Cost, not green concerns, driving conferencing technology

23rd July 2008

<p>While environmental groups have enthusiastically welcomed the recent calls from the top United Nations scientist for businesses to cut back on their travelling commitment, when it comes to the corporate sector, it would seem that he is largely preaching to the converted. <br/> <br/>In a meeting with a group of British MPs from across all parties, Dr Rajendra Pachauri argued that the days when businesses allowed their employees to jet across the country, or even to the other side of the world simply to attend an industry conference need to be consigned to the past. <br/> <br/>"A focused effort to shift business travel for conferences and meetings of all types to video-based communication would be of great benefit in reducing and controlling the growth of emissions from aviation," he argued, echoing the arguments of those who likewise call for online communications technologies, such as VoIP or WiMax to be more fully rolled out so as to allow employees to cut out their daily commute and work from the comfort of their own homes. <br/> <br/>However, Dr Pachuri's comments come at a time when the global teleconferencing market is already worth around £4 billion a year, with this figure growing fast, largely independent of environmental concerns, and expected to pass the £5 billion mark within the next four years. <br/> <br/>Indeed, while the argument for cutting back on travel so as to reduce carbon emissions is highly emotive and persuasive, so far most of the moves towards remote conferencing technologies have been largely driven by the desire to cut back on overheads.<br/> <br/>Just as while consumers were all too happy to make use of low-cost flights even though they were aware of the environmental argument, but are only now staying grounded as the cost of fuel keeps rising and holidays become an unnecessary extravagance, so too are many business leaders only now beginning to rein in their employees' air miles as travelling to distant conferences becomes financially unjustifiable. <br/> <br/>Whatever the motivation, it is undoubtedly becoming clear that many companies are shying away from committing to long-distance travel. <br/> <br/>Of the 175 firms questioned in a new study from the Institute of Travel Management (ITM), 80 per cent said that they are now looking to avoid non-essential trips, but instead are considering making use of modern alternatives, such as video conferencing. <br/> <br/>Colin Goldney of Argate Consulting, ITM's research partner, explained: "Behavioural change due to economic and environmental factors suggest we may be about to witness a paradigm shift in the business travel sector.<br/> <br/>"If companies look to technology over mandating travel bans, this presents different options for the future. When the economy picks up, changes in behaviour due to increased exposure to video conferencing could result in executives travelling far less than before."<br/> <br/>Despite this trend, the traditional conference sector is still strong, with a significant proportion of those businesses questioned saying that they see the current restrictions on employee travel as merely temporary.<br/> <br/>Furthermore, only a very small minority have taken the step of completely freezing employee travel, with most seeing the benefits of attending an important event in person, notably the networking benefits a physical presence allows, which virtual alternatives are nowhere near offering. <br/> <br/>Once the economy picks up again, therefore, it is likely that companies will be sending delegates out to corporate conferences far and wide, preferring to target less valuable areas of their operations when it comes to improving upon their carbon footprints. </p><p><img alt="ADNFCR-1753-ID-18698698-ADNFCR" src="" /></p>