Unveiling the hidden carbon savings of refurbished telecom equipment
In an era where environmental sustainability is paramount, every industry must prioritise carbon reduction efforts. Here at TXO, we understand that this is just as important to you, as it is to us.
Telecommunication network operators play a significant role in global connectivity, but sadly operating a network that powers connectivity means generating a substantial carbon footprint. To address this issue, many providers now are adopting more sustainable practices, such as utilising refurbished network equipment and feeding equipment into the circular economy by way of expert asset recovery and used equipment specialists, TXO.
In this article, we’ll explore how telecom network operators can calculate (and therefore also take measures to maximise) their carbon savings by comparing the use of refurbished telecoms hardware against newly manufactured equipment.
Beware, calculating carbon savings can get complicated quickly!
Before we start, it’s worth noting that calculating carbon savings is not an easy task and it involves many variable factors. A well-regarded model for calculating GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions factors is the general approach for calculating GHG inventory.
To give you an idea of how quickly using this model can get complicated, have a look at the image below to see just one of the variables being calculated. Now think about how much inventory you might have in your whole network (and we haven’t even begun to calculate GHG emissions from the ‘use stage’ yet)!
Carbon emission reporting & legislation for businesses globally
With national and international climate change framework laws looming, businesses of all sizes are scrambling to come up with industry standards to accurately measure their carbon footprint and prove that they are compliant with the upcoming changes. If not, there could be steep fines or higher taxes on company profits for any business that doesn’t fall in line.
Looking at Australia, the Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2022, aims to reduce the country’s carbon emissions by nearly half from the levels recorded back in 2005. The target for reaching this goal is set for 2030, meaning the federal government better get its skates on, as by 2050 the goal is to be at net ZERO!
By contrast, the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has its crosshairs firmly set on a different GHG to CO2: methane. Methane is estimated to have between 28 – 36 times greater global warming potential than that produced by CO2 (over the first 100 years after being emitted). In the US, the oil & natural gas sector is the nation’s largest contributor to methane and the EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations for the oil and natural gas industry are in place to help combat climate change and reduce air pollution that harms public health.
Now take the UK for example. UK law does not currently require businesses to reduce their CO2 emissions. However, in the future, there will be a ‘Carbon tax & Environment bill‘ to consider which is sure to legally require companies to reduce their actual carbon output.
As and when laws come into effect around region by region, we think it will be essential for the telecoms industry to have a specific framework for calculating carbon emissions based on current data. This will standardise reporting, enabling everyone in our sector to measure the carbon savings they are making when they choose pre-owned telecom equipment instead of newly manufactured, which is highly likely to be significant!
There has also been a recent crackdown on “greenwashing” by consumer watchdogs around the world, to combat the rise of unreputable carbon offsetting schemes and the reporting of inaccurate figures. Without tackling these issues, it can lead consumers to believe the products or services they are using are ‘greener’ or more carbon efficient than they are! This also causes a massive amount of doubt in people’s minds and mistrust in any future reporting.
Understanding carbon footprint
Before delving deeper into the available methods for quantifying your carbon footprint, it’s essential to understand what the term ‘carbon footprint’ represents. According to The Nature Conservancy,
“A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.”
Be that directly or indirectly by an individual, organisation, or product. For telecoms network providers, the carbon footprint includes emissions from various sources, such as network infrastructure, data centres, and the manufacturing, disposal, installation, and recovery of network equipment.
Carbon footprint is also a vital metric for measuring ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) performance as it provides insights into a company’s environmental impact, climate change mitigation efforts, business resilience, stakeholder appeal, and regulatory compliance. By considering the carbon footprint alongside other ESG criteria, businesses (and investors) can make more informed decisions to actively reduce their environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.
Calculating carbon savings. Where do we start…?
The climate crisis can’t wait. Supporting the circular economy holds the key to reducing indirect emissions for our clients (i.e. Scope 3 emissions). Here, you can read more about the difference between emissions scopes 1, 2, and 3. Remember, every step taken toward reducing carbon emissions matters, and the adoption of refurbished kit is part of a solid strategy to foster environmental responsibility within the telecoms sector.
When working out carbon savings using online calculators (of which there are many), for example, the Mackay Carbon Calculator or the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, telecom network providers need to consider two primary factors: the emissions associated with manufacturing new equipment and the emissions avoided by using refurbished kit.
