Telepresence Has the Potential to Cut Millions of Tons of CO2

This past century has seen emerging communications markets skip an entire generation of technology infrastructure, namely, the wired telephone system. Large portions of the population in countries like India and China now have cell phones in areas that never had traditional landlines. 

If these countries build a transportation infrastructure based on the model in the United States, the emissions could have a major impact on the climate. However, if they choose to skip a generation of infrastructure, emissions growth will be far more manageable. In an effort to do this very thing, China has been investing heavily in modern mass transit, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). They have surpassed the United States in both these areas and yet Americans cling to the outdated model. 

Can we achieve a similar critical dematerialization of communications through telepresence as an effective substitute for much repetitive business travel? We need to do it, and we now have the technology to do it. So my best guess is—to coin a phrase—‘yes we can’.

Paul Dickinson, as CEO of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), used these words to rally his troops behind the telepresence revolution. As part of their ‘yes we can’ attitude the CDP conducted a comprehensive study examining the environmental and economic benefits of using telepresence in the short term, and after long-term, large-scale adoption of this technology. 

The CDP study piggybacked on the Smart 2020 Report that forecasts an emissions savings of 7.8 billion tons of CO2 by 2020 through the smart integration of ICT in the workplace, and personal space. In an effort to better quantify the environmental and financial impact of telepresence, the CDP collected data from 15 of the Global 500 companies that have already upgraded to the telepresence model. 

The CDP concluded that telepresence could avoid millions of tons of CO2. A single business with four telepresence rooms can reduce CO2 emissions by the equivalent of 400 passenger vehicles in the span of five years, 2,271 metric tons. Implementing telepresence throughout the US has the potential to reduce emissions by almost a million metric tons per year. 

Besides the environmental benefits, the CDP study also concluded that deployment of telepresence in businesses with annual revenues of more than $1 billion could see an economy wide financial benefit of $3.5 billion by 2020 and this is in the US alone. 


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