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The World Wide Web of Carbon: Towards a Relational Footprinting of ICT's Climate Impacts.

By Anne Pasek, Hunter Vaughan, and Nicole Starosielski

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The climate impacts of the information and communications technology sector—and Big Data especially—is a topic of growing public and industry concern, though attempts to quantify its carbon footprint have produced contradictory results. This article assesses these debates, arguing that, due to data frictions and incommensurate study designs, the question is likely to remain irresolvable at the global scale. In response, we propose an alternative approach that reframes the question in spatial and situated terms. Illustrating our model with one of the global Internet's most overlooked components—subsea telecommunication cables—we propose that information and communications technology futures would be best charted not only in terms of quantified total energy use, but in specifying the geographical and technical parts of the network that are the least carbon-intensive, and which can therefore provide opportunities for both carbon reductions and a renewed infrastructural politics.

The SubOptic Foundation Congress on Sustainability

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By Iago Bojczuk

The SubOptic Foundation Congress on Sustainability made subsea history as the first intentional gathering of members from across sectors and around the world to discuss metrics for sustainability in the subsea cable industry. This article discusses the conversations that took place in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Sustainability at PTC ’23: Three Takeaways

By George N. Ramírez and Nicole Starosielski

Sustainability was a hot topic at this year’s Pacific Telecommunications Conference. This article highlights three takeaways about sustainable practices and development: a focus on cooperation and collaboration, the need for immediate actions that build toward long-term sustainability, and a call for better metrics and data sharing.

A New Era of Sustainable Network Hubs?

The Subsea Cable – Data Center – Renewable Energy Connection

By Iago Bojczuk, Nick Silcox, Nicole Starosielski and Hunter Vaughan

This month’s Sustainable Subsea column asks: how have certain locations emerged as cable hubs, and how did these cable connections become intertwined with the data center landscape? Given that companies are increasingly pursuing net-zero goals, how can networks of the future be connected to renewable energy developments?

Greening of Maritime Ports: 

Is Regulation The Game Changer?

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By Anjali Sugadev, Sorcha Ffrench, And George Ramírez

The subsea cable industry depends on a fuel-intensive marine fleet to install, maintain, and repair cables around the globe. Yet this fleet is almost entirely absent when it comes to discussions of the environmental impact of digital media technologies. From innovations of more renewable-powered ships to legislative frameworks, regulations enabling investments and infrastructural upgrades of ports should play a central role in this discussion. For this article, we interviewed port authorities around the world to better understand their capacity to reduce emissions and pave the way for a more sustainable future. Alongside identifying fifty sustainable ports, we found three pieces of regulation that impact the operations of ports and ships: IEC/ IEEE 80005-1:2019 on High voltage shore connection (HVSC) system, Directive 2014/ 94/ EU on Alternative Fuel Infrastructure (AFI) and Ocean-Going Vessels at Berth Regulation—an international standard, regional law, and local regulation respectively. Through our analysis we show pathways for the industry to work with sustainable ports to decrease emissions while still effectively maintaining cables. While there may not be a single solution to decarbonize the Internet, expanding partnerships with ports is one possible avenue forward. Our analysis also concludes that rather than replacing a fleet, the subsea cable industry might leverage already existing laws to improve sustainability practices.

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More Cables = Less Carbon? The Internet’s Contentious Carbon Footprint And A Subsea Solution

By Nick Silcox, Anne Pasek,

Nicole Starosielski, And Hunter Vaughan

Increasingly, news outlets report on the climate costs of ever-expanding digital infrastructures, targeting data centers and video streaming services as climate villains. Despite this, there is little certainty on the actual carbon footprint of the internet. While some researchers predict a catastrophic increase of the internet's carbon emissions in the coming decades, others suggest that digital networks can achieve green growth through increased efficiency measures. In this article, we describe why these debates have reached an impasse and how this lack of consensus can be expected to continue. Instead, our approach has been to instead pose the question of sustainability differently. Instead of focusing on growth trends, we should look at the organization of global network infrastructure, placing subsea cables at the heart of the discussion rather than at the margins. We argue that the subsea cable industry’s smaller carbon footprint, high reliability, and low environmental impacts could be leveraged to create a lower-carbon internet infrastructure as a whole.

