How to Prioritize Telecom Sustainability and Reduce Carbon Emissions

Emma Hopler
Published 10/18/2023
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Prioritize telecom sustainabilityThe carbon emissions created by powering the world’s telecom networks are ever-increasing. The use of digital communications is at an unprecedented level, with growth in demand from developing nations. However, as far as telecommunications is concerned, opportunities for enabling environmental, social, and economic benefits far outweigh the costs.

Huge steps are being taken by the biggest telco operators to introduce and integrate new technologies like 5G, Artificial Intelligence, and IoT (the Internet of Things). This, in turn, is positively impacting the carbon footprint of the industry.

The next step is for businesses that incorporate telecoms to follow their example and set their own sustainability targets.

What Is Sustainability in the Telecommunication Industry?

Alongside the emerging impact of IoT, Network energy consumption is a factor that will drive the future of this industry. With global traffic poised to increase, there is great potential for leaders in telecommunication to make efficiencies and invest in green research.

It is imperative for businesses to ensure their actions do not adversely affect the climate. Telecommunications companies like Verizon, Vodafone, T Mobile, and more have taken their responsibilities seriously. Each has made a set of net-zero commitments.

Businesses investing in their own telecommunication methods should follow the lead of industry giants and commit to reducing carbon emissions to ensure sustainable growth.

Why Is Telecom Sustainability Important?

The urgency for sustainability in the telecommunications sector has steadily increased over the last few years. Demand for digital communications over the pandemic years, coupled with an increase in remote working, has forced the industry to consume more energy and expand its carbon footprint.

Telecom sustainability has more benefits than reducing the carbon footprint of the telecommunications businesses. This approach also enables other enterprises to be more eco-friendly. The information communication technology (ICT) sector is a significant enabler of greenhouse gas emissions. The right digital innovations can help other industries reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

For example, recent advancements in online faxing allow users to produce cover sheets for fax and protect fax contents in the same way as physical faxing. This means that businesses can feel secure in their communications without the energy consumption and emissions of physical fax machines.

What Are the ESG Risks in Telecoms?

ESG, or Environmental, Social, and Governance, is the set of standards for businesses, measuring their impact on society and the environment. The telecom industry plays a crucial role in connecting people and companies across the world, enabling economic growth, and driving digital transformation. Given this responsibility, it is essential that ICT engages with ESG opportunities.


Commitments have been made by all the main telecom companies to pursue carbon neutrality and reduce emissions. Digital innovations in the sector, like 5G networks, have enabled high data capacity and low latency, which has, in turn, transformed other usually carbon-heavy sectors.

This has been demonstrated in agricultural production. In this industry, cutting-edge technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) has integrated with the supply chain. This has reduced waste, safeguarded natural resources, and driven sustainability.

Another important aspect of ESG innovation is digital inclusion. This means expanding across the globe to enable more regions and minorities to have access to digital networks. The challenge is to ensure this expansion is as sustainable as possible.

Free to use image sourced from Pixabay


The main challenge for ICT businesses comes in the form of data centers. Here, they must pursue renewable energy sources and implement more modern and energy-efficient technologies. Where possible, companies should avoid running their own centers and invest in carbon-neutral centers that already meet a high standard of efficiency.

A move to the cloud is a significant way that businesses can offload heavy-emission machinery and reduce electricity usage. Cloudification is encouraged by organizations like the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) for its energy-saving benefits. Virtual and cloud-based software means equipment can be refurbished and upgraded without the need to produce new hardware.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of the Telecoms Industry?

Within the ICT sector, telco companies are responsible for 1.6-2% of global carbon emissions. However, with the growth of data centers in this sector, it is predicted that these alone will be using up to 8% of global electricity by 2030.

Digital technology is a powerful tool in combating emissions and provides opportunities for decarbonization through multiple avenues. There is a social responsibility for companies to do their due diligence and find either suppliers or upgrade their own machinery to run at peak energy efficiency.

Where Are the 4 Main Areas to Improve Sustainability in Telecoms?

The digitization of communication will require telecom companies to grow in capacity. Alongside sustainable energy consumption, there are four other ways that telecom companies and businesses that incorporate telecoms can transform their network usage.


