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Example of a Company (at&T) and Policy That Is Addressing an Externality

In: Business and Management

Submitted By JoannaP
Words 1030
Pages 5
By Joanna Poppink, Student of Principles of Sustainability, UCLA Extension
Joanna@poppink.com Los Angeles, CA

The company and policy I'm looking at is AT&T

Burning fossil fuels sends toxic emissions into the atmosphere which have a negative short or long term effect on humans (especially the vulnerable like infants, elderly, people with poor immune systems, pregnant women), animals, plants and more.

These externalities are living beings who have no role in decision making, production or involvement with the business procedures of AT&T. Some, humans, however, may use the services of AT&T. Problems AT&T creates through its business practices affect humans, however, whether they work for AT&T or not.

AT&T has set a sustainability program in motion designed to stop or seriously diminish activities that burn fossil fuel.
The company is leveraging its massive size believing that it can reduce negative environmental impacts by using network-delivered application and services.

In other words, the plan is to replace activities that have a high environmental impact with low-carbon activities and thus reduce harm to countless living systems who are affected by the toxins in the air and the growing greenhouse effect that is contributing to climate change that affects everyone and everything. This is being done by new programs and systems being introduced into the company nationwide.

Examples:
1. Relying more on telecommuting so rather than employees traveling to a once centralized information resource, the company building, employees, using broadband connections and collaborative software, can work from anywhere I believe the assumption is that they would work from home.

AT&T says that more is saved because the workplace can reduce office space and heating, cooling and lighting needs which also reduces emission and reduces costs.

Because employees are not driving or using public transportation they as individuals and the company as a whole, reduce the carbon footprint created by employees reporting to a central location.

However, AT&T doesn't factor in the increased costs to the employee who needs to supply the space, heating, cooling and lighting and increased electrical needs for his/her home work environment. AT&T does not factor in the change and possible disruption of family routines and systems when the employee works at home.

Working at home may impact the employee's neighbors and vice versa. A musician may practice the drums during the day or young children may play with much noise next door while the employee is working and needs quiet. Soundproofing a home office is an expense which may not be considered. If it is considered, the cost would add to the cost of AT&T's telecommuting design. Construction costs would add to the carbon footprint.

Plus, the employee may agree to telecommuting because he/she wants to keep her job. She may have to find a coffee shop or library, etc., that supplies her with the internet connection she needs because her home cannot support a home office space. Perhaps ill people are being cared for at home. Perhaps someone has a daycare or babysitting or pet sitting business there. Perhaps her home is just too crowded.

What impact does AT&T sustainability changes have on the people affected by the employee's struggle to find a place from which to telecommute? Friends? More demands on libraries? Space and hook-up controversies at Starbucks? I can imagine a black market business on UCLA campus where people buy a password so non students can work from somewhere on campus.
Are these possibilities being considered? Many people could be affected by these changes in a positive or negative way.

2. Creating what AT&T calls "smart transportation"
Using telecom wireless and satellite communications to automate vehicle route planning is a methodology AT&T believes will reduce CO2 emissions by improving fleet-wide performance. This will reduce energy waste by reducing idling, improve maintenance, streamlining and making more efficient the actual travel routes and thereby reducing miles travelled and removing unnecessary vehicles.

AT&T doesn't describe the effect, positive or negative, these changes may make on local communities. For example, drivers stop for coffee and lunch. Will businesses offering these services suffer or benefit? How will new routes for AT&T vehicles effect the local people living and working on those routes?

3. Creating Smart grid systems,
AT&T is looking to reduce its energy consumption by being part of the Smart Grid. This is a plan to equip millions of energy-intensive devices like home appliances, with remote sensors. The sensors support two-way communications systems. Utility operators then can monitor remotely power demand to use for power demand management. The plan is designed to reduce consumption and improve efficiency in the process. The goal is to significantly impact power consumption and resulting CO2 emissions.

Is AT&T looking at the health issues associated with introducing more electromagnetic fields into home?
Studies in the effect of electromagnetic fields can bring a major health risk to humans, especially the human brain. See:

http://smartgridawareness.org/2013/04/09/electromagnetic-fields-and-health-risk/

Plus a psychological component exists here. People may feel invaded, watched, evaluated by unseen 24/7 observers. This may be an invasion of privacy. I wonder if such a system is vulnerable to corruption? And even if it isn't, the feeling that it might be would have a negative effect on millions of people.

So yes, I see AT&T taking responsibility for its role in furthering sustainability actions in our world and finding ways to make the chosen actions profitable to the business while seeking to negate influences on the environment and all the life the environment supports.
But I don't see information about looking at the effect the sustainability actions may have on the environment and all the life the environment supports. I know we can't think of everything. But I do think we, and AT&T, have to stretch the boundaries that enclose the decision making process.

I, for one, do not want an electromagnetic field producing device on my electric meter. I'd like to be efficient in electric use. But I don't want to suffer brain damage from such a device.

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