The most common step-by-step approach starts with these six steps:
- Inventory assessment: Start by assessing the inventory of network equipment currently in use or planned for deployment. Note down the quantity, type, and specifications of each item. Categorise them into two groups: refurbished kit and new equipment.
- Emissions factor determination: Next, determine the emissions factor for each type of network equipment. The emissions factor represents the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing of a specific product. This information can be obtained from industry reports, life cycle assessments, or environmental product declarations (EDPs) provided by equipment manufacturers.
- Quantity calculation: Multiply the emissions factor of each type of new equipment by the quantity of new equipment to calculate the emissions generated by using new kit. Repeat this calculation for refurbished kit as well.
- Service life consideration: Consider the service life of each type of equipment. Typically, refurbished kit may have a shorter remaining service life compared to new equipment. Factor in the difference in service life when calculating carbon savings.
- Avoided emissions calculation: To calculate the avoided emissions, subtract the emissions associated with the refurbished kit from the emissions associated with new equipment. This difference represents the carbon savings achieved by using refurbished equipment.
- Annualise and aggregate: To assess the annual carbon savings, multiply the avoided emissions by the annual volume of equipment deployed or replaced. Aggregate the annual savings across all network equipment to determine the total carbon savings for a given period.
To ensure accurate calculations of carbon footprints for telecoms networks, it is advisable to consult reputable industry sources, specialised tools, or engage with sustainability professionals who have access to current data and expertise in the field.
Industry-specific frameworks & standards
Specific frameworks or standards for different industries are becoming essential due to the aforementioned huge number of variable factors to consider when working out these calculations. The Global Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) has worked exceptionally hard forming teams of people to create many industry-specific models for working out these calculations. These include the Product Lifecycle Model, The Corporate Standard, and the Standard for Cities.
One of the latest models developed for calculating GHG emissions specifically for the telecoms and ICT industry, provides a great way to measure and assess the environmental impact of your network inventory and usage. This was produced using methodology created by GHGP, and in conjunction with both The Carbon Trust & The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) However, even this detailed framework comes with its problems. The main issue is the fact that the telecommunications industry can evolve so quickly that data has the chance to go bad.
Manufacturing new products is known to put a huge demand on natural resources and result in a substantial carbon footprint. Until OEMs become more transparent and release exactly how much CO2 is generated for each piece of newly manufactured telecoms hardware, creating a 100% accurate carbon calculator for comparing the carbon savings of refurbished vs. newly manufactured remains a significant challenge.
Our interview with the CEO of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
Whilst researching how the circular economy can make an even bigger impact on enabling the telecommunications industry to be more sustainable, one of the numerous people we’ve been speaking with and seeking advice from is Luis Neves, CEO of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI).
Here are a few snippets from our enlightening conversation.
How did you get involved with GeSI?
I’ve been the CEO of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) since 2017. Prior to that, from 2008 to 2017, I held the position of GeSI Chairman. GeSI is a globally recognised ‘thought industry leader’ organisation in the field of ICT sustainability with a strong focus on the enabling role and positive contribution of digital technologies to climate protection.
Before GeSI, I worked at Deutsche Telekom for over 15 years holding positions such as Head of Sustainable Development and Environment, VP of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability and Climate Protection Officer. I have also held positions and played relevant roles at European and international levels in organisations, such as the UN Global Compact Lead Group, Econsense – the German Sustainability Association, World Resources Forum Association and UNFCCC Momentum for Change Initiative.
What are the main issues faced when calculating greenhouse gas emissions from the tech/comms community?
The ICT community faces many challenges calculating GHG emissions due to the complex value chains. From the extraction of minerals to the store where a computer is sold, GHG emissions occur at every step of the process, and they need to be accurately accounted for. A transparent relationship between the supplier and companies is essential for accurate data on emissions.
Current reporting of a company’s own emissions (referred to as Scope 1 and 2) is often comprehensive. However, the inventory of value chain emissions (referred to as Scope 3) is more difficult, since this refers to emission sources outside the company’s direct control, and this reporting is less complete than reporting of a company’s own emissions. There is also substantial variation in reporting by ICT companies of Scope 3 with respect to coverage and transparency, making it hard to derive any trends. In particular, it is hard to make any generalised conclusions regarding the distribution of emissions between Scope 1, 2 and 3, let alone between Scope 3 categories.