Backhaul telecommunications refers to the networks that access the global internet. Here, telecom providers that are committed to sustainability are replacing their copper cables with fiber-optic infrastructures. Businesses should therefore choose suppliers that are taking this sustainability initiative.

Traditionally, companies have resorted to using multiple-channel broadband in their business operations – i.e. WiFi that uses access points (APs) over several different channels to avoid interference.

In a bid to reduce carbon emissions, they should instead seek out broadband that is single converged (multiple APs across a single channel). This is more energy efficient than using separate networks, as it reduces the electrical equipment required and the need for more cables to be laid.

Businesses can further reduce electrical equipment by moving to more digital communication methods. While landline phones might be suitable for residential use, larger corporations should consider virtual solutions to meet their corporate environmental responsibility.

Access Networks

Access infrastructure consumes the most energy in telecommunications networks. These are the software and hardware components that run and maintain an ICT network.

Here, energy can often be wasted by the source, i.e., Radio Access Networks (RAN). RAN resources often remain unused because of hardware components that are constantly activated to transmit system information.

This method maximizes connectivity, but not energy efficiency. Thus, telecom providers and businesses that rely on their services should make sure their suppliers use newer RANs. Look for options that are equipped with modern energy-saving measures.

Network Operations

Network operations means the way a telecommunications company operates its business. Companies should invest in telecom providers that do the maximum to reduce their energy expenditure. For example, AT&T has reduced its carbon emissions by introducing new base station cooling technologies.

Data Centers

Optimizing your data center or choosing a low-carbon provider is a key area for improving sustainability. The best way to do this is to operationalize green tech or green IT. If you’re running your own servers, leverage automation that can extend the lifespan of your hardware and reduce wastage. Independent businesses should seek out cloud providers that make their emissions metrics public and apply AI-powered decision-making to sustainability efforts.

Recommended Actions to Improve Long-Term Sustainability

A significant quota of telecommunications and mobile providers have committed to Net Zero emissions targets by 2050. There are several recommended actions your organization can take to follow its lead, accelerate decarbonization, and prioritize sustainability. Consider the following:

Disclose your environmental impact

Premium list companies are required to provide the TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures) with climate-related financial disclosures. If you are not required to disclose under your jurisdiction, it is worth disclosing your climate risk nonetheless. Accurate reporting encourages transparency and will help your business towards its emissions aims.

Focus on device longevity

Long-term solutions are the priority when it comes to telecoms sustainability. The GSMA reports that extending the lifetime of all smartphones in the world has the potential to save 21.4 million tons of CO2 by 2030. Organizations can contribute to this mission by taking care of their company hardware and seeking out refurbishments over purchasing brand-new equipment.

Increasing consumer awareness

Businesses should aim to improve their customers’ understanding of sustainability and make them aware of their consumption habits. Incentives can be introduced to encourage long-term use of devices, recycling of goods, and more. This will also work towards improving your brand reputation.

Partnering with repairers

If your company provides goods that can be repaired rather than repurchased, device and product repair can reduce e-waste. Partnering with the refurbishment industry can also help you repurpose old or outdated technologies.

Switch to renewable or low-energy supplies

The easiest way to improve sustainability is to switch to renewable energy or seek out lower energy resources for your business. With advancements in the digital world, there are multiple ways to go green. Using a virtual phone number and VoIP phone services instead of office phones can help reduce transportation and air pollution-related emissions.

Engage with suppliers on climate action

It’s vital that businesses stay in contact with their telecom providers when it comes to climate change initiatives. Make sure you are aware of their emission aims and communicate your desires when it comes to sustainability.

Encourage the retirement of legacy machinery/networks, where possible, in favor of modern energy-efficient alternatives. For example, you might move from a network that still supports 3G in favor of one that only offers 4G and 5G networks.

Putting Sustainability at the Top of Your Agenda

Measures that reduce climate impact are a key driver of business development. Telecom operators and businesses that procure ICT products have a corporate responsibility. The goal should be to pursue initiatives that reduce your carbon footprint and bring you closer to functioning at net zero emissions.

Network modernization initiatives and digital advancements have great potential when it comes to telecom sustainability. The latest generation of fixed and mobile technologies gives businesses more virtual and environmentally friendly options than ever before.

Using over-internet communication software and cloud-based data storage will help organizations embed sustainability into their business models.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.