New recommendations for life cycle assessment will offer the telecommunications industry a uniform protocol for measuring the eco-impact of its networks and services. By using these guidelines, service providers and the ICT industry can work together more effectively to identify opportunities and progress as we collectively address environmental challenges such as climate change. Although it is generally accepted that Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) can help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cross-industry, the unanswered question remains “by how much?”. While standards have been created for measuring the carbon footprint of a variety of products, services and activities, uniformed assessment methodologies that focus on telecommunications services were unavailable — until now. Standards are being developed to help service providers navigate the complexities of measuring the environmental impact of their own services. This includes recommendations for selecting an appropriate method of calculation, based on the amount of information that’s available, its quality and the level of analysis that is needed. The assessment’s business purpose is to find opportunities where carbon footprint can be reduced — whether that’s across a whole network or for a single service. Developed through a collaboration of standards bodies, vendors and service providers, most of these standards initiatives are based on the ISO 14040 and 14044 environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) and aim at building a consensus on procedures. For example, under the World Resources Institute (WRI), the ICT Sector Guidance of the GHG Protocol Standards is based on today’s most widely used methodology for measuring emissions, but it also aligns with initiatives from the ITU-T, ETSI and IEC, which address the specific needs of those standards bodies. These standards development organizations have worked with the European Commission to address their respective needs while complementing each other through tight linkages to ensure alignment. Across the entire LCA process, the guidelines address how to:
- Define the assessment’s business purpose
- Scope the product, network or service that will be assessed
- Identify the product, network or service life cycle stages to be measured
- Establish an inventory of specific equipment and activities to be measured
- Allocate the impact of equipment shared across services or networks
- Choose an appropriate calculation model
- Carry out the calculations for each stage of the life cycle
The results of this carefully structured assessment can be used to efficiently measure GHG emissions impact, learn more about their sources and identify opportunities for reductions – whether that be preemptively for new networks/services, or improvements on existing networks/services.
Step 1: Defining the business purpose
Many aspects of a GHG emissions assessment process need to reflect its business purpose, which might be reporting, forecasting, comparing the eco-impact of a service with its benefits, or identifying specific areas where emissions can be reduced. Consequently, this business goal must be clearly defined at the outset of the assessment, including its scope. For example, the assessment might be limited to a single service delivered to a single customer, or it might look more broadly at a complete network or part of a network.
Step 2: Scoping the product, network or service
A service definition identifies exactly what will be assessed. It should list all operational activities and equipment used to deliver the service and provide a description of the service function. The ICT Sector Guidance of the GHG Protocol Standards recommends that function descriptions should be both quantitative and qualitative, including what the service is, how it is provided, how much of it is delivered, relevant distances involved and the service period.
Step 3: Identifying the product, network or service life cycle stages
A GHG assessment examines the full life cycle of a telecommunications service. As shown in Figure 1, this includes equipment manufacturing, distribution, installation, use, and end of life. For simplicity in analysis, the Telecommunications Network Services (TNS) guide for the GHG Protocol Standards recommends organizing these life cycle stages into just two stages: “embodied,” which addresses manufacturing, distribution, installation and end of life, and the “use” stage, which addresses use and maintenance. The “use” stage has typically been the dominant stage in the full life cycle of a telecommunications service, often accounting for about 90% of a service’s total GHG emissions.
Step 4: Establishing an inventory
An inventory identifies the equipment and activities associated with each stage of the service life cycle, helping to specify more exactly what needs to be assessed. GHG Protocol Standards recommend organizing this inventory across the following three areas. For each area, measurements will be required for both the embodied and use stages.
- Customer domain – This domain includes equipment on the customer premises used to deliver the service, such as servers, switches, routers and computers provided by the service provider. Measurements for the use stage will examine the energy required to run this equipment. At the embodied stage, emissions from raw materials acquisition, production, transport, installation, and end-of-life treatment are measured.
- Service platform – This area includes the service provider’s platform and support equipment, including network equipment, cables, racks and other passive support equipment. At the use stage, the energy required to run the service platform will be measured, while the embodied stage assesses emissions involved in the manufacture, distribution, installation and end-of-life of the equipment.
- Operational activities – This area includes labor, as well as non-ICT equipment (for example, service trucks and repair equipment), that supports the service platform and customer domain. The use stage will evaluate emissions associated with such activities as transportation or air conditioning a call center. The embodied stage would then evaluate emissions associated with manufacturing the truck used for transportation or the building materials used for the call center.
