With 5 Billion Subscriptions, Mobile Industry Has Emissions On Par With Auto and Aviation Industries

cell phone tower red photo

Photo via Marco Gomes via Flickr CC

Worldwide, there are 4.6 billion cell phone subscriptions and it's expected to hit 5 billion during this year according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). With developing countries leapfrogging from no phone to cell phone - completely skipping the notion of land lines - and with developed countries demanding services like mobile banking and healthcare, it seems that the mobile industry has grown to surprising proportions. And that includes an emissions out put roughly equal to that of the automobile and airline industries. The mobile industry is responsible for about 0.7% of total global emissions, and that means the focus is now on how to cut down on the carbon footprint of mobile services. Edie reports that according to Deloitte's telecoms partner Tony Cooper the mobile industry generates around 183 million tons of CO2 annually, and he states, "Telecoms businesses are responding to this issue, but there is still significant progress to be made in areas such as increased network sharing, reduced power consumption, improved field force effectiveness and reduced handset renewal...Experience in the telecoms industry suggests that reducing emissions is as much a behavioural challenge as it is a technology one."

It's true that changing behaviors around cell phone use is an important part in reducing emissions - keeping a cell phone for 3 years, rather than the usual 18 months in effect doubles the life of the average cell phone. But there's a lot more to the mobile industry than just the consumer device. And emissions need to be cut way, way back since there is no sign of demand for services slowing.

As reported at Gizmodo, ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun Toure stated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week "Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services and I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the Internet."

With the growing number of smart phones that can access the internet, as well as devices like e-readers and now the iPad, the demand for telecom services is only going up. The ITU expects mobile broadband subscriptions to hit 1 billion this year, up from 600 million at the end of 2009. That's an incredible pace.

Mobile Industry Can Both Reduce Its Own Footprint, and ALL Footprints
The industry is taking note about its own need to reduce emissions, but is also vocal about how it helps to reduce the emissions in other sectors. A few months ago, the GSM Association released a Green Manifesto, showing how mobile communications can lower emissions in other industries through dematerialization, better logistics, fleet management, teleconferencing, and so on. The Manifesto concludes that the mobile industry can lower emissions in other sectors by more than 4.5 times the emissions footprint of the mobile industry. Importantly, the manifesto acknowledges that emissions can and should be reduced in all industries. The goals include:

1. Reduce total global greenhouse gas emissions per connection by 40 percent by 2020, compared to 2009. This includes all emissions under the control of mobile industry companies, such as energy use from radio networks, buildings and transportation. Companies are looking into how to use less power at base stations, including using local renewable power to run some stations.

2. Have carbon neutral growth. The mobile industry expects the number of mobile connections to rise by 70 percent, to 8 billion connections, by 2020, but the industry aims to keep its total emissions at 245 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

3. Reduce mobile handset energy use, when the handsets are both in use and in standby, by 40 percent by 2020.

4. Reduce the lifecycle emissions of network equipment components by 40 percent by 2020. Some ways that companies are working to reduce the lifecycle impacts of equipment include a push for universal chargers, handsets made with recycled materials or powered by solar energy, and improving recycling efforts.

Already we're seeing interesting ways in which mobile communication is helping to reduce carbon emissions everywhere - especially in areas like healthcare.. The trick is to ensure the means justify the end - the mobile industry has to keep its own footprint at minimum while helping every other industry reduce their own. The manifesto is a great start.

Also, the recently created Green Touch Consortium is aiming to make the mobile industry 1000 times more efficient over the next decade. Meetings to brainstorm just how to do that start this month.

More on Mobile Industry
New Green Touch Consortium Wants to Make Mobile Networks 1000x More Efficient
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UK's Green Party Wants to Save Energy By Consolidating Cell Phone Networks

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