Creating a more sustainable digital environment can take many forms. However, one that many companies overlook is their network, which has a massive carbon footprint despite its seemingly invisible appearance. The energy required to connect humanity to technology grows yearly, creating digital waste that is sometimes hard to quantify.
Businesses should consider energy-efficient networking to save money and advance toward a greener planet. It can positively affect more than just achieving sustainable development goals — it can also improve a company’s stability and financial health.
Environmental Impact of Networks
Before brainstorming eco-friendly strategies for greener networking, it is critical to understand the root of the problem. Whether the connection is wired or not, networks are on a trajectory to release more carbon emissions from using more energy. By 2025, they could account for 20% of the world’s electricity consumption, equating to 5% of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
How much greener are sustainable networks compared to old versions? This can vary widely, depending on the utilization of the Internet of Things (IoT) and other sustainable implementations. Choosing a network gateway that is most appropriate for your purposes is vital.
Each IoT technology has different specs. You must consider bandwidth usage, efficient data transference speed, and the range between connections to make an environmentally informed decision. For example, radio frequency-based connections like 5G use less energy, making them more cost-effective.
Old methods of updating networks like rip and replace quickly reveals the waste produced by antiquated networking practices. Gutting entire networks and technological infrastructures is costly and produces copious waste and excess downtime. Green networking has to prioritize energy efficiency and resource and waste reduction while still providing the same connectivity and speed as legacy hardware.
Unnecessary data silos create issues for the environment since they are isolated networks. This separation of access could be streamlined, making a more unified — but still secure — network structure. The more spread out the servers, the more points there are in a company’s map to produce pollution and waste.
Tangible proof of unsustainable network practices surrounds radio-frequency identification (RFID) — a staple IoT technology. It produces excess waste with RFID tags, which are essential for short-range communications that maintain many sectors like supply chain management and retail. These tags are entirely recyclable. However, the tiny antenna in the plastic makes separation time-consuming and expensive, so it does not happen often.
The most significant impact green networking has is the effect it has on every other facet of a company’s IoT infrastructure. Better network performance improves output for every connected device — upgrading the network subsequently upgrades countless devices. It encourages greater profits and gathering more intelligent analytics by using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Strategies Behind Green Networks
Vendors old and new are now offering greener options for their clients. For example, Cisco and Juniper have corporate social responsibility initiatives that create a more eco-friendly service offering. This encourages clients to make the shift. Some strategies are more comprehensive than others. However, one constant stays the same — the move to wireless could emit 16.5% fewer emissions in the future.
One of the ways humans can create more sustainable networks is by consolidating physical servers and observing the environmental impact of data centers. Servers require copious amounts of power to operate, causing energy bills to skyrocket and technological waste to accumulate.
It also wastes money because IT teams and engineers have to spend time maintaining physical servers. If operations moved to alternative networks, investing in workers’ wages could be more intentional, allowing them to progress company initiatives instead of simply maintaining them. Automation through intent-based networking (IBN) accompanies the mission to reduce finances spent on human intervention. IBN can work with IoT to improve security and compliance initiatives without wasting time or money.
A more straightforward action to improve energy efficiency is trading out energy-inefficient hardware with updated versions. Smaller steps like employing system-on-a-chip devices or using better transmitters and receivers could decrease energy usage by over 40%. This is critical since radio access networks use large antennae and vast amounts of power.
Network visualization is another method of making more sustainable networks, as it asserts the necessity to separate networks from physical hardware as humans embrace the digital sphere. The extended access will decrease resource use to power hardware and obstacles in transferring information because of its open-source nature.
There is also the matter of using cloud services, which aren’t always the most eco-friendly option, but if used smartly, are an improvement toward greener networking. Just because they are cloud-based does not mean there are no physical data centers using power.
Fortunately, there are cloud services that specialize in green cloud computing to account for the environmental impact. Some use refurbished hardware or implement IoT to monitor chosen key performance indicators to optimize for more environmentally-focused performance, such as temperature regulation.
Recognizing Priorities Alongside Benefits
Intentions may vary depending on the business. Being at the forefront of creating a greener planet is enough for some to switch to more eco-friendly networking alternatives. Depending on the country where it is located, tax benefits or other incentives could factor into a green networking infrastructure.
Companies also may want to switch because it’s good publicity. A business could raise its bottom line by guiding eco-conscious customers to invest in its products and services. This is even true for company decisions that don’t apply to regular patrons. The initiative will be enough to garner favor from consumers, incentivizing competing businesses toward a sector focused on eco-friendly headways.
However, if companies go public with their environmental goals, it could cause extra scrutiny. This is a benefit and a drawback, as making switches to greener networking can cause a domino effect for subsequent eco-friendly adjustments — especially since traditional networking doesn’t work harmoniously with green business management practices. Produced with older materials and methodologies, they require too much upkeep and lack smart automation that will increase the network’s life span.
Switching to more modern networking could also save companies money, especially if other green initiatives supplement this move, such as using renewable energy or hybrid work models. The aforementioned savings on servers is a boon, but you could also consider the cost savings for cybersecurity since cloud networking, for example, decreases the chance of digital risks.
Cloud networking can also more efficiently control other aspects of sustainability, such as optimizing HVAC systems and automating lighting. Primarily, it can reduce the layers in networking infrastructure, reducing the number of nodes by increasing how many devices can connect to each. This could save a typical office building thousands of kilowatts of electricity every year. Since networks cannot be turned off, green networking can help monitor what’s powered on and adjust consumption for greener operations.
Also see: Using Digital Twins to Push IoT
Greener Networking Signifies Positive Change
Expanded network access and increased human usage create urgency for green networks to become the norm. Otherwise, ICT cannot keep up with climate goals to reduce carbon emissions.
When considering the environmental impact of technology — energy usage, physical tech waste, and resource depletion — switching to energy-efficient networking could be a top business solution. It can improve a company’s financial well-being and — more important — promote the normalization of switching to sustainable networking options.
Also see: Top Zero Trust Networking Solutions