How do you convene a large group of people to share and learn important information and interact socially without causing a negative impact on the environment? Green conferencing is not just possible, it's cost-effective and convenient, reducing a meeting's carbon footprint while maintaining a high-quality connection between group members.

Conventional conferences consume vast amounts of resources like water and fuel and produce plenty of waste in the form of paper goods, disposable dining products and food packaging. While these impacts can be lessened by arranging greener transportation, choosing reusable dining ware and going paper-free, the best way to make a conference greener is to hold a virtual meeting instead.

It's not just companies that are turning to green conferencing for financial and environmental benefits. Courts in many states have installed video conferencing software to interview witnesses and hand down judgments. The state of Pennsylvania expects to save $30 million over the next five years by using web conferences for its court hearings. The U.S. government has also announced plans to expand the use of web-based video conferencing in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Video conferencing with an executiveVirtual meetings on the web

Web conferencing is a highly effective greening strategy for businesses of all sizes. Communicating on the web can take the place of domestic business trips as well as large high-cost conferences, saving thousands of dollars in travel expenses, not to mention tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Person-to-person meetings can easily be held online using nothing more than a webcam and free video chat software like Skype or Windows Live Messenger. Web conferencing applications like GlobalMeet bring together video, audio, desktop sharing and presentations, giving participants the option to record the meeting to eliminate the need for taking notes.

Perhaps you need to assemble employees for training. Corporate e-learning allows real-time collaboration and virtual training sessions using learning management systems, instant messaging, games and animations. It can involve one-on-one support from knowledgable tutors and instructor-led group learning activities over the internet.

Green Videoconferencing
Nothing brings together a virtual meeting like video. Whether pre-taped or streamed live, video preserves the face-to-face element that can be so vital to a successful conference. Video meetings use desktop conferencing, small-group conferencing or large-group conferencing equipment to capture multiple participants wherever in the world they may be.

Video conference equipment

While built-in webcams may be enough for two-person meetings or casual conferences between colleagues, larger meetings require heftier equipment. Small businesses can use high-definition webcams in conjunction with monthly paid services like A+ Conferencing or Logitech's SightSpeed to allow unlimited video interactions for up to 50 people at a time. Video conferencing kits, which include cameras, microphones, remote controls, camera mounts and computer software, can take the quality up a notch.

For larger companies, broadcast-quality cameras can truly make it seem as if meeting participants are all in the same room. Professional cameras, multi-directional microphones and projection screens offer the sharpest video and sound, and can be set up permanently in a boardroom or rented at a local video conferencing space.

Another option for green conferencing is holding a virtual web event. Businesses can deliver online seminars through live video webcasts known as 'webinars'. Webinars are often complemented by the use of software that invites users to interact and collaborate with the broadcaster, such as Adobe Connect or PGi's iMeet.

Have more ideas about green conferencing? Leave us a note in the comments below.

Photos: Andersen Ross/Jupiterimages

Editor's note: PGi is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.