GreenTech Logo With rising fuel prices, the cost of travel is becoming more expensive as well as creating huge carbon costs to the environment. One 4,000 KM (2,500 mile) flight for one person emits one ton of CO2 — which is equivalent to 13% of a home's electricity use for one year. 

With these facts in mind, one of the most significant ways that computers can help the environment is to allow nonprofits to meet with each other online or in 'virtual meetings' so they don't need to get on an airplane or a train to meet in person. You can leverage computer technology to reduce your organization's travel costs and CO2 emissions.

What's the damage from all this travel? You can calculate the carbon cost of past or future flights with the Terrapass Carbon Footprint Calculator or the Climate Care/Lonely Planet Calculator to see how it all adds up. And the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator translates CO2 usage (in tons) to equivalencies like barrels of oil used or percentage of a home's electricity use for one year to give you an idea of just how much those cross-country flights cost your organization and the Earth.

So, how can virtual meetings help your organization lower costs and reduce environmental damage at the same time? Here's the deal:

Virtual meetings are live or "synchronous" interactive meetings in which each participant sits at their own computer and is connected to other participants via the Internet.

The software for virtual meeting can be either a downloaded application on each attendees' computer or a Web-based application where the attendees enter a URL to enter the conference. These can be anything from low-cost, purely Internet-based conferencing services like ReadyTalk  to more complex multimedia applications like Webex, which allow virtual workgroups to use the Internet to see each others' faces in small windows on their monitors and hear their voices on computer speakers, deliver presentations, edit files, and collaborate on whiteboards.

Some other options include free Web conferencing services. Some interesting ones are:
  • Vyew is a free browser-based Web conferencing application that does not require users to download any software. Vyew features a one-click screen and file sharing, whiteboarding, and a screen capturing tool enabling the user to reproduce their screen to share it with up to twenty Web conferencing participants. The service provides 10 Megs of storage space for up to twenty participants who can be reminded of their upcoming Web conference through email invitations.
  • Unyte is a Skype Certified, third party plug-in developed by WebDialogs, Inc. This Web conferencing service requires hosts and users to have a Skype account.
  • SHARE is a free Web conferencing application, in which the facilitator shares PowerPoint and PDF slideshows that have been uploaded onto Web pages. SHARE also converts Word and Excel files into PDF files for viewing when the meeting presenter uploads the files onto the Web site. There is no VoIP (voice) in SHARE, but the presenter can sign up for free "Enhanced Access" conference calling services and have everyone pay separate phone charges. In addition, the presenter can view the names of the participants on the left-hand side of the screen.
Here are some other TechSoup nonprofit virtual meeting resources:
There are many other options of software and Web-hosted conferencing services available, plus programs like Second Life, where "avatars" from organizations are meeting regularly in places like TechSoup's Nonprofit Commons. Explore the options that will work best for your organization — not only to lower your travel and fuel costs but to lower your carbon footprint too.