Additionally, many companies lack the resources and also appropriate knowledge to calculate their Scope 3 emissions. This is a very complex area that needs further work and collaboration between all relevant players.
Another big issue that the ICT community faces is the issue of e-waste when calculating GHG Emissions. Although many ICT companies in their sustainability efforts have already implemented a circular economy system to help combat the e-waste problem, more needs to be done.
80% of e-waste is either discarded in landfills, burned or traded illegally. A circular economy that looks to reuse, repair, & recycle at every stage of the value chain is necessary. The ICT community is not enough to combat the e-waste problem, the role of legislation and regulation is also crucial. The EU has passed laws to restrict the use of certain chemicals, like lead in electronics, to promote more recycling in e-waste and has set targets to reach a fully circular economy by 2050.
What can telecoms / digitally focused companies do better when it comes to calculating (& reducing) their GHG emissions?
Telecom and digitally focused companies need to set goals and targets that they hold themselves accountable to. Finding ways to create sustainable but also financially viable solutions is necessary to reduce GHG emissions. These solutions can help us reach a net carbon-neutral economy, implement strong circular principles that reduce our e-waste, and hold ourselves accountable for Scope 3 emissions. These solutions will not only directly reduce GHG emissions but will allow the collection of accurate data and the formation of strong reports that are backed up with evidence.
How many original equipment manufacturers have you worked/are working with, to provide the calculations based on carbon footprints for newly manufactured parts?
GeSI is a global industry association that brings together the companies’ collective knowledge to develop methodologies and tools to address the above challenges. In this regard, we have been working together for over 20 years providing a knowledge base to help companies in the above regard. We have extensive work available that can be consulted at GeSI.
The benefits of refurbished telecom equipment vs. newly manufactured – they’re not just limited to the environment!
So, we’ve discovered a few different ways we could go about calculating carbon footprint and GHG emissions, but where do the specific carbon savings associated with refurbished telecom network equipment come from (as opposed to buying it brand new directly from the OEM)?
- Reduced manufacturing emissions: Manufacturing new equipment requires significant energy and resources, resulting in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. By using refurbished equipment, telecoms network providers can avoid these emissions, which may lead to certain sanctions.
- Waste reduction: Extending the service life of network equipment reduces the need for disposal and the associated environmental impact.
- Resource conservation: Recycling network equipment reduces the demand for raw materials, conserving natural resources and minimising the environmental impact of mining and extraction.
These are all great environmental benefits, but there are also some serious monetary and operational benefits for telecoms network providers such as:
- Lead times for replacement parts: We often hear from our customers about extensive lead times being offered by OEMs when it comes to the replacement or repair of their kit. In some extreme cases, our clients have had to wait up to 1.5 years to receive replacement parts. Besides being able to offer same-day dispatch, we can also support the legacy system with replacement parts that are no longer being manufactured using our inventory of close to 1 million items. Our recent whitepaper titled “Navigating the supply chain chaos” explores the impact that supply chain disruption is having on the telecoms industry and highlights why more and more operators are joining the circular economy to avoid cost increases and year-long delays.
- Get the best market value for your surplus kit: When we recover kit that’s no longer being used by its owner, we provide fair market valuations of equipment based on real-time data and market knowledge. This kit can then be catalogued, entered into our inventory for use in the circular economy, repaired, and refurbished. Each of these options comes with a different carbon saving that can be included within your calculations.
- Full oversight of your assets: Our secure online customer portal is called i-TRAC. The system provides an easy-to-use interface that enables you to manage your assets and keep up to date with the progress of your stock from any location worldwide. So, when we sell any of your recovered parts you can either take the money or use it towards services or your future part replacements.
So, it’s not just the obvious environmental benefits that you get when using refurbished or pre-owned kit. As per above, there are some great business benefits too. When you work with us you are actively contributing to the circular economy.
Accurately calculating carbon savings and GHG emissions is crucial for telecoms network providers aiming to reduce their environmental impact. By utilising refurbished kit, providers can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing of new equipment. Conducting thorough assessments and understanding the emissions factors of different equipment types will enable providers to make informed decisions, drive sustainability, and contribute to a greener and more efficient future in the telecommunications industry.
It’s clear that a more detailed and future-proof framework for the telecoms industry is required, that provides the most current data and enables network operators to prove to regulators their carbon savings.
For more information on how to become part of the circular economy and take control of your carbon footprint please get in touch.