A virtual sustainability summit, or three

Now here's an idea that makes sense: a follow up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December. Or, to be more accurate, a series of follow ups, none of which requires much travel. A company called G2Events is putting on a series of three online conferences which include exhibit booths, presentations (from organisations small and large), telepresence-basd panel discussions, meeting rooms and downloadable materials. Called Sustainability Virtual Summits, it is entirely digital – totally in keeping with its name,

Each event has specific focus areas in order to maximise the chance of a meaningful exchange of views. The first, in February, will concentrate on virtualisation and dematerialisation and how ICT can get its own act together (my words, not the organiser's). The second, in May, concentrates on smart motor systems and smart logistics. The third, in August, looks at smart buildings, smart grids and water and sanitation. Each event concentrates on the role of ICT in delivering sustainability benefits.

Why should we have mini-summits following the big one in Copenhagen? Well, to be blunt, you can only achieve so much at these big events. If the delegates agree on a post-Kyoto protocol and all get their pictures taken looking pleased with themselves, (preferably while standing next to Barack Obama) then that's about it. The real work takes place in all the organisations that are obliged to live up to the greenhouse gas promises that eventually get made.

The truth, though, is that we're in disarray. For example, last week I looked at ten different carbon calculators. They gave ten different results. (Choose one and stick with it if you want to monitor your progress.) But wouldn't it be better if we could all agree on some standards? This is one of the reasons these follow up events have been brought into existence. Participants get a chance to review and discuss these and many other sustainability-related issues.

Each 'conference' will be a day long, covering three time zones. After the initial three days, the live debate will continue for 30 days. After that, all the material from the whole event will be left online for a further 90 days. In theory, this could become a substantial resource for anyone seeking a genuine understanding of the issues around ICT and sustainability. It would be nice to think that some global understanding will emerge. If positions polarise, at least everyone can see what's going on and know where further effort needs to be applied. Hopefully a lot of bonding will take place among movers and shakers around the world.

The trick will be to get the right people to attend. As anyone who's visited Second Life will attest, that experience can be quite unpleasant. The virtual summits promise to be very different. They are photo-realistic for a start. A little bit of downloading takes place before you get into the conference so, presumably, a lot of  the rendering is done inside your own computer. A company called Design Reactor takes care of the technical aspects and, looking at some event work it did for Hewlett Packard, the omens are good. You can also see a dummy of the Sustainability Summit site here.

Although this is a commercial activity, its heart seems to be in the right place. It is independent. It has some good sponsoring organisations. Exhibitor booths don't cost very much. It's going for a smallish audience – around 5,000 quality visitors drawn from CSR/sustainability execs, c-level, data centre managers, supply chain, product development, finance and marketing. It seems like a good event to drop in on during the 30 day 'discussion period'. I'm guessing that this where the fun will begin. It's also where people with implementation experience will be able to contribute their insights.

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