How Zoom could help save the planet
Reseachers urge that in-person meetings be dropped in favor of videoconferencing
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
The office park parking lots are half-empty. As are the skyscrapers in downtown New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and around the world. Instead, high-flying executives (and their underlings) are on video conference calls facilitated by systems such as Zoom (ZM), GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams (MSFT) and Google Meet (GOOGL).
Meanwhile, international (and intranational) meetings and conferences have shriveled to almost nothing as Covid continues its worldwide stranglehold.
Imagine how much gas (and pollution) that saves!
The figures are staggering. A study in the journal Nature Communications estimates that the global conference industry — flights, cars, hotel stays, etc. — was contributing 5.31 billion tons of CO₂ per year prior to the Covid pandemic, or the same as the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the entire United States, according to Cornell University’s Fengqi You.
Return to the old days? Not if You and his colleagues have any say. According to their study, shifting conferences from meeting halls to online platforms can reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by 94% and energy use by 90%. (The little carbon and energy that is still emitted during virtual conferences stem from home electricity consumption.)
But will business people, academics and their ilk go for it? After all, many of them say, there’s nothing like an in-person meeting to build relationships, trade information and do deals. And there’s no escaping that participants enjoy the sometimes-glamourous surroundings often provided for these get-togethers. So much so that in 2017 business events alone involved 1.5 billion participants from 180 countries, and contributed $2.5 trillion of spending while supporting 26 million jobs, according to a 2018 study by Oxford Economics.
In the end, it will probably come down to balancing cost savings — $2.5 trillion is a lot of money — and perceptions of the effectiveness of video meetings vs. in-person ones.
Thousands of cater-waiters are anxious to know. As are Zoom’s struggling shareholders.