Last month, two billion people rocked the planet with Live Earth, the global concert event whose aim was to get people to think more seriously about global warming and, hopefully, to do something about it. Here in the telecoms sector, there'll be quite a bit of buzz over the 10 million video streams MSN generated during the event, and how the 21st century NGN infrastructure has to be robust enough to support the next global multimedia event, etc. What I'm hoping is that there'll also be at least some buzz on what telecoms companies are doing to help fight global warming.
NOTE: I realize the science of global warming is a political football for some people who think it's all some made-up liberal conspiracy to elect Al Gore or something. So let's clear the air here (so to speak): whatever you think about global warming, I think we can all agree that less air pollution is better than more air pollution, and it's also better PR. And between the popularity of An Inconvenient Truth and the afterglow of Live Earth, these things matter to customers more than ever.
Now, every company likes to promote themselves as being environmentally friendly. But ever since An Inconvenient Truth came out last year, a growing number of telecoms companies have been jumping on the global warming bandwagon and putting in their two cents on what they're doing to respect the environment and go green. That's not to say none of them gave a toss about global warming or the environment - but post-Live Earth, there's never been a better time to put out a press release or a blog post letting everyone know what you're doing to help save the planet.
Let the people know
The good news is that some efforts to go green predate the current global warming PR blitz. For several years now, product manufacturers have been looking for ways to reduce the level of toxic materials in electronics devices. According to Greenpeace, Lenovo, Nokia and Sony Ericsson get the highest marks for their green manufacturing efforts (though some manufacturers who didn't score well - like Apple - have complained about Greenpeace's methodology).
On the carrier side, well, it depends. Telstra CTO Hugh Bradlow mentioned on his blog in May that one way telecoms companies can fight global warming is by building NGN networks so powerful and efficient that we can make telecommuting convenient enough to reduce the need for fossil fuels. Which might be true, but arguably it doesn't count as a green initiative since Telstra was planning to build a powerful and efficient NGN network anyway. Notice also how it shifts the burden of responsibility to the end users to actually telecommute.
A more impressive example can be found in Japan, where global warming projects are largely government-driven. The telecoms sector there has been looking at ways to lower its carbon footprint since at least the late 1990s. Incumbent telco NTT Group has a global warming section in its annual report, and reveals the progress it's made in the last year via initiatives like setting thermostats higher in the summertime and using more energy-efficient vehicles for its company cars.
My favorite part is the bit describing NTT Communications' use of targeted air conditioning for its equipment racks. Working on the idea that heat generation is typically uneven, NTT Com installed a temperature monitoring system with rack-based sensors that makes it possible to detect where the most heat is being generated at a given time and directing A/C to where it's needed, thus increasing energy efficiency.
I couldn't tell you how much of a difference NTT is making in the fight against global warming, or if they could be doing more. And I'm not saying they're the only telcos doing this sort of thing. What I am saying is that telcos who are taking similar initiatives should do more to let their customers know what they're doing, and to ask them what they could be doing better. And those that aren't doing anything had better start. Do it for the PR spin. Do it for the cost savings. Do it for your kids. Because like the Live Earth media kit said, we're all in this together.