On-screen versus Being Green: Can Virtual Conferencing Be Sustainable? | Blog

Reluctant to be seen on camera during conference calls? Keeping the video off can have the added benefit of helping to reduce your carbon footprint. The skyrocketing use of video conferencing during the pandemic has come with a hidden cost to the environment of increased emissions. Learn more about what organizations can do to reverse the negative impact our digital lifestyles and increased work from home is having. 

A recent study by a team of researchers from MIT, Purdue University, and Yale University on the impact of internet usage and video conferencing found that conference calls can add up to 1 kilobyte of carbon emission, which can be reduced by switching off your video.

With COVID, people collaborating using platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack has soared. Teams, for example, has seen daily users increase from 32 million pre-pandemic to 145 million in recent months. As these times made conference calls and virtual events a regular part of our lives, “seeing” others on video has become a norm.

While virtual meetings have reduced emissions from air and road commuting as well as energy usage in offices, it requires large amounts of data that need greater power, putting huge energy demands on data centers that power the internet.

All of this raises new questions for organizations to grapple with. Organizations want to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability but also desire to engage with each other, clients, and other stakeholders. How can people feel like they are part of a team and build relationships with their videos off?

How to reduce your footprint and stay connected

As we return to a new normal, video conference calls will continue as they have given us flexibility, time savings and kept people connected through extraordinary circumstances. Here are some recommendations on how organizations can reduce the environmental impact while continuing to use today’s popular tools for staying close:

  • Invest in real-time dashboards on internet carbon emissions that can help organization drill down on how many calls are made and govern whether all of these calls are needed
  • Optimize the time spent on video calls and consider shortening calls based on analytics from the call-related carbon emission dashboard about the average time spent on video conferences
  • Train your workforce about who to invite to video conferences and reduce the number of large online meetings open to all employees who might not need to be involved
  • Resist falling into the trap of handling video usage through strict policy initiatives. While organizations may think they should build stronger policies to outrightly stop lengthy calls or ration the number of calls, this rarely works and may lead to higher employee attrition
  • Engage employees continuously to evaluate their work experience, physical health, mental condition, and other similar aspects. The pandemic already has impacted the employee experience of being part of a social group and forming personal bonds through face-to-face interactions. If video calls are reduced, employees may feel isolated in their work from home environments

Create a shared vision of sustainability

Organizations need to create a shared vision of their sustainability goals and make employees part of these efforts. The carbon emission dashboard should let each employee know their individual emission use during conference calls and compare it with the amount of fossil fuel consumed. This will give employees a clearer perspective of the enormity of the impact and show what they can achieve by optimizing their virtual interactions.

There are no easy solutions to this new and growing problem. Our market interactions show few companies are being proactive in their approaches to video conferencing. Now is the time for organizations to think before the next time they turn on their videos. Organizations should also focus on the big picture of sustainability and carefully evaluate the environmental impact of virtual conferences. If they determine it is less significant than thought, they should instead focus on other more meaningful initiatives. While many enterprises may eventually have to institutionalize policies around virtual conferences, these approaches should be well contemplated and fully communicated.

How is your organization handling video conferencing? Please write to me at [email protected] to share your experiences.

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