Can “Second Life” Erase Your Carbon Footprint?

A brief interruption to the photoblog for this environmental brainstorm.

First, from John Tierney’s NY Times-affliated blog, a statement of the problem:

The Daily Mail has gone after celebrities who preach against greenhouse emissions but travel by private jet, like Brad Pitt, Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. The British newspaper gives its full five-star “hippy-crite” rating to Mr. Pitt for narrating a documentary, “e2: The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious,” and also taking dozens of private-jet trips last year, including a quick day-trip from Chicago to Los Angeles and back so he could perform jury duty.

Tierney goes on to recommend that Pitt, et. al. wear a carbon-footprint monitor, but that’s only a partial solution, and one that the more environmentally-conscious don’t really need. At some level Pitt, Al Gore, Robert Kennedy, Jr. and other celebs have a pretty good idea of the environmental damage they are doing every time they take off in a private jet. They just rationalize it as important work that can’t be done any other way: More important than mere work or entertainment, which is why Coldplay and Madonna have to clutter up their concerts with speeches and didactic songs; more important than what any of the rest of us are doing, an attitude that gets in the way of their message in a way they never see.

The solution is right here. Stay home, and send your avatar into cyberspace to do your good works for you. According to the LA Times, corporations are beginning to use the virtual world:

Two years ago, companies such as American Apparel and footwear maker Adidas started filling Second Life with stores and buildings. The virtual world’s early inhabitants, who largely disdain anything with a corporate tinge, rebelled by launching terrorist attacks and starting gunfights in the shops. Faced with empty storefronts and ridicule, many companies pulled out.

Second LifeNow, other companies are carving out parts of Second Life as their own. They are creating employee-only islands and office buildings, then encouraging their staff to meet there. Compared with plane tickets and hotel bills, it’s pretty cheap: a 16-acre private island in Second Life costs $1,000 plus a $295 monthly maintenance fee.

And instead of staring at white walls during conference calls with strangers, employees can wander a virtual paradise and see representations of the co-workers they have never met.

Sun Microsystems, which makes computer servers and software, owns seven islands in Second Life, two of which are open to the public. The rest are used for training sessions and meetings. During its biggest event, a 12-hour corporate meeting held last month, 14 of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun’s top executives hobnobbed with hundreds of employees. Alpine skiing, car racing, live jazz and a sandbox were also part of the event.

At one point, Sun Chairman Scott McNealy, dressed in a San Jose Sharks hockey jersey and holding a golf club, sat in a virtual auditorium next to Chief Gaming Officer Chris Melissinos, who had a mascot for Sun’s Java software sitting on his shoulder (the mascot looks a bit like a penguin).

Hundreds of Sun avatars lounged in the audience, some wearing sneakers and jeans, others in business attire, asking questions about new products, Second Life and Sun’s competitive position. Thousands of other employees watched the virtual meeting on monitors in Sun’s offices in Santa Clara, New York and Tokyo.

If we can go to corporate retreats in Second Life, why not a Coldplay concert, or a movie premiere? Imagine the energy savings if what Sun is doing replace just 10 percent of the traveling we now do. Environmentalists should be leading the way here.

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