What makes a carrier green?

ABI Research today released its rankings for "green" telecom carriers, rating major North American carriers based on how much they've invested in energy-saving IT technologies, internal telework initiatives and even recyclable mobile phones. ABI analyst Aditya Kaul spoke with Network World Senior Writer Brad Reed and discussed the metrics ABI used to create its ratings, which carriers fared best in the study and the benefits of green IT to consumers and businesses.

Top 12 green IT vendors

What is it that makes a carrier green?

We have listed a number of requirements for an operator to be green. This looks at both corporate social responsibility (CSR) green initiatives and green network infrastructure initiatives. As for CSR, we look at green vehicle fleets, green IT, green handsets, recycling, etc. As for network infrastructure, we look at things like use of alternative energy sources at cell sites, using innovative technologies to reduce energy consumption at cell sites, as well as how involved they are with their value chain to drive environmental standards and materials to be used; their openness to declare their carbon footprint and measure it; research and innovation budget dedicated to green networks or ecological initiatives; and so forth.

What sorts of technological investments does ABI rate as "green investments?" Particularly, what do you define as green network infrastructure?

We look at green from the telecom perspective across handsets, recycling Wi-Fi, network infrastructure and basically the complete value chain. Green to us means technologies that are used to reduce the impact of climate change. But more importantly, it turns out that green also means dollar savings for operators. For example, reduction in energy consumption at a cell site accounts for a reduction in operating expenses.

Green network infrastructure essentially means using technologies or methods to reduce energy consumption. The use of innovative technologies in base stations like lower power amplifiers, remote radio heads are good examples of green technologies; the use of alternative fuels for off-grid and on-grid site; use of green core network equipment such as super switches which aggregate switches into one unit saving energy; initiatives to reduce cell site power consumption including auxiliary site equipment. We also evaluate the amount of carbon reduction reported due to green mobile infrastructure initiatives.

The study says both AT&T and Sprint have distinguished themselves well as far as green investments go. Can you name some specific big-ticket investments they've made and how they’re projected to save them energy?

AT&T essentially wins on innovation and also in terms of green network infrastructure. They have paid attention to how much energy is being consumed in their network infrastructure, have defined new metrics to measure carbon emissions, have implemented programs such as the reduction of dual-networks which saved them 207,549 metric tons of CO2 emissions. They are also actively involved in smart grid projects across the United States, especially with initiatives targeting last-mile connectivity and two-way communication. AT&T also is doing work through its research facility at Bell Labs related to technologies that could save energy in the network.

On the other hand, Sprint leads in areas like green handsets with their Samsung Reclaim; recycling initiatives where they expect to recycle 90% of phones that it has sold by 2017; putting together initiatives to drive their supplier value chain to adopt greener practices; green IT initiatives including retiring servers, improving cooling efficiency of data centers, and recycling of e-waste. Sprint also has a clear strategy around educating the consumer, primarily driven through their green site. [Other initiatives include] recycling 50% of its operational waste; having 90% of suppliers complying with environmental standards; and securing 10% of its energy from renewable resources. Overall, the company expects to reduce carbon emissions by 15% by 2017.

But while Sprint's green message is overarching and built around educating the customer, it fails to provide details on how those goals will be met. The company's green message seems to lack in terms of the details of how they will achieve those goals, and falls behind in some critical areas such as green network infrastructure, where AT&T seems to have a better handle.

What do other carriers, such as say Verizon or Rogers, have to do to catch up? Do they have any green IT investments of note?

The other carriers are way behind on most of the criteria measured and only have limited programs such as handset recycling which could be considered as green. Although Verizon has some CSR initiatives like green IT, it loses out in terms of the breadth and depth of its green initiatives, which seem limited compared to competitors like Sprint and AT&T. The majority of carriers do not have an idea or any initiatives around reducing the energy consumption of their mobile network.

Finally, what benefits, if any, are there for consumers and businesses of carriers investing in green technology?

There is the ethical standpoint of aligning with an operator that is doing its best to reduce its carbon footprint and has a strategy around doing that. Being green is also good for shareholder value. I think for the consumer, the biggest advantage will be from the handset perspective in terms of recycling initiatives that the operator has, its goals around driving its supplier value chain to use environmentally friendly materials, etc. From the matrix perspective a lot of weight has been given to the network aspect of the operator as the mobile network makes up around 80% of the total energy consumption for an operator. Any savings that it can meet on the network costs, it can then pass onto the consumer.

This story, "What makes a carrier green?" was originally published by Network World.

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