Reducing business travel also helps cut businesses' energy costs, not just its carbon emissions, notes Forrester analyst Mines. It's now possible to replace much travel with videoconferencing, he says, because that technology has come a long way in the last decade. Today's high-definition videoconferencing and telepresence systems create an immersive experience in which participants often quickly forget that they are not in the same room, let alone on the same continent.
Such systems are by no means cheap, often costing several hundred thousand dollars per room. But Mines says that some early adopters pay for those costs just by the savings in avoided airfare, hotel, and car costs. "Companies can break even from a cost perspective, and even realize some measurable gain," he says.
"Moving to videoconferencing or telepresence is an operational policy decision made by business leaders of a firm, but IT is the enabler, and it can do the arithmetic to develop the business case for why this practice will make sense for the business," Mines says.
Lower energy costs with "intelligent" building technology
Activities such as telework can indeed save energy costs, Gartner's Mingay says, but businesses will still need facilities for their people. "If you just displace people a few days a week, and they still have a desk at home and a desk in the office, then you don't save very much," he says.
What IT can help their companies do is reduce the energy used in their buildings when employees are not there. "True, it is better for the world if you stay home to work, but it is better for business if you stay home and don't heat, cool, and light your office at work," says Greg Turner, director of global offerings at Honeywell Building Solutions.
IT is well positioned to enable "intelligent" building technologies that turn off unneeded lights, air conditioning, and so on to save energy. "IT provides the network required to have pervasive sensing and control throughout the building, which can help a company achieve better energy performance," Turner says. "It wouldn't be realistic to install sensing equipment [just to save energy] if it weren't for the fact that IT already reaches out and connects all parts of the building, including warehouses and outbuildings, with wired and wireless infrastructure."
IT already has direct control of major energy-using devices: printers, copiers, multifunction devices, monitors, and desktop PCs. Even when this equipment goes into hibernation or energy-saving mode, it still consumes power. "IT, which has connectivity to almost all those devices, can reach across the building and turn off all the equipment, reducing the 'parasitic' load by 12 to 15 percent," Turner says. "IT can help tie this functionality to LDAP data. For instance, if no one in a department has logged on all day, no one is printing, and the printer doesn't need to be turned on."
[ See how IT can reinvent facilities management to boost corporate energy savings. ]