Are the IT and telecoms industries contributing to climate change?

With the threat of global climate change spurred on by increased emissions, we face a difficult decision. The expansion of the IT and telecoms industries, vital with the wide scale adoption of remote work during the pandemic, has helped keep countless vehicles off the road. However, it has also demanded much more electricity, potentially increasing carbon emissions. But is the carbon footprint of these industries too large, or do the benefits of communication technology offset the costs?

Energy demand of the IT and telecoms industries

There are two sides to the environmental impact of the IT and telecoms industries: the energy needed to build and operate their infrastructure, and the energy needed to create and use the products that use their services. Smartphones come to mind: as wireless networks spread and more people gain access to mobile devices, demand has skyrocketed. These pocket computers require energy to manufacture and ship, as well as the end consumers’ power every time they charge them. The manufacturing of a single smartphone produces 55kg of carbon dioxide. Obviously, this adds up quickly.

The good news is that the IT and telecoms infrastructure itself does not have as large a carbon footprint. The 5G rollout may reduce energy demands as these new networks will be faster and therefore require less power. However, IT and telecoms systems still require a lot of power to operate the networks, and as demand increases, so will the energy requirements. But, as networks expand and more people communicate via virtual means, it is bound to increase. Telecoms executives have already predicted an increase of at least 2 percent usage over the next few years.

That said, the electricity consumption is not terribly high. The real cost in carbon emissions emerges from their supporting industries and the consumers who increasingly demand their services.

Breaking down carbon footprints

Telecoms providers generate a total of 128 million metric tons of CO2 per year. However, most of these carbon emissions come from their upstream (suppliers’) and downstream (consumers’) activities rather than their actual infrastructure and employee activities. More than half of their emissions come from the capital goods from their suppliers, while a third consists of their electricity and fossil fuel demands.

Many companies do want to reduce their impact as it actually serves their interests. Sourcing materials in a more sustainable way lowers their cost and allows them to operate more efficiently. Telecoms providers already use renewable energy to operate their facilities 11% more than their average markets and now that power purchase agreements (PPAs) are becoming more affordable, the obstacles to adopting renewable energy are fewer than ever.

Still, downstream energy consumption, i.e. that of the customers, still accounts for 15 percent of the providers’ total carbon footprint. To reduce these emissions, many IT and telecoms enterprises are encouraging their consumers to use renewable energy and recycle their devices whenever possible. Common incentives include limited free data or media access, discounts and reduced service rates, and free phone upgrades for solar customers and/or those who trade-in their old devices. However, the firms themselves may also profit from lower-emission services since the majority of consumers are willing to pay a bit more to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Energy benefits

Clearly, much of the burden to reduce the IT and telecoms industry’s carbon footprint will fall on its suppliers and consumers. By embracing a circular economy that prioritises recycling and sustainable production, people and businesses can encourage a more environmentally friendly grid. Only then will the upstream and downstream impacts be minimised.

However, the industry may provide the solution for this as well through the adoption of smart technology, which is now broadly available and affordable. By replacing outdated and energy-intensive systems, promoting energy-efficient buildings and on-demand electricity

usage, and reducing the production of physical goods (e.g. streaming instead of DVDs), telecoms services are actually offsetting 1.5 times the energy they require. Everything from sensor-based lighting to smart HVAC systems can significantly reduce this burden — and they’re all made possible by IT and telecoms services.

Conclusion: IT and telecoms can provide a solution to energy demand

Lowering emissions is always an admirable goal, and one that many businesses have indeed adopted. As we approach the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we see both new and renewed commitments from key industry players to reduce their carbon footprints. However, the industries also enable the adoption of technology that lowers energy consumption and unlocks new opportunities for their consumers. The mantra of ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ comes to the fore. Their energy solutions effectively outweigh their carbon emissions, which means businesses in the IT and telecoms industries are not only ripe for sustainable change, but also a means for other industry sectors and everyday consumers) to follow suit.

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We at Porrima would like to help you reduce the carbon footprint of your own business, as we have designed, developed, and implemented intelligent and sophisticated sales software solutions for telecoms and IT partners of different sizes, from small one-man bands to large businesses in partnership with the UK mobile networks. Our objective here at Porrima is to use our in-depth industry knowledge and technical programming experience to offer a unique product portfolio that will work for you. We want to help you increase your productivity, eliminate the threat of misquoting, free up your sales team, increase your profits and exceed your expectations. Porrima products are free to try, easy to set up and work seamlessly together. Please contact us here where one of our friendly team members can assist you and will respond to your request as soon as possible.

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