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Hugging a computer screen this Environment Day will make more of an impact than hugging a tree says CLINT CRONJE of Imago Communications.

Hugging a computer screen this Environment Day will make more of an impact than hugging a tree says CLINT CRONJE of Imago Communications.

World Environment Day, 5 June, is with us again and saving the planet is suddenly topical, though post-recession business can be forgiven for focusing more on saving costs.

Fortunately, recent developments suggest we can achieve both: save the planet and the bottom line as well.

The developments in question are teleworking and increased employment of skilled people who work from home and connect to their offices via smart phones, laptops, desktop computers, video conferencing (VC) and telepresence solutions.

So you don’t have to hug bunnies to make environmental progress. Hug your video screen instead. It’s a practical alternative with measurable benefits.

Telework has special relevance in South Africa: not because we are noted environmentalists, but because we face growing traffic congestion, steep road tolls and sky-high petrol prices.

Faced with these realities, business needs a smart response and teleworking qualifies as just that. Reductions in a company’s carbon footprint are a bonus.

Many executives now agree the business case for teleworking is compelling, ensuring growing deployment of teleworking tools like VC.

US researchers say enterprises will spend $5 billion in 2015 on VC and telepresence (advanced video and audio that create the illusion you are up close and personal when colleagues or clients might be half a world away). Conference room systems are a big growth area but more intimate Skype-based solutions on the desktop are increasingly adopted, too.

Researchers say worldwide revenue for VC technologies grew 18% last year, hitting $2.2 billion. Growth into and out of recession suggests significant business efficiencies accrue.

Cash-strapped governments are also exploring the benefits of teleworking.

In the USA, the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requiries federal agencies to establish telework policies and designate a managing officer to drive telework programmes.

This is good news for workers as federal studies show telework employees enjoy more job satisfaction than office-bound peers. Teleworkers are also more likely to recommend their organisation as a good place to work and more likely to remain loyal rather than job-hop.

What about the situation in South Africa?

The 2010 World Cup created potential for road and air traffic dislocation. Many local companies reacted by opting for VC-driven virtual meetings rather than real ones. Corporate travel savings were significant, leading to a mini-boom for VC suppliers.

Companies engaged in carbon footprint measurement and reduction were especially eager adopters of the technology.

This is hardly surprising. To give just one statistic, 1.08 tons of carbon is dumped on a return Johannesburg-Cape Town flight.

The daily town-and-around commute by countless office workers has even bigger choking effects on the atmosphere. Cost-sensitive workers and companies feel pretty choked, too.

Local firms involved in the Carbon Disclosure Project are especially close to the issue. The CDP report The Telepresence Revolution estimates that by 2020 application of telepresence technology by US and UK business could cut CO² emissions by nearly 5, 5 million metric tons and secure financial benefits of nearly US$19 billion.

So, money really is going up in smoke. That’s sad on World Environment Day ‚Ķ or any other day for that matter.

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