By Dawn Bushaus
Jun 18, 2008 12:00 AM
By some accounts, the information and communications technology industry already is responsible for 2% to 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and data centers alone are on track to outpace the airline industry in the next decade when it comes to polluting the Earth. These sobering statistics along with skyrocketing energy prices, mandatory calls for carbon footprint reduction in some countries and states, increasing public demand for corporate social responsibility, and a genuine desire to effect positive change in the environment are leading telecommunications service providers and their suppliers to start taking carbon reduction seriously.
Telcos in Canada, Europe and parts of Asia are ahead of their U.S. counterparts when it comes to implementing programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, mostly because of the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations’ agreement that requires participating countries to reduce their emissions of CO2 and five other greenhouse gases to a collective average of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. Although more than 175 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. has refused because the agreement does not include binding goals for carbon reduction in developing nations such as China and India.
Bell Canada, BT, Nippon Telegraph & Telephone and other European telcos have calculated and published their carbon footprints and have set goals for reducing them. These companies have publicly reported their emissions in corporate social responsibility reports and through the Carbon Disclosure Project, an independent organization that requests carbon disclosures from the world’s largest companies.
In Japan, NTT is feeling the heat of the country’s push for carbon reduction. By some estimates, Japan needs to cut its CO2 emissions by an additional 36 million tons a year to meet its Kyoto targets. NTT was forced to delay the deployment of its next-generation network (NGN) until recently because much of the equipment the company was considering for deployment did not meet its energy efficiency goals, said Luc Ceuppens, senior director of marketing for Juniper Networks.
“For NTT, power efficiency has become one of the primary considerations because they have such stringent requirements from the Japanese government,” Ceuppens said. Juniper recently won a contract to supply equipment to NTT, and Ceuppens said he believes the energy efficiency of Juniper’s switches and routers helped close the deal.
NTT declined to comment on Ceuppen’s characterization of its NGN deployment but said in an e-mail statement that the company’s goals for preventing global warming include reducing CO2 emissions per subscriber by at least 35% (based on 1991 levels) by 2011.
In the U.S., Qwest and Verizon have publicly disclosed their carbon footprints, but AT&T and Sprint have not. Both AT&T and Sprint said they recently have completed assessments of their carbon emissions and are now working on reduction goals.
“Since December we have been undergoing an assessment of our activities, and we have estimated our carbon footprint,” said Charlene Lake, vice president of public affairs, citizenship and sustainability for AT&T. “We’re in the process now of getting expertise from outside to help us feel more comfortable that we’ve accurately measured our carbon footprint.”
As part of a commitment to going green, AT&T has invested about $14 million to take specific actions to improve efficiencies based on the results of comprehensive energy audits of the company’s highest energy-consuming facilities, Lake said. “As a result, we realized 42 million kilowatt hours of energy savings just last year, so we are expanding the audits,” she said.
Sprint expects to publish its carbon footprint and goals before the end of the year, said Amy Hargroves, manager of corporate social responsibility for Sprint. The company is participating in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders program, which, like the Carbon Disclosure Project, aims to help companies figure their carbon footprints and set goals for reducing them.
Sprint, which will be the first telecom carrier to complete the EPA Climate Leaders program, already has been working for several years to improve its impact on the environment, she added. For example, 75% of the energy used at Sprint’s 200-acre headquarters facility in Overland Park, Kan., is generated by wind. That makes Sprint the 15th-largest purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. and puts the company on the EPA’s Power Partners list.
“We have been very active in the environmental arena,” Hargroves said. “What’s new is that now we have a corporate team in place to orchestrate all of our efforts.”
One small U.S. telco is touting itself as North America’s first “carbon-neutral” carrier, meaning the company’s carbon footprint is zero. BetterWorld Telecom, which sells voice and data services to organizations and companies such as Greenpeace, Mercy Corps, Patagonia and Seventh Generation, has been providing service since 2003. The company is making its mission to set the bar high for telecom companies when it comes to CSR.