Calculating A Subsea Footprint

By Kristian Nielsen

Over the past few years, there has been a growth in the number of digital infrastructure companies that are moving toward net-zero emissions. One central aspect of making progress toward that goal is information-sharing. While many subsea companies have been successful in collecting data, one way to compound these results is by sharing these results across the industry. To date, there has been no universal mechanism to measure carbon over the life of materials used to build, maintain, and repair subsea telecommunications infrastructure. This column article discusses how Universal Jointing (UJ) can serve as a model for collaboration and points out five areas where progress can be made: systems design and engineering; survey; system manufacture and installation; operations; and life cycle. We also argue that sharing data across the industry can actually be helpful from a business perspective. Among other things, knowing how facilities and processes contribute to one's carbon footprint may actually function as an incentive to identify efficient strategies. All in all, the article concludes by suggesting that the industry is in a unique position to drive the necessary conversations for both financial and environmental sustainability.

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Flying the Skies to Wire the Seas: Should the Subsea Cable Industry Stop Traveling?

by Nicole Starosielski, Iago Bojczuk, and Anne Pasek

For our third “Sustainable Subsea” column in SubTel Forum, we discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on travel across the subsea industry to explore the extent in which stakeholders will continue to rely on the new modalities of remote work. Should the industry continue to travel at pre-COVID levels? Or should we embrace the new normal, with all of its ecological and financial benefits? Or, will there be some intermediate compromise, which is accepted as effective and also efficient both from a business and environmental standpoint? To investigate these questions further, we interviewed leaders in the industry, surveyed research conducted on this topic, and tracked decisions being made at senior levels. In our many interviews, we found that the decision whether to travel or not is highly dependent on context. Although remote work is here to stay—with all of its green dividends—we were consistently reminded that there is also an intractable “in-person” aspect critical to the subsea cable industry. In short, the ability to conduct or not remote work depends on what stage of the process the project is at; the particular people in the room; and the degree to which people already know each other and the social fabric is in place. To help members of the industry to ensure more sustainable practices, we have developed the first calculator in the industry to measure carbon emission savings in transitioning to remote work.

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Screenshot of the article "Energy + Telecommunications: Bringing together two worlds at cable landing station".
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Energy + Telecommunications: Bringing Together Two Worlds at the Cable Landing Station

by Nicole Starosielski and George N. Ramírez

In “Energy + Communications: Bringing together Two Worlds at the Cable Landing Station,” we discuss the ways cable landing stations can develop more sustainable practices. In particular, we highlight approaches to “greening” CLSs that focus on services that address an array of infrastructural, cultural, and geographic challenges. These include focusing on cooling, upgrading equipment, and repurposing hardware in order to make CLSs more sustainable. Through the concept of the circular economy, companies can reframe challenges as parameters rather than limitations for developing feasible and effective solutions. While many challenges arise across cultural and geographic contexts, establishing partnerships with customers and communities allows for creative, economical, and sustainable solutions with minimal impact to site resilience.

A Blue Industry Going Green

by Nicole Starosielski and Nick Silcox

Our first article in SubTel Forum's new “Sustainable Subsea” column, “A Blue Industry Going Green” highlights the sustainability initiatives of three subsea cable companies. We discuss how Orange Marine, a French subsea cable company with a marine fleet, has gone “above and beyond,” from installing and operating solar panels in their ship ports to developing sustainable ships to improve the efficiency of their fleet. NJFX, an American cable landing station based in New Jersey, recently chose to make their facility carbon neutral and took steps to improve the thermal management of their facility. Finally, at the Solomon Islands Submarine Cable Company, employee Andrew Siru led initiatives to conserve energy and water and developed a recycling program for their offices. Each of these companies faced unique challenges in moving toward sustainability in their specific geographic locations and business contexts. In response to those challenges, each company developed appropriate initiatives, and in doing so, helped to build a sustainable future for the cable industry.

The front cover of the magazine Submarine Telecoms Forum shows a man looking into the distance. Text says "Global Outlook".
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Front page of the zine. It is comprised of designed letters that make up “the cost of convenience”.

Blue Solutions to Greening the Internet

by Anne Pasek and Hunter Vaughan

Featured in Minderoo Centre for Technology & Democracy's The Cost of Convenience on September 2021.

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