Videoconferencing your way to a lower carbon footprint

The University has several dedicated videoconference (VC) rooms, which enable staff to have online meetings with colleagues in other institutions. There are also lecture theatres with VC equipment installed which allow students to attend a lecture without needing to travel to the University.

The advantage of a VC meeting over a phone call is that you can see the person you are talking to, and the additional communication that brings (through body language, facial expression and eye movement) can be really important. The dedicated VC systems used provide high quality sound and video, and can link people from several locations. In addition, the VC rooms typically accomodate four or more people, so the meeting becomes a mix of local and virtual discussion with the technology providing a transparent window to the remote location.

Other advantages include saving time (e.g. the time taken to travel to Manchester for a project meeting) and money (the cost of the rail ticket, plus maybe a hotel room and meal if the meeting starts at 9am). In addition, a VC meeting can theoretically reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding the need to travel, and that is what this blog post will explore.

In practice, the carbon saving is hard to calculate. For one thing, that Southampton-Manchester train will run whether or not you are on it – but if you chose to drive instead, there would be a real saving. In the case of a flight to Edinburgh, a single decision will not make any difference (the plane will fly), but as businesses make greater use of VC for economic reasons the overall demand for short-haul trips will decrease, and the number of flights will reduce to adapt to that.

Just to complicate any calculations, VC equipment consumes power when on standby and in use (as analysed in this new JISC-funded report by the Welsh Video Network) so that needs to be offset against the carbon emitted during your drive to Manchester. But how much? The amount you would have used during the meeting? The driving and the meeting? Or a proportion of the total amount used that year by the VC room?

I think that the best argument for using VC is the time saved – most academics would agree that time is their most valuable resource and the one in shortest supply. In addition, most projects benefit from more frequent short meetings rather than ones that are by necessity long and infrequent because of the difficulty in scheduling whole days away from the office. The carbon savings will only become apparent as a critical mass of academics adopto VC as the default way to hold meetings with colleagues elsewhere, from Basingstoke to Birmingham, from Berlin to Beijing.

If you’d like to find out more about the University’s VC facilities, please contact ServiceLine.

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