Recent research from a Harvard physicist has concluded that two Google searches generates the equivalent amount of CO2 as boiling the kettle for a cup of tea.
Although the figures are disputed by Google, this does raise some interesting issues about the impact of employee behaviour, an area that is often only touched upon by companies looking to lower their carbon emissions.
While it is important to understand the contribution of IT and buildings to carbon emissions, it is equally important to understand what your people are doing and how they could alter their work and travel patterns to become more carbon-efficient.
As this research suggests, understanding people’s travel and work patterns is a multi-faceted challenge. Among other things, businesses must understand how:
- IT managers, through their work patterns, may contribute to greater carbon emissions than necessary (e.g. by running software updates at night, thereby requiring computers to be left on 24/7)
- Responsibility for paying energy bills can create a “moral hazard” – e.g. if IT managers are not responsible for their energy consumption bills, they will not take energy consumption into account when deciding IT policies and purchasing new equipment
- Staff unwittingly use computers in a high-carbon emitting way – e.g. by performing more internet searches than necessary!
As the UK Carbon Reduction Commitment and EU 20-20-20 legislation come into effect, these details will become more and more of an issue to companies.
Quite simply in the current debate, there is far too much emphasis placed on equipment, and not enough on people’s behaviour and travel patterns.
This is an issue that businesses need to focus more upon, and is where we're channelling our efforts at BT. We aim to have 20 per cent of our employees, (22,000 people) engaged in doing something positive for the environment by 2012. Not only will this lower our impact on the environment, but it will help increase productivity in the long run too.