The World Wildlife Federation recently published a report on how telecommuting and virtual meetings can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. The results show just how much of an impact telecommuting can have on not only our current world, but how different situations could result in four possible “future worlds”. It’s a truly fascinating read.
The preface states:
All too often the discussion about reduction of greenhouse gases is caught in an old dichotomy where increased quality of life is presented as if it is in conflict with the need to move away from a dependency on fossil fuel.
The challenge is to find a solution that meets both needs: Increased quality of life as well as decreased ecological footprint. Telecommuting positively impacts both of these issues. An exciting find of the study is that…
Increasing virtual meetings and telecommuting today could, without any dramatic measures, help to save more than 3 billion tons of CO2 emissions in a few decades; this is equivalent to approximately half of the current US CO2 emissions.
The study presents us with four different “future worlds” based on possible scenarios involving policy makers, IT industry and users and the various choices they could make. They run from a Carbon World, which would have weak climate change policy and an IT industry and users who don’t address energy and climate changes to a Smart World where there would be an effective climate change policy, including support for low-carbon IT solutions combined with an IT industry and users who aggressively pursue and offer climate friendly solutions.
What makes this study so interesting is that it not only addresses the need for policy change and for industry to embrace low-carbon IT solutions, but also the role of each of us (as employees or business owners and consumers) play in the big picture. For example, someone who goes from commuting to telecommuting has the potential to have a further environmental impact beyond just the loss of the commute. They could have a greater positive impact by selling a now unnecessary second car. Their decisions could also have a negative impact, thus eroding the gains made by telecommuting.
…the increased use of teleworking can result in people buying bigger cars and driving more or even longer distances than they did when they were commuting to the office, or in them applying savings from reduced commuting to high-carbon goods and services such as vacations that require long flights.
This highlights the need for all segments (policy makers, IT industry, users) to work together to deploy appropriate policy measures and strategies.
What’s really exciting is the much of the technology needed for telecommuting and teleconferencing already exists (broadband, technology such as laptops, etc.). It’s also significant that structural changes in the economy (such as a growing proportion of service-sector and knowledge workers over the total workforce) can broaden the pool of workers that can use teleworking or virtual meetings.
Our future world is on the cusp of change, and it’s in our hands. I hope people are listening.