As of July 2008, Arizona's state government had prevented 760,773 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere this year, according to a "Green Meter" that measures the environmental benefit of using Web conferencing technology.
Fourteen Arizona state agencies now use Web conferencing software from iLinc Communications, and state CIO Chris Cummiskey wants to see more agencies license the product. The Green Meter, which is part of the iLinc software package, tracks savings from using Web conferencing instead of traveling to physical meetings.
Cummiskey said the meter helps demonstrate Web conferencing's value.
"A really important aspect of it is our ability to really be able to quantify what the benefit is," he said. "The Green Meter capability - coupled with what we can already compute in terms of miles that would otherwise be traveled or gas expenditures that are associated with people going to these meetings - as well as productivity loss with those travel hours, is significant."
The meter automatically calculates the potential environmental costs of having meeting attendees travel to a host's physical location.
"Green Meter detects through the IP [Internet protocol] locations of all those attendees who would travel to the host, and through a series of complex algorithms is able to measure and provide metrics of what the carbon emission output would be from the trip, as well as the fuel costs and fuel amounts associated with that trip," said Kathy Sacks, vice president of marketing for iLinc.
Sacks said the idea came from a lunch that iLinc CEO James Powers had with former Vice President Al Gore. Inspired by Gore's environmental efforts, Powers became determined to measure the environmental benefits of virtual meetings.
"We first launched Green Meter a little over a year ago, and since then across iLinc's customers, we're going to save almost 2 billion pounds of carbon emissions this year," Sacks said.
To calculate savings, Green Meter measures the following aspects of each meeting participant: mileage the participant would have traveled to the meeting; gallons of gas saved, at 25 miles per gallon; gas reimbursement savings, at 42 cents per gallon; travel time to meeting location, at 40 mph; and the cost of paying the employee for time traveled, at $25 per hour.
"[The benefit] is probably going to be underreported," said Ellen Bluestone Reilly, iLinc senior account executive and state government specialist. "We err on the side of being extremely conservative because the numbers are so good."
The meter assumes meeting attendees would drive for trips less than 200 miles and fly to more remote locations. "Based on the distance of those flights, it can determine the size of the jet that you'd be taking," Sacks said. "It's very intuitive because of what our developers have built into it."
Arizona has invested less than $300,000 into the product, Reilly said, and so far in 2008, the state saved more than $1.6 million according to Green Meter metrics.
"The idea for this came from the governor [Janet Napolitano] herself, who cast her Efficiency Review Steering Committee, which is composed of senior staff in her office, to basically go out and look for strategies that would help benefit the environment, reduce travel and provide another basket of benefits that are associated with this kind of technology for Web conferencing," Cummiskey said.
With the fiscal 2009 budgets completed, Cummiskey said Arizona is encouraging more agencies to free up resources and acquire licenses for the iLink software.
The Web conferencing tool is provided as a service, Sacks said. Users get a link to a conference room where they can use Web cameras, a chat function and voice and data applications. However, some organizations - particularly federal government users - choose to install a version of the software behind their firewall. iLinc cannot view accrued carbon dioxide and monetary savings for these users.
"We have end-to-end AES [advanced encryption standard] encryption that is the highest government level you can get," Reilly said. "So that means everything that is leaving my computer right now gets encrypted ... and then it doesn't get unencrypted until it hits your computer."
Cummiskey said iLinc hosts the majority of Arizona's users and the state is comfortable with the security.
"I think that in these times of tight budgets and increased sensitivity to the environment that Web conferencing, when done correctly, can really provide a strong benefit for state and local governments," Cummiskey said.