16 June 2019
ICT product energy efficiency as a science-based emissions-reduction target


By Dr. Klaus Grobe, Dir. Global Sustainability, ADVA Optical Networking SE

Summer 2019

The Science Based Targets initiative is the most important global initiative for companies to commit to carbon emissions reductions.

By now, more than 550 companies have committed, with more than 200 having set targets. Participants must define Scope-1 and Scope-2 targets according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, and in case their total emissions are dominated by Scope-3, they must define a related Scope-3 target as well. In many cases, the first two targets relate to owned transport (e.g., a company car pool) and purchased electricity, respectively. Scope-3 targets, however, tend to being sector-specific, and their approval may consume considerable time.

Any targets must align with climate science, i.e., they must support the limitation of global temperature increase compared to pre-industrial time. In no case, absolute emission increase is allowed. This again may make certain Scope-3 targets challenging.

ADVA decided to commit in November 2016. We did this in order to set environment-related targets that the company can follow strategically over a period of 10 or more years. Our emissions are dominated by sold-products use-phase emissions, a Scope-3 contribution. These emissions are caused by the electricity consumption, and they can be influenced by ecodesign focusing on energy efficiency. The use phase of our products is dominant for two reasons. First, as ICT (information and communications technology) core-network equipment, the typical use mode is 24/7 always-on, and use phase often exceeds 10 years. Second, the equipment is subject to the quickly growing ICT bitrates. This growth eats most of the gains in energy efficiency, making the related target challenging. In addition, company growth must be considered, especially for target runtimes of 10 or more years.

ADVA submitted the three targets in September 2017. After several rounds of fruitful discussions with the initiative (and related changes and intensification), the targets were approved in April 2019. For Scope-3, we committed to 3% total reduction of the use-phase emissions of all products sold in the target year 2032, compared to the base year 2016. This seems to be low, but the reduction has to work against both, company growth (i.e., more products sold) as well as the sustained ICT bitrate growth that requires more powerful equipment in terms of its throughput. Over the next couple of years, this target will drive our ecodesign activities, leading to most energyefficient products. This is supported by improving emission factors, i.e., the amount of carbon emitted by kilowatt-hour consumed.

Next to the increasing ICT bitrates which made the Scope-3 target challenging, there is another ICT aspect worth considering in this context. Proper use of ICT services can enable decarbonization in other areas, e.g., in transport, smart grids etc. We sometimes call this Green by ICT. In a global context, this could mean that ICT may be given a certain emissions allowance to support this. The question for now remains how to do this in a fair and scientific way. Perhaps, this is for future rounds of the initiative.