conferencing.
But that doesn't mean the report is without merit. Accenture, a company with 50 telepresence rooms, claims that it has cut emissions produced by its employees’ flights by 6,200 metric tons between November 2007 and August 2009. Meanwhile, Gartner, an IT research company, believes that telepresence will replace 2.1 million airline seats each year. That will cost the travel industry $3.5 billion annually—but save companies that same amount in cash. Not a bad trade-off for corporations willing to deal with high-definition digital proxies of real coworkers.