The telecommunications industry, supported by the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union, launched a formal cooperative effort to promote sustainable business practices and technology in June 2001. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) was officially launched on World Environment Day with the vision "to help improve the global environment and to enhance human and economic development, and thereby make a key contribution to a global sustainable future" (Thomsen, 2001).
This industry-wide initiative was significant in that its founders included some of the biggest global players: AT&T, British Telecommunications, Cable and Wireless, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Lucent Technologies, Marconi, Telcordia Technologies, Telenor as, and the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association. Members implemented various programs to achieve environment-friendly business practices. For example, British Telecommunications calculated that employee use of audio and video conferencing contributed to saving over one million tons of CO2 emissions the previous year, while at&T increased teleworking by staff to cut car travel and reduce CO2 emissions by almost 50,000 tons. Deutsche Telekom reduced pollutant emissions from their vehicle fleet by 25% over a period of four years. Marconi started a best practice by installing an auto waste-to-heat recovery system whose benefits included less landfill, "free" hot water, and lower carbon dioxide emissions (Thomsen, 2001).
Member companies also began to adopt a life-cycle approach to their products, analyzing the development and delivery of all products and services in terms of environmental impact. The companies worked closely with customers, suppliers, trade and industry associations, and standards organizations to develop and promote sustainable management systems and solutions. For example, Cable and Wireless incorporated environmental criteria into its Request for Quote document for all suppliers in the UK (Thomsen, 2001).
Since the launch of GeSI, the telecommunications industry continues to make progress in sustainability efforts. One such milestone is standards organization UL Environment is in the process of creating a new sustainability standard for cell phones. Until now, cell phone companies called their products greener by adding recycled content or by offering recycling programs. Now, if companies truly want to call their products sustainable, they will have to meet requirements of the new standard. The UL Environment standard for "environmentally preferred mobile devices" will be able to score products on three tiers based on their energy efficiency, materials, packaging, manufacturing processes, disposal and other life cycle impacts (Bardelline, 2011).
The first draft of the requirements was created by a small group that included only one wireless carrier, Sprint Nextel. The requirements will next be vetted by a Standards Technical Panel that includes other wireless carriers, manufacturers, retailers and non-governmental organizations. UL Environment grew out of Underwriters Laboratory, the 117-year-old safety certification organization. UL Environment's focus is on energy efficiency, as well as environmental claims and product sustainability (Bardelline, 2011).
According to a study done by ABI Research, a company specializing in quantitative forecasting and trends analysis, at&T was ranked as the top ten greenest wireless carrier on the North American continent. at&T sustainability achievements span various technologies and operations. As part of its alternative energy utilization strategy, at&T now has 2,000 alternative fuel vehicles and 1,500 compressed natural gas vehicles in its ground fleet (Mailsos, 2010). In its 2010 Sustainability Report, at&T reported that it avoided the purchase of 1 million gallons of traditional petroleum because of its use of compressed natural gas vehicles (at&T investments in sustainability, 2011).
Since 2008, at&T has been purchasing wind power for 10% of the electricity consumed in all its Austin, Texas at&T facilities. This effort reduced the amount of fossil-generated electricity by 7.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) each year. The company completed a large-scale power plant at its Secaucus, New Jersey campus in 2009. The 841-kW system will produce 1 million kWh of electricity per year (Mailsos, 2010).
AT&T is also creating and enacting sustainability measures within its network and company operations. The company implemented power-down software for 14,000 cell sites which turn off radios during maintenance times to eliminate wasted energy when not on-air. at&T is also updating its central office switches to reduce electricity and HVAC demands (Mailsos, 2010).
The ABI Research study ranked Verizon Wireless as the third highest North American wireless carrier pursuing sustainable actions, initiatives and goals. Verizon operates the largest fuel cell facility of its kind in the nation, which helped it earn the ENERGY STAR Award from the federal government in 2008. The facility uses seven cells to help reduce dependence on commercial electricity; each fuel cell can produce 200 kW of electrical power per hour, enough to supply the needs of nearly 400 single-family households (Mailsos, 2010).