Step 5: Allocation
Telecommunications equipment may be shared by multiple services, or a single service may cross multiple networks. In situations like these, an appropriate portion of any emissions must be allocated to the specific service or network being assessed. GHG Protocol Standards provide recommendations that can help service providers handle complex allocation issues more consistently across the industry, whether the issues relate to equipment or operational activities.
Step 6: Choosing a calculation model
The calculation model used for any GHG assessment should be suited to its business purpose and to the amount and quality of information that’s available. By considering both these points, the final values can provide an appropriate level of precision. GHG Protocol Standards provide calculation models for both the use stage and the embodied stage. These models offer a spectrum of precision for the resulting values, with the most precise models requiring the most information, as well as the most time and effort, as shown in Figure 2. For example, the “bottom-up” model, designed for the use stage, provides the greatest precision. But it relies on an inventory of all equipment to calculate the service platform’s total energy consumption.
The fine- or coarse-grained models for the use stage are progressively less precise. They combine data requirements and energy modeling to provide a certain level of information. The top-down model is least accurate. It apportions energy to individual services calculated with the ratio of capacity used by a customer or service and mean traffic being carried by the network. GHG Protocol Standards for assessing the embodied stage also range in approach. The most precise rely on a manufacturer’s primary data, while the less precise use secondary data such as estimates of the emissions produced by typical network components. To help service providers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers with this stage of a GHG assessment, Alcatel-Lucent has developed a LCA estimator tool, which draws on the company’s extensive experience in the development of GHG impact assessments and methods. The Alcatel-Lucent GHG emissions LCA estimator – This tool greatly speeds measurement by recognizing, through statistical analysis and resulting algorithms, that the GHG emissions impact is dominated by certain key commodity groups. The emissions for these various components are then added together to get an emissions estimate for the network element they comprise. This provides an extremely effective means to estimate their GHG emissions impact
Step 7: Carrying out calculations
The ICT Sector Guidance of the GHG Protocol Standards provides detailed recommendations for how to calculate emissions. The guidelines are organized by the customer domain, service platform and operational activities, with descriptions and examples of how to use the various calculation models when addressing each life cycle stage. A brief overview of these approaches follows: Customer domain use stage (detailed approach) – For all the customer premises equipment required to deliver the service, service providers need to directly measure power consumption through physical power monitoring, under specific operating conditions, with a typical usage profile. Then they to need to apply appropriate electricity-to-GHG emissions conversion factors based on the country or region of usage. Customer domain use stage (LCA estimation or stage ratio modeling) – Emissions in this domain can also be estimated or modeled. These approaches must allow for the equipment type, usage profile and country or region of usage. Customer domain embodied stage – Primary data from the equipment manufacturer can be used to determine the equipment’s GHG emissions. If primary data does not exist, estimated GHG assessments from tools such as component characterization or life cycle stage ratio profiles can be used instead. The impact of support equipment, such as cabling and racks, can also be estimated. Service platform use stage (bottom-up model) – With this model, an inventory of equipment is used to calculate total service platform energy consumption. Service platform use stage (top-down model) – These calculations apportion energy to individual telecommunications services using the ratio of capacity determined by the customer or service and mean traffic carried over the network. If additional detail is warranted for the assessment, it can be added through bottom-up calculations. Service platform embodied stage – Primary data from the equipment manufacturer can be used to calculate the equipment’s GHG emissions or estimated GHG assessments can be used instead. Operational activities use stage – GHG emissions from the people and equipment needed to deliver the service can be assessed using either primary or secondary information. Primary data includes the number of people involved, the nature of their work and the time allotted to the service. Secondary data includes costs and conversion factors from economic input/output tables, which are then apportioned based on the type and extent of the activities. Operational activities embodied stage – A rigorous assessment can use primary data from a detailed life cycle assessment conducted by the owner of the non-ICT support equipment. Or these activities can be represented as a simplified percentage of the total LCA emissions. Figure 3 illustrates a representative telecom network service GHG emissions assessment for the above life cycle stages.
A crucial step forward
The emerging guidelines for measuring GHG emissions provide a valuable opportunity for the telecommunications industry to work together to minimize GHG emissions. By using the standards to pinpoint problem areas and measure progress, we can demonstrate our commitment to protecting the environment — using uniform methods for gathering information that will be meaningful to consumers, businesses and governments. To contact the author or request additional information, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.