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AT&T launches Connected Climate Initiative to reduce carbon emissions

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AT&T today launched a Connected Climate Initiative (CCI) that promises to bring together partners and researchers in academia to further reduce carbon emissions.

The overall goal is to enable AT&T to help businesses reduce greenhouse emissions by 1 billion metric tons (aka 1 gigaton) by 2035. A gigaton is equal to approximately 15% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 3% of global energy-related emissions generated in 2020.

Organizations that are lending their support to CCI include Microsoft, Equinix, Duke Energy, Texas A&M University System, The University of Missouri, SunPower, Badger Meter, IndustLabs, Traxen, BSR, RMI, Third Derivative, and the Carbon Trust.

At the core of that effort is a drive to encourage enterprise IT organizations to rely more on renewable energy sources, coupled with the shifting of more application workloads to the cloud. Equinix, for example, is committing to enabling customers that connect to its datacenters over AT&T networks to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources such as fuel cells, which create energy via electrochemical reactions. The hosting services company already makes the energy source available to 10,000 customers spanning 220 datacenters, said Jennifer Ruch, director for sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) at Equinix.

Initiatives already underway

Many of those organizations have carbon offset goals of their own that, beyond social responsibility concerns, are being driven by incentives and penalties that will be imposed by governments around the world. “It’s become an economic issue,” Rauch said.

As part of its Future First initiative, Equinix has already committed to achieving global climate neutrality by 2030 and has issued over $3.7 billion in Green Bonds to improve power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating across all its datacenters.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is working to deploy AT&T Guardian devices on its Azure Sphere internet of things security platform to enable businesses to securely collect and analyze data to identify efficiencies and reduce sources of carbon emissions. Azure Sphere is built on the Azure cloud, which Microsoft claims is 98% more carbon efficient than an on-premises IT environment.

Duke Energy at the same time is committing to working with AT&T to explore how broadband technologies may help accelerate the transition to renewable energy. The provider of electricity has previously committed to achieving a net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS Campus will research how wireless 5G technology might speed emissions reduction in industries with high emissions such as transportation, while the University of Missouri is exploring how 5G might reduce carbon emissions generated by buildings.

Seeking carbon credits

In general, carbon emissions generated by IT are being scrutinized more as organizations look for ways to earn carbon credits. IT is only one source of carbon emissions for an organization, but given the amount of energy datacenters consume, finding more efficient ways to consume IT infrastructure resources is becoming a higher priority. Many larger organizations are already finding themselves buying carbon credits from other organizations to offset carbon emissions. The more energy efficient they become, the less of a need there might be to acquire those carbon credits.

In fact, cloud service providers are adding carbon emissions as a reason to shift workloads to cloud computing environments that make use of renewable energy sources to reduce the total amount of carbon generated by organizations that deploy applications on shared infrastructure. Many organizations that continue to operate their own datacenters don’t always have the resources required to reengineer a datacenter in a way that relies more on renewable energy sources.

Of course, AT&T is only the latest in a series of providers of IT infrastructure that have launched climate control initiatives. It’s not clear to what degree those efforts are driving organizations to select one provider of IT infrastructure over another. However, all things being relatively equal from a cost and performance perspective, carbon emissions might very well tip the balance in favor of one vendor over another. One way or another, however, carbon emissions are about to become a lot bigger factor in IT decision-making processes than anyone would have thought a few short years ago.

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