Green Touch consortia brings an ecosystem approach to the ICT carbon reduction challenge

In my predictions piece for Telecoms sector in 2010 I said green would be back.(http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/predictions_2010_whats_in_store_for_telecom/q/id/53406/t/2). The reality, of course, is that green never went away but was merely overshadowed by the recession in 2009. Evidence to prove the return of green to the forefront of the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) sector came on Monday January 11th in London with the announcement by Alcatel-Lucent of the Green Touch initiative. Green Touch is a consortium of service providers (including AT&T, Telefonica and others), commercial vendors (including Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung and others), academic researchers (including MIT from US and IBES from Australia), and Government/non-profit institutions (including LETI from France, and imec from Belgium) with the intent to work collaboratively to reduce the carbon footprint of the ICT sector. Green Touch has 15 founding members.

Reducing the ICT carbon footprintis, of course, highly laudable from an environmental and CSR (Corporate Sustainability Report) perspectives. Our view has always been that this aim also makes good business sense too – burning carbon loosely equates to burning money as we have said before (http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/market_overview_telcos_go_green/q/id/46681/t/2). The premise set out by the Green Touch consortium is that the sector today burns 300 million tons of carbon per year, and with the bandwidth explosion (driven by video and mobile usage) this is set to rise rapidly if the industry does nothing (the business as usual – BAU – scenario). This BAU scenario will lead to a rapid increase in carbon emissions and so compound the already established problem.

The Green Touch consortia believes that whilst the initiatives of individual companies to reduce the environmental impact of their businesses have been commendable in their own right, far more can be gained by the industry working together. So what Alcatel-Lucent has put together is an ecosystem of legislators/funding sources (governments), theorists (academics), manufacturers (vendors), and users (telcos) with a view to developing end-to-end solutions for the sector as a whole. Their initial work, they believe, has shown this joined-up thinking has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the ICT sector by thousands of percentage points in comparison with the BAU scenario. This ecosystem approach is what is different about Green Touch, and is also illustrates a development in the ICT sector we have covered in our research(http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/farewell_to_traditional_telecom_ecosystem/q/id/46829/t/2).

So in our view the Green Touch initiative is really interesting. It is true that there are many unanswered questions. At the press release in London on Monday the answers to questions relating to sources of funds, how Intellectual Property (IP) will be handled, relationships with standards bodies, and targets for the consortia were all a bit vague. The Green Touch consortium was described as open to anyone to join, although whether any other users/vendors/academics would be prepared to do so and share their know-how (and IP) is debatable. We think it likely that rival consortia built around other vendors and ecosystems will emerge to compete with Green Touch.  But credit where it is due – perhaps this is the mould-breaking approach necessary to deliver the big cuts in carbon emissions required.

But what do you think? We’d be happy to discuss.