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Will video kill the business trip?

Emissions from air travel is thought to be one of the toughest nuts to cracks. Planes burn a lot of fuel, and airline travel is only becoming more popular as it becomes cheaper. So it was nice to see this analysis from John Quiggin suggesting that a 75% reduction in airline emissions is not only possible, but not overly burdensome. It is certainly possible to argue with Quiggin’s assumptions — the comment thread is actually quite informed and interesting — but the broad premise seems to hold up.

One thing that struck me: the comment thread devolves at one point into a fairly pointless back-and-forth over videoconferencing, with one camp holding the (inarguable) position that videoconferencing will never completely replace face-to-face meetings, and the other camp holding the (inarguable and also perfectly compatible) position that videoconferencing is getting a lot better and will become more popular as a result.

Indeed, videoconferencing is getting a lot better, at both the high end and the low end of the market. At the high end, you can holographically beam yourself on to a podium, or pay Cisco $300,000 to set up a virtual board room. 300 large is a lot of cash, but these systems supposedly can pay themselves back in executive travel time fairly quickly.

But I suspect the low end of the market — where I hang out — is going to be a lot more important to driving adoption. I videoconference several times a week. Start-up costs were about $40 for a webcam. The software (Skype) is free. How’s the quality, you ask? It pretty much sucks. Did I mention it’s free?

Free is a powerful business proposition. High bandwidth connections, speedy processors, and computers with built-in mikes and cameras are melting away the hardware barriers. Some enterprising software company is going to massage out the remaining software headaches.

For the price of a single plane ticket, your company can kit itself out pretty well with a multimedia workstation dedicated to videoconferencing (or send a comparable rig to a tech-phobic client). Give it a try. You’ll save some emissions and become the hero of the accounting department.

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