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That’s all, folks!

Well, the “How Green” project and the JISC Greening ICT programme have now finished and we all have to move on to other things. Even the Welsh Video Network, which managed the project has had to re-size and change with the times. So its time to write the final blog for this site.

I was asked recently to summarise the outcomes of the project in a brief and concise way and I produced this summary.

The JISC Greening ICT Programme Project ‘How Green Was My Videoconference?’ drew the following conclusions:

  • Non-users of videoconferencing are unlikely to become users without help and support
  • Videoconferencing needs to be managed, nurtured and pro-actively supported for there to be widespread take-up
  • It can save up to 25% of business travel for an educational organisation
  • It can save staff time and travel costs, leading to greater efficiency and productivity
  • It benefits individuals by giving them more time, more immediate access to people, less stress, and a better work/life balance
  • It can be an enabler for equality, giving equal access to meetings and events
  • Videoconferencing is a green technology whose use has a positive impact on carbon emissions… unless it is purchased and deployed, but never used
  • Large videoconferencing studios have a lifecycle carbon footprint of 2,682kg CO2 over five years life: cancelled out by 131 miles car travel replacement per month
  • Minimal installations have a lifecycle carbon footprint of 202kg: cancelled out by 10 miles car travel replacement per month
  • Education (and the rest of the public sector) would make more efficient use of the public purse if there were a national strategy and framework of support for videoconferencing.[1]

The premise: By replacing travel, videoconferencing is acknowledged to be a means of saving money and time. It is also seen and marketed as a ‘Green’ technology because of the Greenhouse gas emissions that are saved by not travelling. But there appeared to be little empirical and objective justification for this assumption. The production of the materials used to make the equipment; its manufacture, transportation and distribution: all have a carbon footprint. The support of the equipment and the production and distribution of the electricity used to power it also contribute to the carbon embedded in the equipment’s use.  The project sought to establish the carbon costs of travel and therefore the savings made by not travelling; and to evaluate these against the carbon costs of the equipment’s deployment and use.

What we did… the project sought information from the manufacturers regarding the carbon footprint of the manufacture and use of the equipment, but there appears to have been very little work done on this by the manufacturers. In the absence of this information, an informal carbon footprint assessment was made of a large highly specified teaching studio (based on a studio design used in Welsh schools, colleges and universities and supported by the Welsh Video Network). An assessment was also made of a ‘compact’ or minimal installation (screen, microphone. speakers, VC equipment and camera). Power consumption of a variety of equipment was measured. We also pro-actively targeted individuals and groups who could replace travel by videoconferencing and assessed their experience.

Usage is critical… The more the financial investment in videoconferencing equipment is made to sweat, then the quicker the financial return on investment. Similarly, the more the service is used to replace travel, the quicker the carbon investment embodied in the equipment is realised. So the key to greening videoconferencing is to maximise its use. This is best achieved by benchmarking the current situation and then having a strategy in place that can offer pro-active support and encouragement to potential users


[1] All figures here are approximate, based on DEFRA CO2 eq guidelines. Average petrol car. For assumptions see project report.

This is the project in a very small nutshell. For far more detail, reports, analysis, briefing papers and case studies see www.wvn.ac.uk/greenict. For videos see www.youtube.com/greenvideoconference

For tweets (not only about this, but generally related stuff): @gardeninggeoff

Thank you and goodnight!

 

Oxo advert demonstrates videoconferencing is normal

Hi. Long time, no blog.

The JISC Greening ICT project “How Green was My Videoconference?” is now officially over and all the results can be found at www.wvn.ac.uk/greenict. This includes the final report which gives the figures you need to make a reasonable estimate of how much travel you need to do to ‘pay’ for the carbon cost of your videoconferencing equipment. Its not that far, although for larger installations it is probably further than you think. I’ll blog on all that in the near future.

In the mean time you may have seen the new OXO advert? The one where dad is advising his son on cooking a nice meal for his new girlfiend? if not – have a quick look (disclaimer: other cubes and tubes of edible stuff are available). You can find it here. the point of the advert is that it carries on the old “Oxo family” which has been going for ages and brings it up to date, and the product itself has also been re-invented: with a new squeezy version that dad hadn’t even seen before! Dad: “In a tube?” Son: “It’s Squeezy – keep up dad.” According to http://tv.uk.msn.com/features/oxo-family-returns-to-tv-screens Director of grocery brands at Premier Foods, Mark Tyldesley, said: “Because the OXO TV family were so well-loved, we wanted to bring back a piece of the brand’s iconic heritage but at the same time update it to reflect family life today.” So this is a modern family doing their modern family thing. What is not mentioned – but just taken for granted as part of modern family life – is the fact that Dad is videoconferencing to Son. OK, the joke is that he doesn’t quite seem to have realised that the girlfriend can also hear him when he comments on her, but the point is they are using the technology as an everday part of their activities together – no-one comments or bats an eyelid.

