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Video conferencing will save the planet

Video-conferencing is being hailed as an effective tool to help companies reduce their carbon footprint. Even though the tech has been around some time, the market has recently boomed as companies try to jump onboard the green IT bandwagon, limit their impact on the environment and, of course, cut out expensive travel costs.

At a recent London roundtable discussion arranged by video-conferencing company Tandberg , spoke to manufacturing union Amicus . Amicus is one organisation that has been using video-conferencing to reduce its travel costs. The union, which has two million members, spent £1.5m on travel in 2005 - a figure it hopes to reduce using video-conferencing. At the same time, Amicus said, its green credentials would be improved and the work/life balance of staff bettered.

Research commissioned by WebEx says that UK workers attend an average of 91 face-to-face meetings per year. Employees reportedly think more than a third of face-to-face business meetings are both unnecessary and counterproductive. But it's money that appears to be the main driving factor.

"Inefficiency and waste of money are still likely to be the key drivers for introducing new technologies such as video-conferencing, not essentially green credentials," said Peter James, visiting professor of environmental management at the University of Bradford at the roundtable.

Amicus has been using video-conferencing technology for the last six months across 38 UK sites. "Having people travel from every region to London is a lot of time wasted for a two- or three-hour meeting," said Dominic Hook, Amicus director of IT.

The union has already held an event where the general secretary addressed 200 people in 20 offices via video-conference. Hook said: "The alternative to that in the past was to bring all those people into London for a conference."

Hook said the union will see a return on its investment in video-conferencing within the next three to five years. He added that not all meetings would be replaced with video-conferences, adding: "You don't want to ban all travel because you need people to get together."

Top tips

The experts attending the roundtable suggested a few tips on how to get going with vide-conferencing:

  • Demo the technology to users as this will make them understand the concept better.
  • Keep it as simple and user-friendly as possible, with notes on how to operate equipment etc.
  • Make sure to have a chairman for meetings who will manage speakers around the 'table'.