Weigh video conferencing sustainability benefits and challenges

Video conferencing sustainability is about more than reducing travel. Learn the role video technology can play in ESG goals, as well as potential environmental drawbacks.

Video conferencing and unified communications-as-a-service vendors often tout how cloud-based video meetings promote sustainability and environmental, social and governance initiatives by reducing an organization's carbon footprint and eliminating the need for business travel.

Even without extensive ROI and ESG analysis, one can demonstrate the many benefits of video conferencing in delivering an organization's ESG goals, according to Prachi Nema, principal analyst at Omdia.

"Of course, some businesses will benefit more than others depending on the line of business, vertical, type of work performed and user personas that constitute their workforce," Nema explained.

A financial services organization with a hybrid workforce, for example, would benefit more from video conferencing than a small company where everyone works from a fixed, central location, she said. But even smaller companies could incorporate video conferencing into their ESG goals when liaising with customers and partners.

Benefits and drawbacks of video conferencing and ESG

Organizations weighing incorporating video conferencing sustainability into their ESG goals should carefully assess the benefits and drawbacks. According to Nema, benefits of video conferencing with ESG include the following:

  • Increased employee engagement.
  • Increased customer loyalty.
  • Higher employee satisfaction.
  • Cost reductions.
  • A more sustainable world for current and future generations.

The drawbacks include the following:

  • A lack of clear directives from the government and lawmakers
  • Companies that interpret directives their own way.
  • Initial high costs for vendors unless they have a clear long-term objective.

Often, the biggest benefit is in supporting other broader goals that an organization might have around sustainability and governance, said Chris Trueman, senior principal analyst at Gartner.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are some of the big benefits, particularly around meetings and collaboration, as employees can work together and access the tools they need, regardless of their abilities, location and situation, he said.

"They can have an equal say in decision-making," Trueman said. "But some of the benefits may be unique to certain groups and may better support some specific worker needs for certain processes."

UCC vendors and ESG goals

For video and UC providers that want to incorporate video conferencing into their ESG goals, Nema advises the following:

  1. Video conferencing service providers should build sustainable points of presence, or when using the public cloud, they should select a partner that offers data centers with clear sustainability goals, like net-zero emissions, and those that can demonstrate that they are meeting their ESG objectives and those imposed by their government and lawmakers.
  2. Meeting room device vendors should manufacture devices using sustainable materials. These devices should be fully featured, have a long shelf life and be less emission-intensive. Vendors should offer programs like trade-ins for old and legacy devices by enabling enterprises to trade in any brand of video conferencing equipment and computer peripherals from U.S.-based locations.
  3. Vendors should build devices on an open architecture rather than proprietary technologies to enable easy fixes, maintenance and simple over-the-air software updates. These updates enable users to access enhanced experiences and new features by installing new updates rather than replacing the device itself.
  4. Vendors should offer a hardware-as-a-service option, which enables enterprises to invest once and pay recurring costs based on usage.

Measuring the effect of video conferencing sustainability

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, unified communications and collaboration (UCC) vendors would often highlight the value of video conferencing through the cost savings achieved by reducing international travel, Nema explained.

Video conferencing was typically confined to meeting rooms and was often only consumed by C-suite executives. But COVID-19 changed everything, making video conferencing key to business continuity. Video communications now reaches all levels of employees, who can access it on any device and most any location.

"Calculating the real ROI from an ESG perspective can be challenging for organizations because of the tangible and intangible benefits that come with it," Nema acknowledged. "Intangible gains are hard to measure."

However, businesses can send out organization-wide surveys to evaluate employee experience, satisfaction, team productivity and collaboration outcomes.

"As employee experience goes up, ESG suitability impacts rise significantly," Nema said. Organizations can also implement similar surveys to measure customer satisfaction.

Tangible benefits should also be measured thoroughly, such as savings from reduced travel; cuts on daily commute, heating and electricity costs for offices; and reduced real estate footprints, Nema said.

Organizations that want to improve the sustainability of their UC and video deployments can follow three steps, according to Nema:

  1. Switching off video devices when not in use.
  2. Only using devices manufactured with sustainable materials.
  3. Consolidating to a single vendor to address UC needs and ESG goals.

More than an alternative for expensive travel

Organizations use video for more than replacing travel, and the environmental effects they may not consider include factors such as emissions created from the increased use of utilities and power, like electricity, for the data centers that facilitate cloud-based meetings.

"I believe video conferencing reduces carbon emissions as it is more than just the energy saving from travel," Nema said. "As most organizations work in a hybrid fashion now, video allows employees to work remotely, saving on the daily commute. But you also have to consider several other savings, including electricity and heating costs of large office premises."

Productivity also increases with video conferencing, Nema said, which leads to a satisfied staff contributing to the social element of ESG.

Echoing Trueman's earlier comments, Nema said video conferencing enables organizations to recruit the best talent, regardless of location, as well as support distributed and global teams without requiring travel to collaborate.

"These further address diversity and inclusion, as everyone has an equal chance to find work, collaborate and contribute, regardless of location," she said. "Enterprises are expected to treat their employees, customers and communities fairly and ethically, which is part of their ESG goals, and video conferencing is perfectly positioned to address these in today's increasingly hybrid world."

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