BetterWorld has created a paperless back office, and its internal systems are hosted in a wind-powered facility through hosting provider Sustainable Hosting. In addition, the company donates 3% of its revenue annually. “Our goal is to be donating $1 million a year by 2012,” said Matthew Bauer, president and co-founder of BetterWorld.
“Telecom companies are huge contributors to global warming, but as an industry, we’ve barely even gotten off the ground in terms of the green movement,” Bauer said. “The industry has really gotten very little scrutiny, which is surprising considering how powerful it is.”
Globally, BT gets credit for being one of the most aggressive in reducing its carbon footprint. The company’s 2006 CO2 footprint measurement in the United Kingdom was .64 million metric tons of carbon emissions — a reduction of 60% from its 1996 total of 1.6 million metric tons. BT has pledged an 80% reduction of its 1996 total by 2016.
BT has employed a variety of strategies to reduce its carbon footprint, including cutting travel and increasing telecommuting, increasing energy efficiency in power and lighting systems and in networking equipment, and using renewable sources of energy to power its facilities. In the U.K., nearly all of BT’s electricity now comes from renewable sources and combined heat and power plants.
Simply using conferencing and collaboration to replace travel and allow telecommuting saved BT nearly 100,000 metric tons of carbon in 2006, said Kevin Moss, head of corporate responsibility operations for BT. Today, almost 80% of BT’s work force works at home at least part of the time.
“It can cost you less to reduce carbon,” Moss said. “That’s why companies are getting serious about this.”
Indeed, telcos can save a lot of money by going green. With the cost of energy increasing exponentially, service providers are now faced with operational expenditures that are close if not equal to their capital expenditures. Simply cooling switches, routers and servers can cost millions.
“Communications companies spend about .8 to 1% of their revenue on energy,” said Laddie Suk, global partner for innovation and transformation solutions for BusinessEdge Solutions, a consulting company. “That may not sound like a lot, but for a large operator, this can be hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “Even a 10% cut in that is a significant savings.”
Telcos are just beginning to use software systems to do real-time monitoring and management of energy consumption in their facilities. Using element management systems to reduce air-cycle times in cooling systems, manage generators and monitor battery usage, for example, can save telcos 15% to 35% on energy costs, and it gives them a way to prove how much energy they’re consuming, Suk said. “Using these systems, telcos can calculate their carbon footprint in real time,” he said.
The ultimate goal for all companies is to become carbon-neutral, and the only way for most companies to achieve a zero footprint is through carbon offsets, which are essentially financial representations of a reduction in greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol allows carbon offsets as a way for countries or corporations to earn carbon credits that they can then trade in an open marketplace. This can encourage companies to go green because they can make money by selling their credits to other companies that may be struggling to comply with federal or state mandates. Carbon exchanges where companies can buy, sell and trade carbon credits are operating worldwide, although participation in many of them is still voluntary.
IBM is a charter member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary carbon trading system launched in 2003. “We joined to gain real experience with what a company needs to do to operate in a competitive environment where there is a cap on carbon,” said Edan Dionne, director of corporate environmental affairs for IBM. “There may be mandatory constraints down the road, so it’s important to be prepared.”
Many industry-watchers believe that even without implementing the Kyoto Protocol, mandatory carbon caps are imminent in the U.S. California already has enacted a law mandating that the state’s greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, and other states are considering similar measures. Federal legislation may not be far behind. The U.S. Senate was expected this month to begin considering a carbon cap-and-trade bill sponsored by U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.). The bill is not without opposition, but there is growing public support for lawmakers to do something about global warming.
“The presidential candidates on both sides are proposing some kind of carbon cap, and many people feel it is inevitable that we will have carbon constraints in place soon in the United States,” said Chris Lloyd, executive director of public policy and corporate responsibility for Verizon. “Quite frankly, the voluntary approach hasn’t worked, and one would think that there will have to be a mandatory program to force companies to change their behavior. We view that as a tremendous business opportunity.”
Verizon sees the overall drive by corporations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as a chance for telecom providers to sell services that will help conserve energy and reduce carbon output.
“If [information and communications technology] represents 2% of global emissions, you’ve got another 98% coming from non-ICT sectors and from each of us as citizens of the globe,” said Chris Kimm, vice president of sales and engineering for Verizon Business Premier Accounts. “We can help reduce that 98% by offering smart applications that facilitate energy efficiency.”
