How to successfully measure and reward sustainability benefits in a network’s lifecycle?

This article summarises the key findings from a recent CSP-exclusive virtual roundtable, focusing on how service providers can drive sustainable growth by embedding sustainability into their decision making and network innovation processes.

On May 14, STL Partners, in collaboration with Cisco and Accedian (now part of Cisco), hosted a virtual roundtable exclusively for CSPs, focusing on sustainability strategies for networks. The workshop included content presentations and a breakout activity. Speakers for the presentations included Bart Janssens, Senior Specialist Packet Architecture at Colt; Hannah Falberg, Senior Sustainability Manager for Service Providers at Cisco; Gianluca Calabretta, IP and Optical Sales Specialist at Cisco; and Colin Seward, Director of Sustainability and Technology at Cisco. This article reviews key takeaways from the event, including outcomes from the breakout discussions. The session was divided in two: a one-hour plenary presentation and a one hour group break-out activity.

Presentations summary

The presentations explored how service providers can drive sustainable growth by embedding sustainability into their decision making and network innovation processes. STL’s presentation emphasised the importance of sustainability and key challenges service providers face. Bart provided a case study demonstrating how Colt has achieved sustainability benefits through adopting Cisco’s Routed Optical Networking (RON) and how Colt has successfully reflected that in its reporting. Hannah and Colin had a fireside chat on how Cisco is integrating technology and sustainability within its business. Gianluca introduced Cisco’s RON, using it as a framework to incorporate sustainability into the evaluation of network solutions. The slides, including the content in Figure 1, and recording of the presentations can be accessed here.

Figure 1: Technology and organisational actions that can drive sustainability for operators

Source: STL Partners

Breakout activity summary

The aim of the breakout session was to explore how CSPs can overcome barriers to securing sustainability outcomes through technology. Attendees were divided into three groups, each looking at a stage of a network’s lifecycle: (1) Architecture and strategy, (2) Design, procurement and contracting, and (3) Deployment and operations. They were tasked with identifying CSP challenges in integrating sustainability outcomes for the given stage, using RON as a framework to consider solutions for better incorporating sustainability benefits into day-to-day activities.

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Breakout group 1- Architecture and strategy

The breakout group identified three challenges in integrating sustainability within architecture and strategy:

1. Lack of available Scope 3 data: While Scope 1 and 2 emissions are easier to measure and link back to network design, Scope 3 emissions remain hard to incorporate systematically. The main challenge with Scope 3 emissions is that they originate not only from telco vendors, but also from diverse areas such as civil engineering works, adding complexity to producing Scope 3 insights. Lack of granular reporting from these emissions restricts the ability to effectively compare the overall footprint of different network designs and act on this.

2. Linking Scope 3 emissions to business benefits: Traditional business models prioritise easily quantifiable metrics like costs, making the integration of sustainability more challenging. There is a clear need to articulate why reducing Scope 3 emissions is beneficial for business, which involves demonstrating the financial risks and savings associated with sustainability

3. Diverging availability of advanced technologies: Chipsets and other critical components that support sustainable practices are not uniformly accessible worldwide. For example, while some regions benefit from advanced, energy-efficient chipsets that require less cooling, others, particularly in parts of the Middle East and Africa, still rely on older, less efficient technologies.

The breakout group identified four solutions to enhance network sustainability in the architecture and strategy lifecycle stage:

1. Cooperate across industry and share information: Vendors need to be more transparent and cooperative in providing comparable environmental data to better understand and manage environmental impacts.

2. Adopt sustainability KPIs into processes: For sustainability to be effectively integrated into network planning, it must become a critical KPI across the organisation. This involves shifting from viewing sustainability as a regulatory compliance issue to recognising it as a strategic business goal. Telcos should adopt sustainability KPIs and incorporate them into their architecture objectives and planning processes.

3. Innovate in equipment design: Reducing the size and heat generation of network components through advanced manufacturing techniques can lead to significant sustainability improvements. Innovative cooling solutions and using advanced materials in equipment design are pivotal.

4. Have a global approach to technology: Ensure that sustainable technologies are distributed and developed across all regions to enable wider adoption of best practices in network sustainability.

Breakout group 2- Design, procurement and contracting

The breakout group identified three challenges in integrating sustainability within design, procurement and contracting:

1. Quantifying the impact of ‘servitisation’: The shift towards the ‘as-a-service’ model aims to eliminate the renewal process and fully utilise network equipment. However, accurately quantifying the extent to which servitisation reduces the carbon footprint throughout the supply chain remains challenging.

2. Assessing vendors on sustainability promises: Holding suppliers accountable to sustainability promises versus actual performance is challenging due to variations in sustainability metrics and reporting standards among vendors. This makes it difficult to compare and assess environmental performance in procurement and securing contractually binding outcomes.

