Beam me up Scotty!

The WWF published a report, funded by HP and Microsoft, about the potential climactic benefits of a greater adoption of videoconferencing technologies. One of the items in the report which caught my eye was the stat that:

substituting 5-30% of current air travel by videoconferencing could avoid 5.59-33.53 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually

The report recommends what it calls ‘digital bridges’ to replace ‘air bridges’ which would otherwise be constructed.

An infrastructure which provided an open access site for every million inhabitants of the world’s urbanised areas would have an estimated $495 million capital cost, and $347 million of annual operating costs (total number of virtual meeting rooms 4620). Much, if not all of which, could be offset by income from those who fly, users of virtual meetings, and other sources. This compares to the estimated $22 billion capital cost of a third Heathrow runway, or the $320 million list price of a new Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Key targets to use the infrastructure would include larger companies with many field activities in different countries; small-medium sized businesses; international Governmental and Non-Governmental organisations; organisers of small-medium sized events; and some distance learning and telemedicine discussions. Countries such as China or India would be especially important, with the aim of many people developing familiarity with videoconferencing before becoming attached to air travel for meetings. ‘Digital bridges’ could therefore supplement, and partially replace, the ‘air bridges’ which would otherwise be constructed.

Personally I don’t think this goes nearly far enough!

I was at a HP briefing last October where HP presented some genuinely impressive internal figures for travel averted using HP’s TelePresence offering (called Halo). I argued at the time (and still believe) that for TelePresence to have a serious impact it needs to be far more ubiquitous – not just (as it currently) islands of hi-def connectivity. HP’s Halo needs to interconnect with Nortel and Cisco’s TelePresence offerrings and vice versa, for a start. I went a step further at the meeting and suggested that for real ubiquity, Halo should be able to interconnect with the likes of Skype video.

HP appear to have been having similar thoughts because they recently announced HP SkyRoom – which, while it doesn’t connect with Skype video afaik, it is a desktop version of TelePresence.

Details are sketchy on SkyRoom as yet, but if we can make hi-def video conferencing and desktop sharing as cheap and easy as making a Skype call, then many of the reasons for having to travel for meetings simply disappear!

Don’t underestimate the benefits of this, not just for companies carbon footprint’s, but also for productivity. I am going to a 3-day conference next month in Orlando, Florida. I am based in Seville, Spain. My travel to and from the conference will take roughly 36 hours – not to mention all the hassles of various airports’ security and then I have to do a week’s work on top of that! For a far more eloquent breakdown of the all of the benefits of TelePresence see Wilson Korol’s excellent post on the Nortel Grassroots blog.

I do believe that desktop hi-def video calls and desktop sharing will become ubiquitous whether enabled by HP or Skype or Apple’s iChat or combinations of clients able to inter-operate seamlessly – there are very few technical barriers to it happening. From there it is a short step to making it a 3-D experience and I will truly be able to say “Beam me up Scotty!” – if you doubt it can be a 3-D experience check out this impressive Cisco video of CEO John Chambers chatting to a full size 3-D Marthin De Beer while Marthin is 14,000 miles away.

[Disclosure: HP and Nortel are GreenMonk clients]


Reduce your carbon footprint using virtual worlds

One of Credit Agricole\'s training rooms in Second Life (photo courtesy of Stonefield Inworld)

Virtual Worlds such as Second Life are largely dismissed as trivial and a waste of time by many people (myself included until recently!).

However a recent conversation with Pierre-Olivier Carles changed all that for me. Pierre is the co-founder and CEO of Stonefield Inworld – a company which builds things for people in virtual worlds.

For example, the photo above is a training room for the French banking group Crédit Agricole. According to their Wikipedia entry, Crédit Agricole are the 8th largest bank in the world! Stonefield have purpose built training rooms for Crédit Agricole on the bank’s private island in Second Life.

In a pilot program rolled out for a small part of the group, Crédit Agricole expect to save between €200,000 and €300,000 this year on travel expenses alone by holding training sessions in-world. If this is rolled out to the group, annual savings would be in the order of €5-€6m. I’m not sure what that is in terms of reduced CO2 emissions but you can take it that it is a pretty big number!

And that is just in travel expenses. When companies start to be taxed for their carbon emissions, the savings from holding in-world training will be even greater.

Of course, the success of something like this is all in the execution and from talking to Pierre-Olivier, Stonefield seem to have nailed it. They have audio (for the presenter), video, slideware, and whiteboards in the training room. They take ‘coffee’ breaks to allow for the networking which happens in ‘real’ training as well as the opportunities for one-on-one with the trainer (“what you said in there is all very well in theory but in the case of our org…”).

