We know that broadband can save your business, save your grade point average, or even save your life. But can it also save the planet?
Research and analyses are increasingly pointing to the positive role broadband and other information technologies can play in making our economy less energy intensive, and thus more energy efficient. Broadband connections enable trucking companies to run less trucks (polluting less) with bigger loads; they allow “lean” manufacturers to maintain just-in-time inventories and emit fewer greenhouse gases; they help green consumers employ “smart meters” that conserve energy and costs; and broadband connections let high tech energy suppliers put intelligence into their energy grids and serve more customers more efficiently.
And, of course, the biggest energy efficiency and environmental payoffs from broadband applications currently come from teleworking. Millions of Americans are already leveraging broadband connections to work from home, retrain from home offices or conduct meetings from multiple locations, connecting virtually. This saves time, money and energy, and it reduces the environmental impact of hours on the road or in the air. With bandwidth increasing, telecommuting technologies improving, and applications for remote work expanding, we can expect significant environmental improvements from broadband going forward.
Consider that the U.S. white-collar workforce burns more than 583.3 million gallons of gasoline commuting to and from work each week. If the entire U.S. white-collar workforce teleworked just two days a week, America would conserve 233.3 million gallons of fuel each week - representing an associated annual fuel conservation equivalent to more than 27 percent of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Telework Exchange, “A Barrel Saved is a Barrel Earned” Report, January 31, 2006).
American workers’ teleworking two days a week would also save:
* Money: $221 billion in annual collective savings, back in employees’ pockets
* Time: 4.9 billion hours back in the lives of U.S. employees
* Pollution: 182 million tons of pollutants not dispersed into the environment each year
Similar results could be expected elsewhere around the world. A 2006 study by the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association and the World Wildlife Fund concluded that if 20% of business travel in the EU were replaced by non-travel means such as audio conferencing or video conferencing, they might save about 25 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2010. 22 million more tons could be saved is just 10% of EU employees became telecommuters.
Expect more on this issue in the weeks and months ahead.