The company plans to add 1,600 alternative-fuel vehicles in 2010. They also developed a software solution which minimizes power usage from company-owned workstations by putting PCs in sleep mode when they are not being used. This and other software technology resulted in a 24% reduction in personal computer power consumption and CO2 emissions. Verizon also requires that all new network equipment be 20% more efficient that its predecessor. (Mailsos, 2010).
Verizon's HopeLine program recycles old phones and accessories by allowing customers to bring them to any retail store or by sending them to Verizon using paid postage labels. The phones are either refurbished for reuse or recycled with a zero-landfill method. According to Verizon's website, for every 5,000 phones recycled, 11,000 kWh of energy are saved (Mailsos, 2010).
As further evidence of the progress of the sustainability movement, in May 2011 Sprint Nextel announced its Electronics Stewardship Policy, the first in the telecommunications industry. The policy summarizes Sprint's goals for how it will handle its products throughout the product lifecycle. Sprint is the first wireless carrier to address the product cycle holistically by focusing on the full lifecycle of electronics that it buys and sells. The new policy commits Sprint to the following:
Designing and purchasing green electronics
Maximizing the equipment's useful life
Boosting equipment recovery from users
Maximizing reuse of electronics
Responsibly recycling scrap
Using environmentally and socially responsible vendors for recycling (Sprint Announces, 2011).
Sprint made the announcement during an awards ceremony at the International Electronics Recycling Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, where Sprint received the Sustainability Award for the second consecutive year. Goals of the new policy include specific sustainable practices. At least 70% of Sprint-branded devices will be required to meet the company's scorecard criteria for environmental design by 2017. One hundred percent of Sprint's recycling vendors and remanufacturing partners must meet certification criteria by 2012 and 2013 respectively. Sprint plans to collect nine phones for reuse or recycling for every ten that it sells on a yearly basis by 2017, achieving a 90% collection rate. Sprint also plans to collect 100% of its own annual e-waste for reuse and recycling by 2017 (Sprint Announces, 2011).
Sustainability continues to be a global movement. Bakrie Telecom (BTEL) became the first mobile network operator in Indonesia to comprehensively integrate environmental stewardship across its operations with the public launch of Hijau Untuk Negeri (HUN) or Green for the Nation. BTEL's aggressive green environmental objectives include:
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions per subscriber by 50% from 2009 levels by 2014
Reusing or recycling 70% of network and it electronic waste in 2011
Collecting 50,000 retired mobile phones and charging devices for reuse or recycling by 2012
Implementing energy-saving green initiatives at its base station sites and switching centers (Bakrie Telecom, 2011).
CTIA, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, provides another indication of the status of the sustainability movement in the wireless industry. CTIA advocates developing environmentally-friendly products and services, implementing energy-conscious measures in network operations and business practices, along with educating consumers about cell phone and accessory recycling. CTIA also promotes the wireless industry's single greatest contribution to the green movement, efficiency. Wirelessly optimizing business processes such as paperwork and credit card operations saves millions of dollars on paper and administrative costs. Wireless is also used to manage vehicle fleets in real-time, ranging from municipal garbage trucks to school buses, allowing dispatchers to efficiently route vehicles. This ability saves millions of gallons of fuel while substantially reducing carbon emissions. (Wireless Industry Sustainability, 2010).
The President, Congress, and the FCC have all identified smart grids as a promising way to advance energy independence and efficiency, with a key part of the National Broadband Plan including the implementation of smart meters that would be connected to the smart grids via wireless devices (Wireless Industry Sustainability, 2010).
The wireless industry also supports a one-charger-fits-all universal charger solution (UCS) to reduce energy consumption and consumer costs. As of January 1, 2012 all new wireless devices in the U.S. will have a one-charger-fits-all solution. According to CTIA, it is estimated that the UCS will provide a 50% reduction in standby energy consumption (Wireless Industry Sustainability, 2010).
While the telecom industry as a whole embraces sustainability, some advocates of environmental stewardship point out that the industry has overlooked one significant area to address environmental concerns, that of green network equipment. Adelman (2010) argues that decommissioned assets are frequently abandoned…