Saul Griffith--an MIT-trained scientist, MacArthur genius grant recipient and serial entrepreneur whose ventures include a kite for extracting power from atmospheric winds –discovered back in 2007 that he lived an 18,000 watt lifestyle.
That is to say, the energy required to put bottled drinks in his fridge, run his computers and get from point A to point B came to 18 kilowatts, or more than five times the global average of 2,400 watts. (The average American needs 11,400 watts.)
He dropped it to 2,291 watts. How? Things like eating local and cutting out mean send the energy required for food from 772 watts to 376. Socks? Gone. But the whopper savings came in transportation. Swapping out a car for an all-electric three-wheeled bike dropped local transportation from 1,500 watts to 258.
Few will volunteer for such a drastic lifestyle change, but the Spartan simplicity raises an intriguing point: an immense portion of our travel could likely be skipped. How many business trips will you go on this year that could have been handled by phone? If you’re off somewhere for Thanksgiving this month, think of the time you’ll spend sitting at the airport flipping through lifestyle magazines (“Nine Steps to Better Abs”) rather than doing something you’d enjoy.
Some companies already see stillness as a virtue. Cisco has aggressively adopted its own videoconferencing systems and whacked well over $100 million from its travel budget. Videoconferencing will grow to $4.7 billion by 2014.
But is society willing to give up, or even curb, one of its most cherished achievements: mobility. We’ve been on the move since walking out of the Rift Valley over 100,000 years ago. The European vacation, an exotic luxury in the 50s and 60s, is an annual occurrence for many families. Face-to-face meetings sometimes result in a level of trust that can’t be replicated over the phone.
To move or not to move? When you’re standing at the baggage carousel or rental car counter this holiday season, that is the question.