How to cut your company's carbon footprint (and energy costs)

BT's consulting service shares techniques to reduce environmental impact while saving money

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Designing such programs is one thing; implementing them is often another, particularly when they require large numbers of employees to change the way they work and management to accept the idea of allowing their employees to work from home, for example.

BT has done this through an internal PR program. "Our employees know our carbon footprint is 0.6 million tons; they know that last year we avoided 97,000 tons through videoconferencing," Moss says. "So they can put those figures together and understand what impact this is having on my company as a whole." That doesn't mean that all business travel has stopped. "People still get on airplanes," he notes. But they do so with knowledge of the carbon cost of travel and therefore are more likely to ask themselves, "Is this trip really necessary?" in the words of the old WW II slogan, before they schedule it.

What's the net effect?

These results sound good, but heavier use of audio, video and data networking has its own ecological as well as operational and capital cost implications. Thus the question of the net impact is valid. Moss says that to the best of BT's knowledge, based in part on an independent study by a major British university of BT's internal carbon savings program, is that these changes often yield about a 10:1 decrease in carbon footprint.

"We participated in a study two or three years ago of an organization known as ETNO, the European Telecommunications Network Operators," Moss says. Six major European carriers added up their total carbon footprints, which they estimated at the time to be about 1 million metric tons per year, of which BT was probably contributing about 0.8 metric tons at the time. They then estimated the potential effect on total carbon footprint of making six changes in corporate operations across their markets, such as getting 10% of all employees to telecommute, getting a percentage of customers to accept electronic rather than paper billing, and replacing a percentage of business travel with audio- or videoconferences, as well as making those changes in their own internal operations.

"They then added up the carbon savings in all of the markets where they operated doing those things [including all their customers], and it came to just short of 50 million [metric] tons of carbon footprint reduction," Moss says. That's the net total after accounting for the carbon cost of the increased network load.

Right now, he says, these approaches are being applied inconsistently. For example, telecommuting is much more popular in Europe than in North America, whereas since 9/11, conferencing has become much more popular in the U.S. than in Europe. But, Moss says, "if the Europeans can telecommute, then the Americans can telecommute. If the Americans can have widespread use of conferencing, then the Europeans can have widespread use of conferencing."

These and other changes in operational methods based on better use of mainstream computer/communications technologies could result in a great deal of savings in both operational costs and air pollution, with very little net change in corporate operations and virtually no impact on growth.

Bert Latamore is a journalist with 10 years' experience in daily newspapers and 25 in the computer industry. He has written for several computer industry and consumer publications. He lives in Linden, Va., with his wife, two parrots and a cat.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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