I watched the advert the first couple of times and thought little of it myself, until I received an email from an old colleague, John Buckett, who I used to work with on the “Videoconferencing over the Internet” research (yes, research) project back in the last century. We had to research the possibility of a JANET-wide videoconferencing service because (don’t laugh) we didn’t know if it was feasible back then. Here is some of John’s email:

I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Oxo advert on the TV in the last couple of weeks… but in brief, it shows a son in the kitchen talking to his father on a videolink, whilst he’s cooking a meal for his new girlfriend.  Made me sit up and take notice, simply because I reckon that it’s a sign that videoconferencing has finally made it into the mainstream of UK society – if it can be a key element of an advert on prime-time TV and not need any special explanations or signposting for a general audience (in the same way that a mobile phone hasn’t needed a special explanation since the 80s, say), then it’s finally arrived very firmly in the general consciousness….  Made me feel quite nostalgic for the stuff we were involved with in the 90s…  Nice to think that some of the concepts that we were working on them (to a certain degree of scepticism on occasions, I seem to remember) have become part of the general framework of society.

Back then people used to talk of videoconferencing reaching a ‘tipping point– a point where it became ubiquitous and no longer exceptional but virtually expected – in the same way that I expect you to have a mobile phone number and an email address. A lot of this is thanks to Skype – to many people Skype is videoconferencing. But Google, IM and all the others have all taken their part. We have now reached the point where most laptops have cameras and videoconferencing can (and is) be done on the move, from a bar, or a cafe. In my now distant youth this was the stuff of Science Fiction – I first came across mobile videoconferencing when watching the puppet action series “Thunderbirds” – and now it is a reality.

Do others agree that to videoconference is just normal, I wonder? it’s fast becoming passé !!

[Note for those under 50: forthe  Thunderbirds Tracey family using VC check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJyiCOSe0WU&feature=fvsr – from 3mins and 30 seconds in.]

Time Travel with Videoconferencing – The User Perspective

I have just been reading a White Paper from a top videoconferencing company called “The Top Five Benefits of Videoconferencing”. These are, apparently,   (in order) Reduced Travel Costs; Increased productivity; Improved hiring and retention; Sustained competitive advantage, Support for environmental initiatives. This is obviously marketing aimed at management – the people who control the purse strings and make purchasing and equipment investment decisions.

For me, this is a problem with the way that videoconference is brought to the public’s eyes in general. This is a particularly bad example of management-gobbledygook, but the perception of “benefits” is nearly always seen from the point of view of the organisation-  “What are the benefits for your organisation”.? and not the individual using the equipment.

This serves to obscure the benfits to the actual user – who is, more often than not, a person who is not accountable for return on investment, staff productivity or sustained competitive advantage, and frankly, doesn’t care much about them either. The user of the equipment is far more likely to be a person like most workers these days, struggling to get along, juggling home life and work life, and at work, fighting to get everything done in the eight hour day.

What are the top five benefits of videoconferencing from this person’s point of view? I would say the most important of these is Time Travel. By this I mean the bending of the time-space continuum whereby the travel time to a meeting with a colleague a hundred miles away becomes the few minutes to the VC room, rather than the few hours down a railway or a road. Better still, that few minutes walk can enable them to be with a number of colleagues at various locations simultaneously – Time Travel!

This has all sorts of impacts on the users lives: they do not have to get up early and sort out their families, walk the dog, park the kids, and then drive like madmen because they are late. If they forgot something – or think of something during the meeting – they can pop to the office and get it during the meeting.

It often means they can justify attending the meeting at all, whereas without the Time Travel they would just not have gone, due to other pressures and deadlines; they are able to go now, and it only takes the time alloted to the meeting – then they can get on with all that other stuff.

Why don’t marketing bods concentrate on the benefits for the users? They should be trying to get the ‘nag’ factor from the workers directed at managers: “Why haven’t we got videoconferencing?” rather than from the top down “You will use videoconferencing”.

