Wired Green: The realignment of sustainable ICT



Yi Xiang

Published — Monday 19 November 2012

Last update 19 November 2012 1:36 am

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The rapid economic development seen within the Gulf over recent years has been mirrored by a historic surge in more advanced ICT infrastructure connecting people and businesses across the region. The cost of powering these information highways has however, proven to be no small feat, with the ICT sector now emerging as one of the most important forefronts where a region-wide overhaul of sustainable and eco-friendly infrastructure can be realized.
The fact is that services like broadband Internet, office data management, and Web 2.0 tools constitute a massive amount of information exchange every minute of every day. In countries such as UAE & KSA, large-scale infrastructure deployments led by new fiber networks and wireless 4G technologies have further resulted in a deluge of information that threatens to submerge service providers and customers in the red. Energy costs are one of the primary feeders of this crimson tide. For businesses and consumers alike, these can result in more frequent network delays, higher prices for voice and data connectivity, and a greater environmental toll on local communities.
According to industry authorities, electricity consumption and carbon emissions related to ICT activities account for close to 6 percent and 2 percent of the aggregate worldwide. This becomes particularly worrisome as groups like the International Energy Agency have predicted a dramatic energy surge within the GCC, where demand for electrical power alone is expected to triple over the next 25 years.
Yet what decisions need to be taken today by service providers to reduce their networks’ power consumption and operating costs? What are the realistic benefits, and how can ICT be used to accrue savings in other sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, and so on?
The ICT Carbon Footprint
While ICTs can support local governments and businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, the responsibility of tech leaders goes far beyond the greening of other enterprises. The first step must start internally.
Global consultants Gartner have estimated that ICTs account for roughly 2 percent of all global carbon emissions, with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) echoing the contribution of ICTs to “climate change” at roughly 2 percent. Some of the main contributors within the sector’s portfolio include the energy requirements of ultra-fast servers, massive data centers, and telecom base stations needed for wireless communications. Complex telecommunication networks being rolled out today also require an “always on” system of PCs, equipment cooling devices, modems and ubiquitous mobile devices. It’s a lot of energy to say the least.
All of this translates to more storage and processing, which in turn means higher operating costs. The good news is that recent technology innovations allow local businesses from literally any vertical to make more efficient use of ICTs by doing more with less.
Vertical
Lessons
According to the report SMART 2020 published by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), ICTs will enable other sectors of the society to achieve significant emissions reductions over the next decade, helping businesses avoid an estimated 15 percent of predicted total global emissions - or five times ICT’s own footprint. Recent product updates have also led to declining energy consumption per ICT unit, with telecom operators alone now able to save more than 50 percent on their previous energy demand.
Regardless of the sector or size of the enterprise, we have seen three opportunities surge to the top of regional dialogue as priorities in making “green” networking a more viable business model:
Lifecycle
Management
The biggest challenge locally is that for governments and large corporations being squeezed for budget, non-green ICT options are still often the easiest and cheapest to deploy-initially. But new Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) tools are changing the game as cost saving can be tied to energy efficiency throughout the entire process of product planning, delivery and maintenance. In the Middle East such tools are still relatively young, but are quickly becoming more thorough and helping many organizations to identify and cap their biggest energy drains.
The Employees Challenge & Solution
All organizations are unique in how IT operations are managed within their existing infrastructure-there really is no one-size-fits-all model. With that said, many of those most successful in implementing sustainable ICT solutions have done so by involving their entire workforce around this call to action. A number of organizations today have done this successfully by setting up sustainability governance teams that work above IT support (and in alliance with procurement) in order to identify and sell “green” on the strategy level.
Continued Optimization
One of the issues most often faced in this region even after organizations go green is the comprehensive collection of data before and during the roll out of ICT solutions. Regulatory policies are often fragmented and disjointed, so companies often have little legal responsibilities in this area. The issue then comes when project managers are left empty handed when demonstrating how new green alternatives are a superior choice to legacy systems. While such reports are often not mandated, there are a host of new instruments tailored to the local environment that enterprises can use to monitor network stability, power consumption and system performance to ensure that solutions are not just established, but optimized for the long-term benefit of the organization.
Getting Down to Business
In a regional ICT market that analysts predict could be worth more than $ 170 billion by 2015, perhaps the “green gap” is that in addition to having the right mind set, applying the right technical solutions is equally important. Earlier this year Dr. Bilel Jamoussi, chief of the Study Groups Department at the ITU, noted awareness as “the biggest obstacle” to a genuine move toward sustainability in the ICT field. Being an enabler technology, the United Nations has further stressed that the ICT industry is ready to deliver energy savings in a way that also drives economic growth.

By further examining the relationship between ICTs and energy costs-especially on the country level-the industry will be able to take bolder corrective actions while continuing to reveal opportunities for those outside the sector to view “green” as a revenue source rather than just an environmental consideration.

— Yi Xiang is president of Huawei Middle East.

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