The trainees can even give feedback on their understanding of the topic by migrating to the green side of the room to indicate all is going well or moving to the red side to signal that they are falling behind. As someone who gives talks and has done training, this kind of trainee feedback is invaluable to the successful running of a class.

Then there is the added benefits to the trainee of not having to worry about getting through security, catching that plane, lost luggage, traffic jams, breakdowns or worse. Does anyone have any statistics on the number of employees lost to work-related travel accidents annually?

With travel making up such a large part of our global CO2 emissions and companies increasing requirements to upskill their employees on an ongoing basis, initiatives like this are going to be vital for cost efficiencies and reduced carbon footprints.

Cross-posted from


On Small Changes, Small Cars, Tax and Pollution

It’s fair to say that encouraging people to change their behaviour in small ways can have a big impact – cumulatively – on reducing carbon footprints and environmental impact in the long-term.

But how Governments and authorities manage and cajole the public to change personal behaviour can be a problematic process – and something that’s difficult to get right. One obvious avenue available is to incentivise change by introducing tax-breaks on ‘environmentally friendly’ products and services, and hiking tax on high-polluters. That seems to be the idea behind planned changes to the Congestion charge policy in London, which – rightly or wrongly – from next year, is being turned into an environmental charge based on carbon dioxide emissions from cars.

You can read more about it in detail here, but in short, the plan is that whereas currently nearly everyone pays £8 per day, by 2009, cars which emit more than 225 g/km of CO2 will be charged £25 ($50) a day to drive into central London. Ouch. But the flip side – the ‘tax-break’ – is that if you drive a car that emits less than 120g/km of CO2, then access is free. The idea is to move people from gas-guzzlers to eco-friendly fuel-sippers, and thus see CO2 levels in the city fall. Nothing wrong with that you might think, but there’s a potential flaw…

Sales of these small, ‘sub-120g/km’ cars are soaring across the south-east of England. A new report by CEBR (report not available openly) suggests that this ‘environmentally-driven’ policy could actually end up causing CO2 levels to rise. That’s because it’s predicted the changed system will have a net result of up to 10,000 extra cars a day entering central London. And that can only lead to an increase in congestion, and a slow down in traffic speeds. As anyone who understands the internal combustion process will tell you, the problem with (even highly efficient, and small) engines, is that they’re at their least efficient when the car is sat stationary or moving at low speeds. So despite the fact that most of these additional cars will be classified as ‘environmentally friendly’ and driving around congestion charge-free, the extra traffic and congestion they create could mean CO2 levels actually rise.

Kit like this will unsurprisingly fall into the £25-a-day bracket come next year

You will, doubtless, be surprised to hear that kit like this will cost £25-a-day to drive in central London come next year…

Whether the report’s predictions prove true, only time will tell. One potential caveat to consider is that it was commissioned by Land Rover – who aren’t exactly known for their small cars (in fact, every vehicle they currently sell falls into the £25-a-day category). In the auto-industry, nothing is ever quite as black and white as it first seems… but there’s plenty of support for it’s predictions in the form of academics for instance, who have no reason for bias.

The big questions it begs, is how governments, authorities and legislators drive a process of adoption for new, more environmentally friendly products and technologies, without having the entire process back-fire on them at ground level? The message they’re putting out to people here is ‘do this, and because you’re helping save the planet, we’ll reward you’ – but in fact, that ‘reward’ might end up having quite the opposite effect on the planet’s health. Don’t ‘reward’ people’s for changing their behaviour, and they’ve no reason to change. So the carrot-stick approach is difficult. I suspect this policy might go down in history as being one of those top-down processes, that on paper looked great – but which back-fired terribly on the ground by having precisely the opposite impact to what was originally intended. Another case which will show the need for grass-roots level innovation and adoption, rather than top-down? I think so.


Stop The Madness: run events where your people are

I love Lisbon. Its a fantastic city. I love Portugal. Great country. But the more I think about it the more absurd it seems that IBM flew a bunch of analysts and staff there for a conference last week, particularly given that one of the key themes of event was economic greening.

The simple fact is that the great majority of people attending were from London.  The industry analyst business in Europe is not particularly geographically distributed. I don’t believe there was a single Portuguese analyst at the show. Most of the IBMers were based in London too.

I think one idea behind holding such events in various far-flung venues is to “share the love”, not favouring one geography over another. Another reason is just the loveliness of the place.

