I have just been at a rather interesting lunch with some chaps from HP, video-conferencing company Tandberg, the UK Centre for Environmental and Economic Development (EED) and the trade union Amicus. The discussion was around whether video conferencing can really do anything about the damage business travellers are doing to the environment.
And according to Professor Peter James from the EED, its business travellers who are underpinning the major airlines – contributing around 40 percent of their revenues in fact – and allowing subsidising the cheap consumer fares we all enjoy. So if businesses can really latch-onto video-conferencing in a meaningful way – something which the Union Amicus is doing - then the impact on how we all travel good be massive. All the estimates are that airline travel is going to increase exponentially but people like Professor James believe that these estimates don't include the potential for collaborative technologies to reduce the need for some travel. Now, in reality, some work trips are a perk – the world of IT journalism is underpinned by the concept that you might not get paid that brilliantly but you get to travel to all sorts of interesting place and meet lots of interesting people. However, if video-conferencing can cut some journeys then that has to be a good thing.
Also looking at some of the cultural aspects of video-conferencing, it's interesting to note that despite some of these systems costing upwards of $300,000 and capturing images in clear-crisp HD – the ability to actually record the conversations does not come as standard in the equipment. HP argues that there are privacy and cultural reasons for this – people get paranoid enough being in front of a camera and the idea that they might be being recorded wouldn't go down well at all. I can see why recording might be an issue – but surely aside from the cost-cutting benefits of video-conferencing, being able to go back to past meetings and review content would be a really useful application?
I also quizzed HP and Tandberg on the carbon footprint of their video-conferencing kit. Taking the idea that video-conferencing is the green alternative to travelling to its logical conclusion then you'd hope that the video-conferencing kit itself – especially the massive Halo systems HP sells – would be manufactured in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. HP said some elements of its Halo kit adheres to the US Energy Star rating system, and Tandberg claimed to be looking into the issue, but neither vendor had a very convincing story around sustainable manufacturing.