Project Drawdown defines telepresence as replacing flying for business meetings with telepresence technologies. This solution replaces airplane travel for business.
Air transportation represents around 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, at more than 700 million tons annually. A significant part of this is from business air travel: Air travel over 1500 kilometers has no practical alternative mode of transport. Since its introduction in the 1970s, telepresence has become an increasingly attractive tool for remote collaboration and business meetings, and is now an effective alternative to flying for business meetings.
Telepresence solutions include a variety of video systems, such as high-end immersive telepresence, multipurpose-room systems, desktop systems, videophones, and cloud-based software systems. The global market for such solutions grew from US$2.2 billion in 2010 to US$3.3 billion in 2014 (IHS/Infonetics, 2015), with a tendency to move from high-end hardware systems to cloud-based and software-centric systems. A survey conducted by Redshift Research (TMC, 2013) on more than 1200 business decision-makers has found that, as of 2013, videoconferencing was ranked as the third most preferred tool for business communication.
This study models several adoption scenarios over 2020–2050, and compares telepresence adoption with air travel.
Total Addressable Market
Using the passenger-kilometers avoided through videoconferencing as a functional measure, this analysis takes into account the global projections in air business travel to arrive at the total addressable market. Current adoption is based on the total number of active videoconferencing users using hardware-based (such as immersive videoconferencing rooms) and software-based installations (such as Skype or Zoom) worldwide. Future growth is projected by fitting Bass Diffusion curves to the 2050 adoption estimates from six sources, which estimate the percent of business air trips that may be replaced by telepresence.
Impacts of increased adoption of telepresence from 2020 to 2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios. These were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario, in which telepresence usage grows at the same rate as the business air travel market.
- Scenario 1: Using the average of the sources, adoption in 2050 is estimated at 16 percent of global air business travel.
- Scenario 2: Adoption in 2050 is aligned with the maximum of the sources: 30 percent of global air business travel.
Emissions from aviation are extensively studied, with data from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) used to ensure alignment with other solution models. Emissions from telepresence come mainly from grid usage (also weighted by system type) and indirect emissions from production.
Costs for adoption of telepresence were averaged by the market shares of each system type, including hardware-based and software-based systems. These costs were normalized for the estimated number of users each system type may have, and a learning rate of 15 percent was applied. This rate was based on the assumption that most of the installation costs would come from upgrading network connectivity to be able to provide the quality needed. The cost of a 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet LAN card was used as a proxy for this and, using price data from the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, we estimated the learning rate.
The conventional alternative of air travel has no first costs, but the operating costs were taken as the cost per passenger-kilometer of business travel. We estimated the average short-haul and long-haul trip distance based on data on the most popular business travel routes. These trip lengths were used to normalize the trip costs per passenger-kilometer. The operating cost for telepresence systems was estimated from broadband internet costs and maintenance.
Limited adjustments are required for integration, since this solution is relatively independent from the others, and seen as a higher priority than the Efficient Aviation solution. Total demand (i.e., passenger-kilometers avoided) did not exceed total non-urban travel predicted. The additional demand on the electricity grid resulting from the growth of telepresence was accounted for in the integrated total market for electricity. To avoid double-counting emissions benefits, the results presented for telepresence do not reflect the increasingly cleaner grid; instead, the additional emissions benefits are accounted for directly in the supply-side energy solutions.
Scenario 1 results in a 1 gigaton reduction in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions with US$1.2 trillion in operating savings for only US$104 billion in setup costs. In addition, our analysis indicates that replacing travel with telepresence can potentially save up to 107 billion hours of valuable employee time (lower productivity when traveling) that would otherwise be lost during this period. Scenario 2 shows an avoidance of 3.8 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions (and 143 billion fewer unproductive hours).
Implicit in our aggressive growth projections is the assumption that telepresence quality can be high enough to allow the kind of business interaction that face-to-face meetings allow. For very important meetings, subtle cues and communication are key; currently, much of this nonverbal communication is lost in videoconferencing. Virtual reality and augmented reality are technologies that can potentially improve the quality of electronic communication; with the rapid advances observed in the market, we believe that the kinds of adoption shown in this work are possible. However, they will require commitment from top management, resource support, and clear company policies on travel reduction. Considering that the financial results shown can be attractive to companies, even more so if the reduction in unproductive travel hours is included, investing in enterprise-wide videoconferencing solutions is one of the most cost-effective ways for companies to both cut carbon emissions and improve employee productivity.
 Current adoption is defined as the amount of functional demand supplied by the solution in 2018. This study uses 2014 as the base year.
 The Bass Diffusion model is a differential model of how new products get adopted into a population, and is commonly used for technology adoption.
 E.g., UK’s Committee on Climate Change and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
 Including ticket, ground transport, hotel, and per diem costs.
 The top short-haul was listed as Tokyo-Sapporo, and the top long-haul was listed as London-New York.
 All monetary values are presented in 2014 US$.