Video Conferencing is Green-But Who Cares?

Last Updated Apr 29, 2011 10:19 AM EDT

One of the hardest jobs in the world is to sell something to someone who doesn't care about it. This is the awkward position many video and web conferencing companies find themselves in. They frequently tout the environmental cred of their products, but do you know a single company that's actually made their buying decision on that basis?

An article in the recent issue of the Canadian news weekly, Macleans Magazine, trumpets video conferencing as a new way of going green. (Along with wooden sky scrapers. Apparently they won't have to cut down trees, they'll only use the ones that commit suicide or die of natural causes, but then I'm a bit of a cynic.) This raises the question: It's certainly one way to save wear and tear on the planet, but is that even a consideration when the CFO and IT sit down to choose a solution?

To see the marketing these companies put out, you'd sure think it is. One of my favorite web conferencing solutions, iLinc, has what they call a "green meter" in the corner of the presenter's dashboard. It supposedly measures how much gas is saved by holding that webmeeting. I'm guessing they measure the distance between all the IP addresses or some such math. While it's actually fascinating to see, it had very little impact on my purchasing decision. I use it for my training programs because it works and the price is right.

Cisco's Telepresence has pages of material on their site pushing their environmentally friendly solutions. I don't dispute their numbers, but do wonder how many companies actually factor that into their decision making.

Most companies that I've run into have several criteria for choosing a solution. At the end of that list is a half-hearted, "oh yeah, and it's eco-friendly".

  • How much can I save on travel and lost productivity? This is easy math to do (5 airfares to a conference minus a seat license for WebEx = a good number to the bottom line. (Actual productivity is harder to measure and usually falls under someone else's budget anyway.)
  • Will it work on my network and in my organization? Something that only works behind the firewall won't work if I have a distributed or mobile workforce. Lots of companies have learned this lesson the hard way.
  • What are the people actually expected to do with the tool? If you're just running team meetings, you may need less robust features than if you're company-wide training or big-audience marketing webinars. Form should follow function.
  • Oh yeah, and it's green. There are indisputable environmental and sustainability advantages to meeting virtually: less travel, reduced costs for printing meeting handouts ( digital on-demand form reduces waste) and other small yet noticeable savings. Yes, people can quibble about the amount of energy needed to cool server rooms. the energy needed to power computers and the green-house gases emitted after too many poorly catered lunches but less unnecessary travel can only help what "green project managers" call the "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profits.
The question I'm asking (and don't send nasty emails, I'm only asking) is, how much of a role does the eco-friendliness of the these tools play in deciding which tool your team will use? How much should it play in a business environment?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this. And if anyone has hard numbers or case studies, please share them with the class.

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