Saturday, June 30, 2012

Go online - save lives

When you use online tools to manage your daily tasks, you may be saving someone's life. Sound a bit far-fetched? A bit surreal? A little like bluewash? Read on.

This week, I had the pleasure of facilitating a webinar on the subject of how everyday business and household activities can contribute to a low-carbon economy. The study that prompted the webinar was conducted by the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI), performed by John "Skip" Laitner of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and sponsored by some major telco's, including Verizon. The webinar was organized by and presented the findings of this study, the bottom line being that, if we fully utilize the potential of broadband to engage in a certain set of online activities (teleworking, downloading music and books, taking educational courses, reading news, receiving online bank statements and billing and using email), in just 6 countries (U.S., France, Germany, UK, Italy, Spain), we can save 2% of carbon emissions in these countries, enough to take 55 million cars off the road.  55 million cars. That's some collective impact.

In this post, I wanted to reflect a little on the ways in which our online behavior is changing. For many, the main motivation of going broadband may not be to save the planet, but this study shows that doing more online in order to save our own time, money and endless pressure to get things done, also conserves the planet's resources.

I would consider myself an early adopter of online technology - way back in the mid 1990's, before anyone had conceived of Facebook and Twitter and many of today's online tools, I used to play bridge online at Yahoo with people from all over the world. That was just for fun. Today, I use online tools for a million other tasks, business, personal and pleasure: conference calling via VOIP; downloading books to Kindle; managing my personal and business bank accounts; reading Sustainability Reports; delivering lectures to MBA students and companies; downloading software; connecting with friends via Facebook; blogging; tweeting; learning through webinars and courses and generally staying up to date with what's going in on in the world. I work from home more and more, instead of driving to the office, and my latest recruit to Beyond Business is a teleworker.  Broadband has certainly changed my life and enabled me to build my consulting practice as a global business, serving international clients, in a way which would never have been possible in the "old" pre-broadband world. I have a broadband lifestyle because it works for me. My motivation was not green. I suspect most of us have drifted into broadbandland for the same reasons. However, for those of us who also like to be green, this new study shows that we are making a powerful contribution to a low-carbon economy. And it's not just about our own actions. There is a broader, more global effect.

By utilizing broadband, we are funding the future growth of broadband technology. The increase in uptake of broadband enables the ongoing development of technology which will provide greater opportunity, greater choice and greater positive green effects in the future. How is this saving lives? Consider this (from Verizon's online Sustainability Report):

"Each year more than 200,000 people in the U.S. die of chronic diseases that are both treatable and preventable. Among the causes of these deaths is lack of ready access to medical care, because of such barriers as distance, geography, or simply the availability of doctors and nurses. Verizon is currently deploying and developing wireless services that will overcome these roadblocks, using the Verizon 4G LTE network, smartphones, tablets and advanced video technology to enable virtual visits between patients and health care providers."

This telehealth technology is transforming access to healthcare data and services, reliability of data and the speed at which life-saving information can be transmitted to the right healthcare professionals. As we do more on line, we are helping to make these solutions possible, going beyond green and addressing real social needs. This is just one example of the new potential of broadband technology. No wonder, then, that Verizon, in the Company's recent published online  Corporate Responsibility Report, Verizon first and foremost emphasizes the "Shared Success" of  building a "truer connection between business and real social needs".

Another social cause that Verizon has put its broadband weight behind is the issue of domestic violence. One in four women is affected by domestic violence, and Verizon's Hopeline which collects no-longer-used wireless phones, batteries and accessories in any condition from any service provider to donate to victims and survivors of domestic violence - so far, Verizon has collected more than 8.9 million mobile phones. This is in addition to raising awareness and supporting education to end domestic violence, including the "Telling Amy's Story" documentary, about a young woman killed by her abusive husband, funded by the Verizon Foundation. Take a look at the vid - none of us are unaffected by tragedies such as these. 

But the power of ICT to save lives and advance social causes is not the only aspect of corporate responsibility that we should expect from telco's. Behind all of this social and environmental impact, there is a large, complex business, employing, in Verizon's case, nearly 200,000 employees, which must control and manage its own direct operations in a responsible, accountable and transparent way.

Verizon's online report shows a commitment to environmental sustainability, and a clear set of performance progress updates and new goals in the format that Verizon has adopted in its reporting for the past few years: "What we said we'd do, what we did, what we'll do next". For example, Verizon's carbon-intensity goal reduction by 2020 is 50% versus a 2009 baseline, and this includes exceeding 2011 target with a 17.45% reduction from 2010. Other goals including increasing alternative-fueled vehicles as part of the Verizon fleet to 15% by 2015, achieving 250 Smart Buildings by 2015 and expanding the Verizon Green Team membership to 10,000 employees by end 2012 (6,000 members in 2011).  Verizon's key performance indicators and metrics in all areas of Corporate Responsibility performance demonstrate clear targets and achievements in all areas.

Clearly, telco's also have other serious responsibility issues to address, such as conflict minerals, digital safety, pricing and much more. They are not perfect, and positive impacts don't cancel out negative impacts. The negative impacts must still be addressed. However, facilitating this webinar on energy savings through greater use of broadband, and researching Verizon's programs and transparent sustainability performance, as well as chatting to Verizon's Director of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, Chris Lloyd, prompted me to think about my own lifestyle, and the broader impact of online activities.

It seems that, the more we do online, the more we contribute to a more equitable, safer, healthier, connected, transparent society, in an energy efficient way. We even have the potential to save lives. The chances are that if you are reading this post (online), then I am preaching to the converted, so thanks for bearing with me in my online ramblings.

I think it's time for me to go and place my online order for today's ice cream. I just hope they don't deliver it via broadband. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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