Daring to think BIG

If you are among the many British Columbians who care about the environment and are looking for a way you can contribute to its well-being, this post is for you.

Our guest blogger, Colleen Getz – evaluator for the previous phase of our distance mediation service – graciously shares here how she personally arrived at a decision that benefits the environment and how, similarly, your decision to use distance (technology-assisted) mediation, compared to face-to-face mediation, could make a BIG difference to the planet we live on.

 On a recent holiday, my husband and I luxuriated in leafing through the newspaper together and sipping our morning coffee while our two teenagers indulged in some extra sleep-in time.  We read the occasional article aloud, and traded sections of the paper, and even attempted the cryptic crossword.  What a treat to have the time to read the national rag from cover-to-cover!

That’s one of the reasons why our subsequent decision to join the masses and subscribe to the on-line version of our newspaper seemed so radical – at least, to us.  There are so many considerations.  Will sharing the paper on holidays or on a peaceful Saturday morning be quite the same experience?  Come to think of it, how will the two of us read it at the same time, since we have only one tablet computer (it’s just not the same reading it on a lap top or desk top)?  We think we are still supporting professional journalism, as we have bought an on-line subscription.  But how will our decision affect our paper carrier?  And how about the folks that run the printing presses?  Are we contributing to unemployment – even adding to the pressures that inch us toward a global recession?  Weren’t there terrible hardships for people when the economy shifted from cottage to machine industries in the 1800s?   

On the other hand, we supported our decision with the observation that we often didn’t have time to read the paper, or we would just read certain sections of it.  And we had begun to feel guilty about the volumes of paper used to produce reading material that would ultimately end up being pitched – albeit in the recycle bin.  We were also concerned that this particular paper was not being delivered on foot by one of our young neighbours trying to earn some pocket money.  Rather, it was delivered by a man who trundles loudly down our street in a car at 5:00 every morning.  Maybe our decision could contribute to a reduction in the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change!  Indeed, this last observation may be the most important of all the reasons supporting our move to an on-line news source.

So, here’s my real point:  Some of the same kinds of thinking could apply to a decision to use on-line methods in dispute resolution.  If you are thinking about choosing a mediator or other practitioner who uses on-line methods, are you wondering whether web/video-conferencing or teleconferencing will affect how well you can communicate with that person – and with the other person with whom you have a dispute?  Will the results be as good as they would be if you met face-to-face?  How will your decisions be recorded, and will all your discussions be kept confidential?  Does on-line dispute resolution contribute to unemployment?  Will you be able to forgo that expensive downtown parking in favour of meeting from the comfort of your own home, with slippers on your feet and your dog asleep on the floor beside you?  And, most relevant to this post, will your decision not to travel downtown to an in-person meeting ultimately contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases?

In fact, we have some evidence for the “green factor” in this setting – a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the use of information and communication technologies in dispute resolution, mediation in particular.  In the previous phase of Mediate BC’s distance family mediation service, an estimated 12.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions were thought to have been avoided in the 23 family cases mediated.  The mediation sessions in this service were conducted using technology rather than by meeting in person, which requires travel.  To put this in perspective, 12 metric tons is between 2 and 7 times the carbon dioxide an average person in British Columbia might emit in a full year of everyday living.  Alternatively, you can think of this as the volume of emissions that might be emitted from an average car driving about three quarters of the way around the earth.

Of course, a decision to use a distance mediation or other on-line dispute resolution service will be just one of many considerations in determining how best to get help with resolving your dispute.  But, when weighing the pros and cons, it is important to know that the green attributes of convening with the help of technology are very persuasive.  Even if travelling long distances isn’t involved, avoiding the emissions associated with just coming across town to meet together in person can be substantial.  Compound this with the travel undertaken by your lawyer, and perhaps other support people  – as well as that associated with the other person in your dispute – and the numbers add up exponentially.

As it turns out, whether it’s switching to an on-line news source or availing yourself of a distance mediation service, even the everyday decisions we make for ourselves can have huge consequences for all of us.  Certainly, it feels as though technology has brought us to the cusp of some major changes in the way we live and work – individually, and in society as a whole.  Doesn’t it give a whole new slant to that old adage “act locally, think globally”?!

Photo credit: “009” by Syncop8ted (CC license)

2 thoughts on “Daring to think BIG”

  1. HI Colleen, I really liked your article and like you I had thought that doing more stuff on line (ie Kindle to mitigate my book aquisition habit!) could make a difference. However I have heard from a number of reliable sources that the environmental cost of maintaining all the servers it takes to keep all this online stuff happening is huge, in terms of the energy used to maintain the servers, the energy required for “cooling” the sites where the servers are located etc. What I have yet to see is a comparison between the actual environmental costs of working on line vs doing the same work using other methods….and how to reduce the on-line enviro costs….that info must be out there somewhere one would think?

    1. Hello Jane,

      I know what you mean about the book acquisition habit … guilty, as charged!

      I too have struggled with the other side of the equation … the environmental cost of using technology. Actually, Professor Noam Ebner and I have recently co-authored a paper (soon to be published, we hope!) in which we talk about the “dark side” along with the eco-benefits of technology-use in dispute resolution. So far, the research suggests that the environmental cost is very small as compared with the costs incurred through traditional face-to-face methods of dispute resolution.

      If you are interested in exploring this further, you might want to look at the WWF’s “Outline for the First Global IT Strategy for CO2 Reductions” at http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/ict/. Also, Mike Berners-Lee, in his book “How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything” offers a very accessible breakdown of the CO2 associated with a large range of everyday items — including the tools used in on-line dispute resolution.


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