I must admit my first reaction when I read about “Oresebyrån” (the Non-travel agency) was that I must have misread the text. Why start a travel agency of you don’t want people to travel? But the name is of course a very well chosen one, since the idea is to avoid travelling by using video and sound technology instead.
A health care meeting, the travel-free way. Photo: Bert-Ola Ekh.
Bengt Grahn, who is CEO at Oresebyrån, grew up in the province of Norrbotten, which actually covers a fourth of Sweden but is very sparsely populated. Here you might have to travel tens of kilometers to meet, dance, shop or go to school, so it was an ideal place to start convincing people that there are other ways of having business metings than transporting your body there.
According to Bengt Grahn it hasn’t always been easy, though. Changing human habits and a firmly rooted travel culture isn’t obvious. But travel-free meetings have become more common. At the Centre for Sustainable Communications, scientists are now trying to find out how to facilitate these kinds of meetings.
Obviously there are times when people cannot avoid travelling, or prefer meeting face to face. But there are also instances when a lot of waiting and transportation time could be avoided. According to the Swedish Transport Administration business trips stand for about 10 percent of the total travelling in Sweden. If more of those trips were substituted with virtual meetings, it could lead to reduced pollution, and also a better balance between work and private life.
For example the telecom company Telia Sonera reduced their business trips by flight with 56 percent between 2001 and 2007, and the travelling with different kinds of cars by 50 percent. At the same time the employees used phone conferences 200 percent more than before – and the company saved about 130 million Swedish kronor (more than 21 million USD) on travel-related costs.
At Effekt, the climate change and sustainability magazine I make with a group of colleagues, we have used this kind of technology a few times, when arranging seminars with interesting experts from the UK. Considering costs, time and emissions from having the person coming to Sweden, we have chosen to let him or her speak on a video link instead. Of course you can’t really compare it to having a person of flesh and blood standing in front of you, but I must say it’s not far from it. People could ask questions and discuss with the speaker, who could go right back to his kids after the seminar. Almost like teleportation.
Another one of Effekt's video seminars.