Thursday, 31 March 2011

How Green was my Videoconference? – assessment of carbon calculators

Last year the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the body that supports the use of ICT in higher education in the UK, started a project under the heading of ‘How green was my videoconference?’ (HGWMV). The aim is to assess the environmental credentials of videoconferencing and verify whether the quoted benefits are realistic and accurate when compared with travel.

A report, entitled ‘Carbon Calculators for Transport and Electricity’ has just been published, written by the lead researcher of the HGWMV project, Geoff Constable. It looks at two aspects of the original project; the carbon and GHG emissions that would have been emitted by cars and other forms of transport during journeys that videoconferences replace, and the carbon costs of the power consumption of the videoconferencing equipment itself.

It’s an attempt to see if there’s agreement on multipliers/conversion figures for CO2 and/or CO2e amongst those that publish such figures. The HGWMV project would like to use existing conversion figures for car and air travel as well as electricity consumption.

The, not surprising, conclusions of the report are that some journey planners and carbon calculators are more reliable than others. Those that appear more extensive and easier to verify are generally those provided by public sector initiatives whilst information from manufacturers and resellers is often vague and generalised.

“The videoconferencing industry does not provide as much reliable, verifiable and transparent information regarding the CO2 costs of travel as can be found in the governmental and not-for-profit sectors in the UK. In fact videoconferencing travel calculators are few and far between, and patchy in reliability and transparency (although there is plenty of verbiage about the subject). Videoconferencing manufacturers do not include the CO2 embodied in the total lifecycle of their products when calculating CO2 savings (i.e. there is no figure to offset the savings made by travel)”. But the report does go on to say that there is reliable data available from other sources that can be used to compare the carbon cost of travel with videoconferences.

The findings are being released in the hope that the survey will also be of interest to others working in the videoconferencing and green ICT area.


Indeed it is. It’s a salutary lesson for anyone who wants to make effective comparisons for almost any ‘dematerialisation’ strategy, such as videoconferencing.

With regard to travel calculators the conclusion is that ‘there is such a degree of variance in the figures available that there is no single calculator that can be taken as providing a definitive figure’. But if you need to make these sorts of calculations, particularly around travel, the report gives some useful insights as to where to start.

It does, though, raise the more general question as to how the various commercial carbon management software solutions compare in accuracy. The report gives some ammunition for those choosing such a system.

© The Green IT Review

1 comment:

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