Virtual meetings are green and lean

Companies could cut emissions and save millions of pounds by replacing business travel with virtual meetings.

However the allure of time out of the office stops people using such technology, a study suggests.

Researchers studied two virtual conferences and found they had considerably smaller costs and carbon output compared with their real-life equivalents.

Cash savings

While people are becoming very comfortable with communication tools such as smart phones and Skype, technology can only take human contact so far.

Dr Dave ReaySchool of GeoSciences

One international, three-day online event for 260 delegates, held by a global IT and services company, saved $250,000 and 280 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions compared with such an event in real life.

Another virtual conference, held by a university and involving 62 delegates, saved almost 35 tonnes of CO2 and cost $120,000 less than a real-life equivalent event.

Most savings were made by cutting out air travel.

However, researchers from the University of Edinburgh who carried out the study found that, despite potential savings, businesses are slow to adopt virtual meetings because many people prefer to meet face-to-face.

Job perk

Researchers studied attitudes towards virtual meetings within two further organisations - a university and an oil and gas company.

Results showed that virtual meeting spaces such as Second Life can be useful in some instances, for example training staff in practical skills.

However, the perception of business travel as a perk of the job remains an important barrier to more widespread use.

The results are published in the journal Carbon Management.

Virtual meetings will never replace all face-to-face meetings, but with money tight and carbon emissions rising they can certainly play a greater role.

Dr Dave ReaySchool of GeoSciences