Green Your Meeting By Going Virtual

Everyone wants to go green these days, including meeting planners. And while there are many ways to green a meeting, one of the greenest approaches to meetings is to not meet in person.

This is a way to have most of the functionality of a face-to-face meeting, while saving enormous amounts of energy, money, and—perhaps most importantly—time.

Let’s say you want to have a day-long new product introduction meeting with your territory managers for 50 people, who live scattered around the world in places like Nagasaki, New York, Nairobi, and Nurnberg.

The costs of a face-to-face conference include (among others):

  • 40 or so airfares, plus lower travel costs for 10 people who live close enough to use land transportation—and the enormous carbon impact of flying so many people around the world
  • Two nights’ hotel for perhaps 45 of the 50, assuming at least a few people are locals, commuting—and food for all of them
  • Three days of lost work time for each of the 50 attenders
  • Additional lost productivity because after a few hours, your attenders are on overload and can’t realistically absorb any more information
  • The tree or two sacrificed to create paper for the handouts, much of which end up mixed into the general trash in the conference facility (and not separated off for recycling)

But now let’s flip it around. If instead of one full-day live in-person event, you had four two-hour sessions, each a week apart. What happens then?

Instead of consuming massive quantities of jet fuel and spewing carbon into the world, you’re consuming electrons, and not all that many of them. Even with high bandwidth, full color, and a processor-intensive interface like OpenSim or Second Life, the energy resources consumed and carbon generated are minimal (especially if your company has actively eco-friendly programs in place, such a supplying your computers with solar- or wind-generated electricity, carbon offsets, or at least Energy Star equipment).

Time consumed by the meeting is only the time actually spent in the meeting—nothing wasted for travel time.

Attenders have time to recover from each session, work with the material, try out the product, and think of questions between sessions, so they are more focused and able to absorb more.

Chat and bulletin board features let attenders explore collaboratively even across great distances.

Handouts can be distributed electronically, and many cases will never need to be printed.

People who weren’t able to attend can run through replays of the trainings, on their own time, when it’s convenient.

And meeting managers can get “corporate karma points” for helping the organization meet its green goals while saving employee time and money—how cool is that?

Does this mean you should never have an in-person meeting? Not at all. There are a number of benefits to meeting in person that nobody’s figured out how to do over the Internet so far. But it does mean that before you plan an in-person meeting, you should ask yourself (and your colleagues) if the goal could be accomplished more easily, cheaply, and “greenly” in the virtual world.

shel@principledprofit.com'

Shel Horowitz

Shel Horowitz of GreenAndProfitable.com is a green marketing consultant, columnist, and multiple-award-wining author. His eighth book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (Wiley, 2010, co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson) shows businesses many ways to not only go deliciously and deeply green—but also harness the marketing benefits of those commitments and turn them into revenues and profits.

  • I definitely agree with the author on the advantage of virtual meetings, but I question the suitability of the (current) SL and OpenSim platforms.

    Both are still too difficult to learn for typical business user who only need to attend meetings remotely and do not use the system in their free time. SL and OpenSim don't have efficient native tools to co-work on documents (in most business meetings you have to show others a Word or Excel document at some point, and make changes on-the-fly). Also, and this is an important point, in a meeting I am not interested in seeing funny avatars (if anything, I find them distracting): I want to see the face of the persons I am talking to, and this means integrating multi-user videoconferencing in online meeting platforms.

    Systems like Teleplace have all these important features one click away, work operationally, and are much easier to learn than SL or OpenSim.

    Of course all these features needed for online meetings can be, and often have been, implemented in SL or OpenSim. I have given up on SL, but I follow OpenSim and HyperGrid developments with great interest. I will recommend OpenSim for online meeting when it will have: voice that works well; multi-user videoconferencing at the push of a button; options to quickly and easily import office documents and co-edit them on the fly.

  • Shel Horowitz

    Giulio, I totally agree that the choice of platform has to suit the need. If you're editing documents on the fly, I believe there are webinar formats that allow editing via GoogleDocs, or one could simply run GoogleDocs in a browser while using one of the virtual worlds.

    It's also true that both virtual worlds and webinars suffer sometimes from technical problems. All technologies go through growing pains. I've noticed that audio-only teleseminars seem a lot more stable than they did even two years ago, and POD book technology has reached the point where only a true expert can tell the product apart from a traditional offset-printed book. Virtual world and webinar tools will also evolve.

  • Shel, editing via Google Docs is a good option. A few months ago I put together some quick demos of how to implement videoconferencing and co-editing via Google Docs in SL:
    http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/2010/06/video-simple-videoconferencing-demo-in.html
    http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/2010/06/videoconferencing-and-realtime.html

    I am sure this can be easily implemented in OpenSim as well. However, the process involves external services and its set-up, though quite easy, is not one-click. At this moment, I prefer the very easy, operational implementation in Teleplace. Take a look at the video examples from our teleXLR8 talks, recently covered by HG Business:
    http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2010/10/telexlr8-wants-to-be-the-ted-for-virtual-worlds/

    In general, I think virtual meetings technologies have just passed the tipping point of critical performance and usability. As you say, just like e-book technologies, and I think we will see a rapid adoption of both.