Carbon cop-out

Carbon cop-out

Leadership and behavioural change are the keys to cutting a company's carbon footprint.

A report on cutting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent by 2015 has been branded "a network solution looking for a problem". The report, Towards a High-Bandwidth, Low-Carbon Future: Telecommunications-based Opportunities to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, by analyst Climate Risk in conjunction with Telstra, claimed households would save $6.6 billion a year if its recommendations were adopted, and would contribute greatly to meeting Australia's obligations under the Kyoto protocol. Initiatives range from increased use of renewable energy such as solar panels to high-definition video-conferencing and decentralised business districts. More radical ideas include the use of mobile phone networks to facilitate a personalised transport system where mini-vans and buses avoid fixed routes.

However, IBRS analyst Dr Kevin McIsaac says: "Networking itself is not going to make a lot of difference. The link between using a network and changing behaviour that leads to a change is very tenuous."

In spite of the push for video-conferencing from communications equipment vendors and telecommunications companies, carbon benefits may not accrue without substantial "buy-in" and leadership, particular from senior executives who travel the most, McIsaac says. "The Telstra report is very blue sky. You can save money from video-conferencing but you have to start from the top."

McIsaac, who has authored a number of reports on environmentally sustainable information technology, suggests there are more controllable, demonstrable changes that companies can make without big behavioural shifts.

Desktop computers should be the most immediate focus of companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint, he says. Up to 40 per cent of a computer's power supply is lost to noise and heat. More efficient units are easier to implement than asking everyone to stop travelling.

Other actions such as replacing power-hungry cathode ray tube monitors with more efficient liquid crystal display units, as well as microprocessors that consume less power, are easy to achieve without disruption to business culture and work flow.

The report outlined seven opportunities to cut greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of two-thirds of Australian passenger vehicles. "Some of these carbon opportunities can be realised immediately; others are contingent on the rollout of a national fibre optic network to residential and commercial consumers" the report said.

However, it relies on substantial changes in behaviour and culture within Australian businesses to achieve the stated savings.

Telecommunications analyst Ovum says the biggest barrier to flexible working conditions is "narrow-minded middle-manager syndrome: The boss who insists that he/she has to be able to see their team to ensure they are all working".

"Large call centres are no longer really necessary," Ovum's telecoms strategy practice leader, ¿Mike Cransfield, says. "The Automobile Association in the United Kingdom has 700 call-centre agents who work from home."

Despite the ambitious solutions put forward in the report, it failed to outline more practical and easier-to-initiate changes business can do to achieve green outcomes - without having to embrace whole new ways of doing business.

"Beyond initial screening for viability, this report does not set out a business strategy or road map for commercially realising the carbon-opportunities identified," the authors said.

BRW, Fairfax Business Media

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Tags carbon footprintcarbon emission

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