The greening of telecommunications
The environment is back on the agenda, it seems. In Australia, the prolonged drought has brought a greater focus on the issue of global warming and long-term sceptics are announcing a change of heart. The Federal Government is considering a carbon-trading scheme, and in New South Wales Landcare has announced a scheme to fund tree planting through a carbon-offset scheme to take advantage of recent carbon-emission caps legislated by the NSW Government.

Fuente:    Fecha:  14.04.2009

The telecommunications industry has largely considered itself a good citizen when it comes to the environment and, in comparison to many others, it is. But it cannot rest on its laurels and it does have a few potential issues on its hands. They are related both to the environment and social responsibility.

The first is the perennial issue of emissions from mobile phones. Are we all frying our brains with microwaves? No compelling data, says the industry, and it is probably right. But it isn't an issue that will go away. Continuing to reduce the power used by handsets and finding new device forms to move radio emitters away from the side of the head are probably good precautionary moves, just in case.

Another old perennial is the vast amount of paper used to produce telephone directories each year. Why do we persist in doing this? As all readers of this column know, online is best when it comes to directories. Paper should be an exception, only for those who really prefer it. That day will come when companies and regulators wake up and, in the meantime, 'Book Muncher' programmes and the like are a good response.

Perhaps a peripheral issue for many, but one that generates a great deal of emotion from time to time, is the mining and use of coltan (columbite-tantalite) ore. Coltan is a key component of mobile phones and IT equipment. Australia is a major source, where the ore is just one of many. It's a toxic substance that should be carefully recycled - and isn't when we throw out our old phones and computers. But coltan is also the 'blood diamond' issue for the industry. In the Congo, the mining of coltan has funded and prolonged a civil war in the east of the country. It has spawned a global movement under the banner of 'No blood on my cell phone!'.

Telecommunications purists will say this is an IT and consumer-electronics issue. But the telecommunications industry has benefited mightily from the popularity of mobile phones. Mobility has transformed the industry. It must respond with comprehensive recycling programmes and environmentally credible processes for reclaiming valuable and toxic components. The day is coming when this will be a big issue to be confronted head on.

BT in the UK recently announced a renewed set of initiatives to improve its environmental credentials. BT will act to increase the renewable component of its power needs, as well as increasing programmes of environmental awareness for its staff. In a recent Straight Talk (Ovum's weekly newsletter for its advisory service subscribers), Mike Cansfield, Ovum's Telecoms Strategy Practice Leader, broke through the cynicism that often infects such initiatives to comment:

'Credit should be given where credit is due. Well done BT we say. We look for more in the industry to follow this lead. The way to disarm the cynics is to show that these positive actions also make good business sense - we look forward to BT demonstrably proving this case.'

It may well be, as other UK initiatives have done in the past, that this leadership will bring about attitude change in the global industry and a renewed emphasis on environmental protection.

But there's more. Telecommunications and the rise of the Internet have been transforming the way we live and work. It's now time to use this transformative power to bring us to new levels of environmental sustainability.

Robin Eckermann, one of the prime movers behind the implementation of the TransACT broadband network in Canberra, has given notice that he will issue a 'Broadband Environment Sustainability Challenge' in the May issue of the Telecommunications Journal of Australia. He will be proposing an award to recognise initiatives that use the power of broadband networks to reinvent some processes in a way that is more environmentally sustainable. We've been talking for a long time about using telecommunications to replace air travel, for example. Perhaps it's about time we helped to make it happen.

Leith Campbell is a Principal Consultant with Ovum Consulting in Melbourne. He was previously the CEO of the Australian Telecommunications Cooperative Research Centre.