3. Managing net-zero goals on a national grid: Service providers face challenges in effectively monitoring and maintaining electricity usage within a country operating a national grid. This difficulty arises from the lack of granularity in tracking individual system and worker performance, making it hard to measure progress toward net-zero goals.

The breakout group identified three solutions to enhance network sustainability in the design, procurement and contracting lifecycle stage:

1. Gamify to simulate the impact of ‘servitisation’: Gamification makes complex concepts like servitisation more accessible and engaging by simulating various scenarios and decision-making processes. This approach educates stakeholders by presenting simulated sustainability, encouraging them to act on network design.

2. Design SLAs to include sustainability metrics: Including sustainability metrics in SLAs enhances network sustainability by setting clear environmental expectations for suppliers, driving innovation and accountability. This aligns procurement with corporate sustainability goals and improves transparency. It can lead to long-term cost savings, compliance with regulations, and a stronger market reputation for environmental responsibility.

3. Implement microgrids in network design: Microgrids come with advanced monitoring and management systems that provide transparent and granular data on energy usage and efficiency. These insights help optimise low-emissions energy consumption, further supporting efforts to achieve net-zero goal efforts.

Breakout group 3- Deployment and operations

The breakout group identified three challenges in integrating sustainability within deployment and operations:

1. Reservations on adopting new operating models: Operation teams aim to provide the best network for consumers. They are cautious about adopting new hardware and technology, as it could put at risk the high-quality network they operate.

2. Benchmarking difficulties: Operators lack the quantitative means to compare themselves against industry standards or competitors, making it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives and make informed decisions for improvement.

3. Consumer negligence: Most consumers don’t actively track their personal emissions, reducing external pressure and the incentive for operators to distinguish themselves through sustainability initiatives. This is different for enterprises.

The breakout group identified three solutions to enhance network sustainability in the deployment and operations lifecycle stage:

1. Implement KPI dashboards: Adding sustainability KPIs to operations dashboards will give operations teams visibility into sustainability outcomes – particularly where these can be tied back to customer outcomes. This allows operations teams to make informed decisions, demonstrating how their choices can maintain or improve overall performance – including sustainability performance – without compromising reliability for customers.

2. Establish cross-functional sustainability teams: Bringing together individuals from different departments, including operations, ensures that various aspects of sustainability are addressed holistically, leading to more comprehensive and unified solutions.

3.Provide customer flexibility: Colt allows consumers to choose routing options that meet both sustainability and performance requirements, offering visibility into why one route is better than the other.

Questions and Answers

This section outlines the answers to the questions received from attendees during the CSP exclusive virtual roundtable.

What role does Cisco play, and what resources does it offer its customers to facilitate the management of sustainability?

Cisco plays a pivotal role in managing sustainability both internally, we have our own Net-Zero pledge, as well as helping our customers to achieve their respective Sustainability target. Cisco offers to customers products, technologies and solutions in order to manage and achieve sustainability target. Products like power and space optimized SiliconOne based routing platforms, technologies like SLA based SRv6 green routing, solutions like Routed Optical Networking – pulling all the different parts together.

In Cisco’s opinion, what incentives can be used to stimulate sustainability?

Cisco is passionate about embedding sustainability into business and promoting a circular economy through business model change. It is for this reason Cisco has developed offerings to promote circularity such as LifecyclePay and the award winning GreenPay to incentivise the transition to circularity. It has also found sustainability success through embedding sustainability champions across its business to ensure local knowledge and change. By celebrating achievements, it incentivises others to learn about sustainability and make change around themselves too. To promote sustainability outside of Cisco it also invests in sustainable ventures to promote change and innovation with a focus on sustainability.

How is network power optimisation translating into competitive differentiation for Colt? Does X% less CO2e per byte equate to a higher propensity to buy Colt services compared to competitors?

Offering carbon intensity details at a per-service level is a powerful enhancement to traditional SLA reporting. It helps customers with their sustainability goals by allowing them to compare Colt’s carbon intensity performance across new service options within our portfolio (packet or optical). In the future, customers can compare Colt’s metrics with those of competitors allowing us to differentiate or combine data from multiple supplier’s part of their service (via API calls) to achieve end-to-end customer CI visibility (e.g. Colt access into cloud services at AWS/Google/Microsoft…).

Click these links to find out more on Cisco’s RON initiative and Cisco’s pluggable optics.

Find out more about STL’s expertise in sustainability within the telecoms industry at https://stlpartners.com/telecoms-sustainability/

Jack Hurley

Jack Hurley

Jack Hurley

Consultant

Jack Hurley is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in edge computing and hyperscaler partnerships.

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