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4 Ways Telecommunications Companies Can Become More Sustainable


The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The next best time is now.

– Source Unknown

So goes every step we can take to alleviate pressure on our natural resources.

There couldn’t be a more perfect time to examine our environmental impact with Earth Month around the bend. Although the telecommunications industry has made strides in implementing greener technologies and practices, we still have a way to go. It’s estimated that our industry contributes to about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions today – on par with the airline industry. 

At the same time, we’re facing an unprecedented demand for our services. It’s an exciting time to be in telecommunications as the demand for bandwidth skyrockets with the advent of accessible AI and continued global Internet usage. But meeting these growing demands takes energy, power, and space – finite resources that must be used responsibly. 

There’s no question that we need to meet growing bandwidth needs somehow, but in our journey to get there, we must consider our impact. This blog offers four ways telecommunications companies can be better environmental stewards. 

Better Manage the Equipment Lifecycle 

Better managing the lifecycle of optical, packet, power, and cooling equipment can help telecommunications companies become more sustainable while saving them money and improving efficiencies. 

Equipment should be examined at each stage of its lifecycle from procurement to end-of-life management: 

  • Procurement: Choose hardware suppliers that prioritize energy efficiency, use sustainable materials and extract them responsibly, and offer long-lasting products. Look for hardware with high Energy Star ratings and other energy-efficient features. 
  • Extending lifespan: Ensure the longevity of your hardware solutions by maintaining and upgrading them when needed. Over the hardware’s usable life, regularly inspect, repair, tune, and maintain software updates. For networking hardware, consider modular solutions that allow for easier component replacements and upgrades. 
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle: Reduce the need for brand-new hardware replacements and minimize waste by reusing and refurbishing components when possible. Reuse components in new deployments when you can, saving costs and reducing your e-waste footprint. 
  • End-of-life management: Develop a strategy for responsible disposal, recycling, and e-waste management for your end-of-life hardware in advance. Recycle the parts that can be recycled. When you replace equipment, find an e-waste partner that will recycle the components that can be reused in other equipment and devices, and will dispose of the rest responsibly. More than 53 million metric tons of e-waste are produced each year, and the number is rising. What’s more disturbing – only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled. The telecommunications industry must do a better job of leading the charge in e-waste recycling and proper disposal.  

Paying more mind to the lifecycle of your equipment and pledging to reuse materials and components where applicable improves sustainability, reduces waste, boosts energy efficiency, and saves money. The best place to start is by taking inventory of the hardware you use today. 

Zayo is currently investing in modern, energy-efficient hardware and we’re already seeing improvements in watts-per-bit improving both efficiency and cost. We’re prioritizing the removal of older, more inefficient platforms and deploying networking hardware using the latest semiconductor manufacturing processes. We’re increasing the amount of lit capacity per fiber, as well, to make the most efficient use of equipment and the power and cooling supporting it. 

[Register for our webinar: Toward a Sustainable Future: Net-Zero by 2030]

Reduce space and power requirements

E-waste is a significant source of emissions from the telecommunications industry today, but data centers are also large offenders. Data center power consumption comprises almost 2% of global power consumption today – a figure expected to double in the next two years. Data centers contribute to almost half of Zayo’s scope 2 emissions, according to our latest Sustainability Report. 

However, data centers are becoming increasingly critical as the margin between the supply of space and power and the demand for it narrows. Moratoriums and limitations on data center expansion in high-demand areas are making it even trickier to meet growing demand. The availability of low-cost power and real estate constrain needed data center expansions in key markets. 

Providing global bandwidth while prioritizing sustainability might appear contradictory, yet innovators in our field are refining data center technology to achieve this dual goal. To achieve this goal, it’s crucial to optimize data center space and deploy energy-efficient technologies and architectures at a lower watt per bit. Hardware solutions that consume less power, yet offer higher capacity, are key.

Zayo is now using smaller, more efficient hardware to fit more capacity into our racks and consume less power. This new tech maintains similar power usage per device but increases the capacity per watt for data transmission. These changes decrease our footprint, boost environmental efficiency, and save money. The cost per bit of data has dropped by 30% due to this upgrade.

Implement Modern “Green” Fiber

Although most telcos today are actively phasing out copper in favor of modern “green” fiber infrastructure, some companies seek to maximize ROI on their existing copper plants and continue to operate legacy copper infrastructure as a result. However, over time this infrastructure will become more costly to maintain – the operational expense is rising, and it’s becoming less profitable as a result. 

Fiber optic connections present a sustainable alternative to copper infrastructure by offering energy-efficient data transmission over longer distances, a longer lifespan, and higher bandwidth capabilities. The environmental benefits of modern fiber are underscored by its reduced energy consumption, extended longevity, and lower impact compared to copper. 

Networks that use dark fiber for their connectivity needs can grow their capacity in the future while optimizing power usage. This is possible by using the latest and most efficient technologies on top of the fiber. Overall, transitioning to modern fiber offers telcos a sustainable and future-proof approach to optimize operations and reduce energy use. However, companies may face challenges with costs, equipment, and upgrades when moving from copper to modern fiber technology. The shift requires significant initial investments in resources, but is likely to yield near-immediate benefits.

Work with Sustainability-Minded Partners

Just as your customers look to you to make greener decisions to lessen their carbon footprint, examine the partnerships you have in place to lessen your overall environmental impact. Here are a few partnerships to consider: 

  • E-waste partners: As described above, e-waste is a huge problem for our planet, and our industry is a major offender today. Whether it’s out-of-service networking equipment, data center equipment, or devices, there are ways to recycle this material and its components and dispose of the rest properly. You don’t have to take on this monumental challenge alone – look for e-waste partners like Zayo partner Blue Star Recyclers that are certified and compliant with industry standards to help you take on this task. 
  • Energy providers: Prioritize energy providers with renewable energy options such as wind, solar, or geothermal energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Seek providers that are certified or accredited for their renewable energy initiatives, such as Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). 
  • Hardware manufacturers: Choose manufacturers that focus on reducing overall power usage. 
  • Supply chain: Source materials from suppliers who prioritize sustainability in their operations and use eco-friendly materials, minimize waste, and reduce energy consumption. 
  • NGOs and nonprofits: Partner with relevant organizations specializing in environmental conservation, sustainable development, and corporate social responsibility. 
  • Emissions consultants: Bring in an outside expert to identify areas for improvement and provide sustainability guidance. Emissions consultants take inventory of your operations and determine your greenhouse gas emissions and where they come from. They can help you set realistic targets, find greener solutions and vendors, and stay up to date on the latest standards and regulations. 

There are so many ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and you don’t have to do it alone. Partner with organizations and experts who deeply understand the sustainability space to minimize your impact on the environment. 

Forging a Sustainable Future

We all share a responsibility to the environment. We’re actively shaping the future of our world in many positive ways – empowering global connectivity that will bridge gaps and build connections. It’s up to us to continue to provide the world’s critical bandwidth and Internet services in a sustainable, future-focused way. 

Telecommunications companies today can examine their hardware portfolio lifecycle, reduce space and power consumption with new technologies, make the move to modern fiber, and work with partners who are equally sustainability-minded. 

Learn more about Zayo's environmental, social, and governance efforts.

Download our latest Sustainability Report.