Internet geekery – your broadband connection is greener than you thought!

“We can all become geeks, gain personal benefit and make a positive impact.” – Elaine Cohen

Most of us have probably been accused of spending too much time on the internet – whether we are working, sending emails, updating Facebook or playing games. But what if our internet fixation gives us the power to work towards a greener planet and the time to make ourselves happier? Elaine Cohen explains the environmental and health benefits of using the internet to aid our daily tasks.

Greater exploitation of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) has the potential to save carbon emissions equivalent to taking 55 million cars off the road in the US and five European countries, according to a new study. Will we all become internet geeks? If we do, we could certainly benefit:

Improve Your Quality of Life
You work from home instead of going to the office (most of the time). You read your bank statements, newspapers and you write to your friends and family by email or you keep them informed via a Facebook or Twitter update. You download music and listen to it through your earphones, and you buy books online and read them on your screen. You upload all your photos to your computer or view them on your tablet or smartphone. You even take courses online and attend webinars to enrich your knowledge. Much of what you buy, you buy online.

And everything happens at the click of a mouse.

At the speed of light. Instantly.

You have become an internet geek.

The question: Is being an internet geek a good thing in terms of our quality of life and our impact on the environment?

The answer: Absolutely yes!

Does it turn us into dehumanised zombies, glued to a computer screen, devoid of contact with the real world?

Answer: Absolutely no!

In fact, Internet geeking actually frees up time for you to do more meaningful things, like invest in relationships and go for that long-overdue massage at the local spa. In today’s fast-paced, interconnected global village, online IS the real world. Internet geeking takes the drudgery out of a host of daily tasks (and costs) and releases us to live (afford) a better quality life. So said experts from the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI), Verizon Inc. and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) at a recent webinar hosted by CSRwire.

Online Activities Save Carbon Emissions
A new study conducted and published by GeSI, sponsored by Verizon, BT, Deutsche Telekom and Ericsson, titled Measuring the Energy Reduction Impact of Selected Broadband-Enabled Activities Within Households reveals that we can contribute to a reduction of energy consumption and resulting carbon emissions at the net rate of around two per cent of total national levels in the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. This is the equivalent of taking 55 million cars off the road. We can do this by greater uptake of eight online activities that were measured by the study:

1. Telecommuting
2. Use of the Internet as a primary news source
3. Downloading video/music
4. Online banking
5. Online auctions/purchases
6. Online education
7. Use of digital photography
8. Use of e-mail

Small Individual Actions Lead to Big Collective Impact
The GeSI study follows on from a larger study, Smart 2020, which demonstrated that ICT can enable a smart economy while offering the potential to cut global carbon emissions by as much as 15 per cent through direct efficiencies and the enablement of smarter ways of working across industries.

Where, for example, telecommuting was a challenging prospect some years ago, new technologies for broadband internet, real-time access to information and databases, messaging, conference calling, screen-sharing, file transfer, server sharing, video calling, texting and chatting are all making work more of “something you do, rather than somewhere you go”, according to Chris Lloyd, Executive Director of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility at Verizon.
In fact, Verizon, which operates the first and fastest nationwide 4G wireless network in the US, has 25,000 employees remotely connected at any given time, performing their jobs.

Could traditional offices and learning institutions become relics as we move towards a better-connected, greener world?
© David Castillo Dominici

The purpose of this new study was to examine and raise awareness of the collective benefits of greater behavioural change both at business level and at the level of individual, daily, habitual behaviours which require almost no investment other than the link to a broadband network and the willingness to make the shift.

While a few individuals giving up their daily newspaper may not sound dramatic, the accumulation of many online activities by many individuals makes a big collective difference. And there is a ripple effect: the greater the uptake of the technology, the more increasingly-efficient technologies will be developed to further advance the scope and energy-performance-efficiency of online options.

Similarly, making a start with one type of online activity builds familiarisation, which translates to a greater willingness to exploit more online opportunities. “The key thing we need to keep in mind is scale and increasing the uptake of these solutions. Accessibility, affordability and convenience are what consumers are looking for,” says Alice Valvodova, Executive Director of GeSI.

While a few individuals giving up their daily newspaper may not sound dramatic, the accumulation of many online activities by many individuals makes a big collective difference.

John “Skip” Laitner, a resource economist with ACEEE, who presented the findings of the study in the webinar, said, “I don’t think we have even begun to tap into the potential of teleworking. In the five EU countries we studied, there are 135 million people working and our estimates suggest that well under ten million are using teleworking options. There is clearly much more we can do”.

Driving Change
The information from this study should penetrate the policy-making bodies in national and local governments to drive investment in new infrastructure. One related initiative in which Verizon participates is called US-Ignite. “This is a public-private partnership run by the Obama administration and acts as a test-bed to see how greater ICT infrastructures can deliver social value across a wide variety of applications such as healthcare and education. It focuses on the nexus between high-speed broadband and building sustainable communities”, Chris Lloyd explained.

“It will connect a range of institutions using our fibre-optic service and become a laboratory for understanding how access to high-speed networks can create social value for communities by improving the quality of education and healthcare systems and by improving energy efficiency.”

Of course the role businesses must play is a more proactive one – and necessary. The vast potential of teleworking should be leveraged. There’s the ripple effect again. As employees learn how to telework, they also become more comfortable with online activities as an important component of overall modern lifestyles.

Become a Geek
But, a significant collective reduction in energy consumption is within our collective reach as individuals. We can all become Internet geeks – sustainable users – right now, by urging our employers to become more generous with teleworking opportunities. We can all become geeks, gain personal benefit and make a positive impact.

Writing as one who is pretty internet-geeky already, I am pleased to know that I am doing my bit to save the two per cent while contributing to a low-carbon planet.

This post is adapted from an article by Elaine Cohen on CSRWire. You can access the original here.


Elaine Cohen is a CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional and author of CSR for HR: A Necessary Partnership for Advancing Responsible Business Practices. Find out more about Cohen’s work via her website.

Buy CSR for HR direct from Greenleaf Publishing and receive a 30% discount off hardback and 10% off PDF eBook. Use voucher code csrhr222 at checkout.

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