The top five benefits should be:

  • a better work/home balance (no more evenings spent driving miles home and missing the kids bedtimes);
  • less stress – a day out of the office can be relaxing, but often is the opposite;
  • better time management – less time spent travelling means more time to do other stuff
  • actually being able to attend rather than ducking out because of time or cost pressures;
  • equality – have the same access to meetings, experts and events where ever you live and work.

…oh, and feeling good that you have saved all those CO2 emissions too!

The V Factor Presentations and videos

The V factor seems a long time ago already, but the day appeared to go well, and we now have all of the presentations available on the WVN website. The event was attended by 66 delegates, distributed around four different videoconference studios around Wales, and  up to 25 of those  delegates watched the stream at different times during the day from the comfort of their own homes and offices.

Chris Cowburn of HEFCW kicked the day off with information regarding the funding framework and the carbon reduction tragets that are being introduced for HE institutions in Wales. He also gave some interesting and useful information regarding HEFCW’s own use of videoconferencing.

Then Coleg Llandrillo gave us information on how they have become the biggest educational users of videoconferencing in the UK (by some way) in support of distance learning and managerial meetings.

I introduced three colleagues from Aberyswyth Univesity who gave some ‘user perspectives’ of videoconferencing, and revealed what they liked and what they didn’t like about the medium. Two of the speakers were new users and so they gave an interesting perspective on the experience. Overall their comments were positive and in favour of replacing travel with videoconferencing.

After lunch each location had a local discussion which considered the  following questions:

1.  What opportunities do you see for more videoconferencing  at your institution?

2.  What are the barriers preventing more use of videoconferencing, and how can they be overcome?

3.  How could sector bodies, projects and organisations support and encourage the use of videoconferencing?

4.  What would make you more likely to use videoconferencing?

5.  Should/does your organisation have a formal policy on videoconferencing?

6.  What should/does such a formal videoconferencing policy say?

Overall it was felt that there is more opportunity to videoconference and there is a need for further awareness raising and encouragement. One suggestion made was that research bids should include a ‘communication plan’ which explained about how projects would communicate with each other – this would encompass a travel plan and also a videoconferencing plan – perhaps funding bodies should insist on this in these times of public sector hardship? The question of incentivising use of VC was also discussed – there is an incentive to spend a day out of the office travelling to a meeting and having a free lunch, while renewing old contacts – its fun! How can we build in personal incentives to using VC rather than travelling?

The degree to which a policy should encourage or enforce the use of VC as an alternative to travel was also an area where differing opinions emerged. Some felt that staff should have to prove a need to travel, while others felt that this was draconian.

The last two sessions of the day showed useful examples of VC as an enabling technology (and carbon emissions saver) within the Welsh NHS, and also a consideration of just how green videoconferencing can be.

For another perspective on the event please see Paul Richardson’s blog:

http://blogs.rsc-wales.ac.uk/blog/2011/02/21/the-v-factor/

All presentations and videos of the day can be reviewed at:

http://www.wvn.ac.uk/vfactor/

The V Factor – 2nd February

Registrations have now closed for the event being held by videoconference between four locations – Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff. The presenters have been booked, the tea and coffee have been ordered. Looking forward to seeing an interesting mix of people from the public sector in Wales and the west of England. There are also many people regsitered to watch the stream, and there is still time to do that between now and Tuesday (public sector only I’m afraid).

The full programme for the day can be accesssed at: http://www.wvn.ac.uk/vfactorreg.htm

Will blog a report after the event, with links to archives of the speakers.

Carbon Calculators

Currently working on a report on some of the carbon calculators out there on the web. They do vary a lot in quality and accuracy. Nearly finished the report, but in the mean time here are the most useful links found thus far:

1. Get all the info on your car’s carbon footprint at: http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/

2. get all the conversion data for calculating and reporting carbon emissions at:
http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/reporting/pdf/20090928-guidelines-ghg-conversion-factors.pdf

3. See the simplest and easiest calcualtor for car journey financial and CO2 costs at:
http://users.aber.ac.uk/auj/fuel.php

Videos posted on How Green? web site

What works in videoconferencing? What motivates people to use videoconferencing? How to manage a large videoconference? How and when to install a videoconferencing facility that gets used?

These subjects and more are tackled by Fran Disbury and Kate Wright of Aberyswyth University – both seasoned videoconferencers – in the videos that have been recently posted on the “How Green Was My Videoconference?” website: http://www.wvn.ac.uk/greenict . Look for the link to videos, or watch them on youtube.

