How energy-efficient networking supports sustainability

In this Q&A, 'Emerging Green Technologies' author Matthew N. O. Sadiku discusses the importance of going green and how to make networks energy-efficient to achieve this goal.

Climate change rages on, and enterprises are feeling the heat to become sustainable. Some organizations have adapted to appease consumers and shareholders, while others pledged to support environmental welfare. Whatever the business case, sustainability has become a corporate imperative for many companies. However, new studies have shown most company initiatives aren't enough to offset the degradation of the environment created by carbon emissions.

Critics argue that enterprises are large contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and must do more to combat against climate change. Networks, which create a significant portion of global emissions, could be an ideal place to start. Technology is a key tool in making networking, communications and other areas of business operations green.

"Several business establishments have used at least one green technology or practice in order to make their production processes more environmentally friendly," wrote Matthew N. O. Sadiku, author of Taylor & Francis Group's Emerging Green Technologies.

In 2021, Forbes estimated 60% of organizations had adopted sustainability practices. However, new reports indicated these efforts have fallen short of expectations. Several companies that claimed to be committed to sustainability were found to have fabricated the extent of their initiatives, according to a February 2022 press release from NewClimate Institute. According to the report, 25 of the world's top companies are committed to reduce carbon emissions by only 40% under the guise of a net-zero carbon emissions goal.

Some typical sustainable business practices include reducing waste, using sustainable materials and supporting hybrid work. But experts argue these strategies aren't enough. Businesses may be able to minimize their environmental footprints to a larger degree by implementing some of the green technologies Sadiku discusses in his book.

Information communications technology (ICT), for example, accounts for almost 4% of global carbon emissions, ScienceDaily reported. According to Sadiku, radio access network operations are responsible for a substantial portion of ICT's effect on the environment, creating 30% of the global carbon footprint of mobile communication. Because both wired and wireless networking contribute to a large share of global ICT emissions, organizations with green networks could lower their footprints on a larger scale.

Green networking might sound impractical to some, as networks require ample amounts of energy to operate adequately. For example, while some sources claim 5G will play a critical role in the global reduction of GHG emissions across enterprises, other sources note this claim has yet to be substantiated. 5G base stations require more than three times the power that previous-generation base stations consumed, suggesting modern networking techniques could be more taxing on the environment.

Despite how demanding traditional networking strategies have been, green networking strategies do exist, and they start with the initial design of the network. Network teams can implement energy-efficient technologies into their network design to support green networking and communication strategies, Sadiku wrote. Energy-efficient networking supports the environment and improves the overall efficiency of the network, while also reducing network management costs.

Network teams can reduce energy consumption with the following factors:

  • low-energy network devices;
  • devices with automatic power-off capabilities; and
  • renewable energy.
Book cover of Emerging Green Technologies by Matthew N. O. SadikuClick here to learn more about
the book.

Other green networking techniques, from a network operations perspective, that improve energy efficiency and support sustainability include network virtualization and server consolidation. Many vendors also provide products and services to support sustainable networking.

In Chapter 10, "Green Communications and Networking," Sadiku identifies objectives, strategies and advantages regarding green telecommunications. In this Q&A, he discusses how energy-efficient networking strategies promote green networks and support sustainability efforts.

Editor's note: The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

How do practices like virtualization and server consolidation promote green networks?

Matthew N. O. SadikuMatthew N. O. Sadiku

Matthew N. O. Sadiku: Virtualization can help you know if the network is working in ways that don't contaminate the environment. With server consolidation, instead of having servers everywhere, they're in the same place in a server center or data center, so contamination will be less. The amount of pollution or degradation to the environment will be less.

What are some other strategies that promote green networks?

Sadiku: The problem is the way energy is generated. Any network requires energy, and the way you create the energy to support the network is what can make the network green or not green. Using solar energy, for example, doesn't cause degradation to the environment because you're trapping energy from the sun. But, if you use petroleum or gas to produce energy, that can create pollution.

What is the challenge of integrating energy-saving techniques with networking, and how can teams overcome it?

Sadiku: Once a system is made, it's difficult to modify and do what you want to do because, anything you design, you design with business in mind. The problem is, with time, that system may be incompatible with future networks and new technologies. Something new comes out every day, so if you design a system today, give that system about five years. Things will change. The old network -- or the node devices -- won't be able to operate well with new technologies.

The only way to overcome it is to have some future technologies in mind. When you design something, it's not just for today. You want it to last for as long as possible. So, you have to have an idea of where technology is heading and design a system accordingly.

Next Steps

5 sustainability initiatives in the telecommunications industry

New Cisco tools aim to enable green networks, data centers

Dig Deeper on Network strategy and planning

Unified Communications
Mobile Computing
Data Center