Kimm points to services such as collaboration, telepresence and electronic delivery of goods such as music and movies that would otherwise require packaging and shipping as examples of services telcos should be marketing as green. “ICT won’t reverse climate change; it’s no silver bullet,” Kimm said. “But it is a piece of the solution.”
Telecom carriers aren’t the only ones working on going green. Their suppliers also have been trying to calculate and reduce their own carbon footprints and come up with products that can help their customers do the same.
While estimates indicate that the combined ICT industry is responsible for about 2% of the world’s carbon emissions, telecom carriers are responsible for about .4%, said Susan Schramm, head of marketing for North America for Nokia Siemens Networks. “Of that .4%, radio base stations are the largest contributor to the problem,” she said.
In an effort to help telcos reduce CO2 emissions, NSN introduced its compact Flexi Base Station, which China Mobile Group Beijing is using in the National Olympic Stadium. “We’ve also announced a road map to reduce the energy use of a typical GSM base station to 650 watts by 2010, which is a 20% reduction over 2000 levels,” Schramm said. “We’ve pledged to reduce the energy use of CDMA base stations by 40%.”
Switching and routing vendors also are trying to show network operators how green their products can be. Nortel Networks, for example, offers its customers an energy efficiency calculator to compare its products with those of its chief rival, Cisco Systems. The calculator lets customers enter their requirements and variables such as location and then provides data on the energy consumption of comparable Cisco and Nortel equipment models. Nortel commissioned the Tolly Group to conduct independent tests to verify the results of its calculator.
“The calculator evolved out of a real-life scenario where a customer was running out of power from its local power grid,” said Rick Dipper, leader for corporate responsibility for Nortel. “They wanted to know how our equipment stacked up against what they were using in their network. As it turned out, they were using 50% more power than they would with a comparable Nortel product.”
Some vendors are pushing for telcos to demand a standardized method for comparing networking products based on their energy consumption. “We need an honest way to compare because right now it’s just done by comparing absolute power consumption, and that just doesn’t make sense,” Juniper’s Ceuppens said. “You also have to look at the features supported in each device because they affect the power consumption.”
Juniper would like to see carriers take the lead in developing a rating system for networking products similar to the EPA’s Energy Star system used to rate appliances. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a group started by Intel and Google, already has joined forces to develop Energy Star ratings for data center gear, and Ceuppens said he has approached these groups about extending the ratings to networking products.
“We didn’t get the necessary traction, so we are looking at getting an industry group together to debate this and figure out if we should do this through standards bodies or on our own,” Ceuppens said, adding that he hopes to begin conversations with service providers and other vendors at NXTcomm08.
Marc Benowitz, director and for Alcatel-Lucent, agrees that an apples-to-apples rating system for energy consumption is needed. The rating could be used to determine how many megabits per second, per watt a given piece of equipment is delivering — a kind of “miles per gallon” estimate for networking gear, he said.
Alcatel-Lucent is working with standards bodies such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and industry forums such as the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions to promote a common ground for energy metrics, Benowitz said. Establishing common metrics will help all equipment manufacturers move to the next level in innovation, which will be figuring out how to turn equipment on and off based on usage demands.
At NXTcomm08, test solution vendor Ixia will demonstrate a proof-of-concept system called IXGreen, which is aimed at testing energy efficiency for equipment in data and switching centers. The test solution works by assigning a “green index” value to gear based on the amount of power consumed and heat dissipated when it is stressed under various traffic loads, said Vic Alston, senior vice president of product development for Ixia.
The rising cost and relative scarcity of energy has carriers deeply concerned about energy efficiency, so much so that they all have begun including it as a requirement in their requests for information and requests for proposals.
All carriers are evaluating the cost of purchasing equipment versus the cost of powering it, and they’re making choices more frequently to replace depreciated equipment with more energy-efficient devices, said Verizon’s Kimm. “We’re all on the same path, and we’ve realized that space, power and cooling are not limitless resources, even if you are willing to spend any amount of money of them.”