I appreciate that the analyst business is fairly unusual but many industries do travel a lot. But couldnt’ we do things closer to home? Pareto distributions are likely to indicate the best place to hold an event.

Not only would running last week’s event in London have been far less carbon intensive, but it would also have been far less impactful on our productivity and home life. Missing half days of work on either side of a journey is hardly ideal. Even worse, as far as I am concerned, is missing my family. I got home at 11:45pm, having eaten nothing but a pretty nasty British Airways sandwich, and my wife was already in bed. I don’t know about you but its nice to actually get some decompression time.

No rest for the wicked. This morning I just got back on a redeye from New York. The situation in this case was somewhat different. IBM held its US event in Stamford, Connecticut,which is in easy driving distance of most of IBM’s senior executives. What is more it is the home of the biggest and most successful analyst firm in the world- Gartner Group.

I must admit that last year I was slightly put out by the fact “we were all travelling to Gartner”. It just seemed a bit off that all of the other analyst firms, including RedMonk, had to go into Gartner territory. Today I hope I am looking at the situation in a more mature fashion. I hope fewer Gartner people had to travel either, saving more carbon miles.

So what is my call to action? Hold events where the people are. London may be more expensive than other cities, but its where most of the people in my business at least live and work. if you’re organising a conference find somewhere close to home. Don’t travel unneccessarily. You might even consider using a tool like dopplr so that you know where your co-workers are going to be at any given time,so you can reduce travel accordingly. I met a guy from IBM yesterday who was doing exactly that.

And perhaps we will all have better home lives, as well as doing our bit for our carbon footprint. It makes sense to me. What about you?


picture of the Statue of the Discoveries, Lisbon, courtesy of Welland.





Water bottles of the future?


Forget Richard Pim’s garden wall made of wine bottles. Here’s a much more serious idea for the drinks companies like Cadbury Schweppes, Pepsi and Coca Cola – pick up on the spirit of the beautiful ideas by Dutch designer Nienke Vording and stop shipping vast quantities of bottled water around the country, which then all get chucked into landfill.

Instead, sell gorgeous reusable water bottles – indeed promote designers to create all kinds of personal reusable bottles. Then install ‘water stations’ into local shops and other locations. Offer either tapwater (still or gassed-up, either of which you pay for) or mineral water from tanks (which you pay extra for). But charge a bit less than you would for bottled water.

And don’t cheat and only distribute water from the tanks. That’s as absurd as the huge logistics operation that underpins the water cooler industry, which busily expends energy shipping water barrels into every office building in the land.

Of course, in the Greenmonk spirit of innovation from the roots up, this could be done without the support of the major drinks distributors…


Carbon calculators – Top down or bottom up?

Right now, personal ‘carbon calculators’ seem to be all the rage. Encouraged as a primary method of getting individuals to start to address their personal carbon footprint, and make lifestyle changes to lower personal CO2 emissions, most of the calculators have up until now come from large corporate companies. A couple of weeks ago, however, and responding to a general feeling of confusion amongst the public, the UK Govenment launched its own definitive carbon calculator website – billed as the most comprehensive, accurate tool of its kind. True? Well certainly the amount of time it takes to work things out at the end of each section gives the impression it’s doing some major number crunching. But as with all of its ilk, it has flaws. For instance, why are only my personal flights (a measly three in the last year) included, yet the ones I’ve taken on business (a more eco-conscience bothering 17) not? That skews my score entirely. Now a new site in the US – ‘Make me sustainable’ – promises to monitor carbon emissions on a daily basis – the thinking here is that carbon monitoring becomes an everyday part of your routine – like cleaning your teeth or updating your facebook status, so you start to think about the impact of your actions more. Sadly, you need to be in the US to use it, as it calculates various factors depending on where you live. Anyone in the US who’s trying it out, we’d love to know what you think of it.

The fundamental issue with all of these systems is that they rely on some level of estimation and guess-work, it’s inevitable. So perhaps, if we’re really serious about monitoring our emissions, we need real-life personal monitoring systems, that are discrete and ‘fit’ with our lives. That’s where Andreas Zachariah – a graduating MA student in Industrial Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art comes in. His “Carbon Hero” calculates a user’s carbon footprint from transportation by identifying the different froms of transport being used as they moves through space. The idea is that you carry the key-fob sized unit with you, and then download the data to your PC later. Then the data is collected by the computer’s software, which tells you the exact amount of carbon dioxide emitted from your movements, and how many credits are needed to offset it. Could this be the future? Well, the product has alread won a British Sustainability Index award, so watch this space.