Geraint Davies, who has years of experience supporting videoconferencing also made a short video about a new boardroom VC facility that is heavily used by managers at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. All of these videos are full fo hints and tips regarding deploying and using videoconferencing. Find this video at the same locations.

Identifying Suitable Case Studies

Why do we like to actually be in the same physical space as the other people when we have a meeting with them? Can a meeting be more successful or focussed if it is by videoconference? Is brain-storming more suitable to a ‘real’ meeting? What about a job interview? What actually ‘works’ in videoconferencing and what doesn’t work as well? Do we enjoy a day out of the office, collecting our thoughts while travelling perhaps, and embedding our professional relationships with people whilst chatting over sandwiches and profiteroles?

These are the kinds of questions that this project is trying to tackle. This should help us identify those types of activities that can more easily be replaced by videoconferences, and thus reduce travel costs (in  energy,  time and money). As the project progresses it is planned to build up case studies of “before, during and after” as different groups transition from not using videoconferencing to using it for some of their meetings and – hopefully –  integrating it into the working practices of the group.

This project will beseeking to identify suitable distributed groups in Wales that currently meet by travelling to a single point some where in Wales and holding an actual meeting, and trying to help them transition to holding at least some of those meetings by videoconference. One such group is the Welsh Higher Education  Staff development network, who meet either in Cardiff or Aberystwyth.  I met with the group in May and discussed the possibilities with them.

They meet a few times a year and the meeting in Aberyswyth was typical. People had travelled from Bangor, Lampeter, Pontypridd, Cardiff and Swansea in cars to the meeting. This had resulted in round trips totalling 807 miles and releasing 238kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. This group is not unusual and there are many groups that meet up around Wales during the year, with people driving from the main towns and cities. If they all just held one meeting by videoconference it would save so much time and money – let alone CO2! These meetings also generate expenses claims for food and drink, and even cause people to have to stay away from home overnight!

I gave the group a presentation and the group kindly agreed to test out holding some of their meetings by videoconference. I talked to two of the group regarding their anticipation of the pros and cons of using videoconferencing and the interview can be seen at youtube.

Recent Activities

Recent Activities

Went to Sustainability Live! at the NEC. A great show, it seems the Green economy boom has arrived. We were mainly interested in the NEMEX (The National Energy Management exhibition) and ET (Environmental Technology) strands but it was all good stuff. There were lots and lots of energy monitoring solutions to check out, and some neat Green ideas. Discovered a new range of Trade Show Freebies too – a wooden USB stick, a biodegradeable biro and a mini-wind-up torch.

Have also attended a number of meetings recently. Firstly, a project meeting Rob Bristow, JISC programme manager of the Greening ICT programme – we discussed the project plans and the main deliverables, aims and objectives. Very helpful in focussing our activities. Rob emphasised the need for us to work closely with related projects on the  programme, and last week we had a meeting with Peter James, who is managing a closely related JISC project which is promoting videoconferencing. We plan to work closely with Peter and his colleagues over the coming months and we had a useful and productive meeting.

That was closely followed by a meeting with Peter and others from JANET-UK and the JANET Videoconferencing Service regarding  extracting data from the booking service in order to offer feedback to JVCS Booking Service users on the Greenhouse gases they have saved by not travelling. There are various difficulties in calculating distances when there is more than two sites involved, and so some assumptions might need to be made – which is one of the issues that this project is addressing.

Then a chat with a representative of Enistic Limited. We are looking for some equipment which will help us measure and log the consumption of electricity on a pre-socket basis. There is a requirements specification (reqs-spec-002.pdf ) for the equipment we need. Enistic’s products seem to tick most of the boxes, but we need to do some further investigation before purchasing anything at this stage. if anyone knows of anything else that meets our requirements let us know…

That was swiftly followed by a virtual visit to the JISC RSC-Wales Greener Learning  event in Cardiff. Attended by videoconference and was part of the Welsh Video Network stand at the conference exhibition. Had some useful and interesting chats with a number of the people attending. Three colleagues went in a car from Swansea and helped me by handing out flyers and contact sheets, but I reckon I saved 76.5kg of CO2 emissions if I have understood DEFRA’s guidelines correctly (cf. http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/reporting/pdf/conversion-factors.pdf ).

That’s just about my weight in carbon! scary.

Instead this is the view I got:

rsc-day.jpg

Thanks to Stuart, Alison and Joanne for getting all those contacts and engaging with the exhibition visitors… and thanks to all those who filled out a Contact Form – we will be in touch soon…