Europe Completes GHG Audit for a Large R&E Network

As we learn that most ICT impact occurs outside of the data center, understanding the the impact of "CT" becomes as important as that of "IT". GÉANT, the multi-gigabit pan-European research and education (R&E) network, has completed an GHG audit of its network backbone using the ISO 14063 standard. Its report both offers insights and raises questions.

First, the bottom line. The GÉANT backbone is responsible for 2042 tons of CO2e emissions a year. Assuming this is only one part of the total GÉANT activity, it is clear that R&E activities do have a considerable environmental impact.

The most useful aspect of the report is its discussion of the challenges in such an undertaking. (GÉANT is to be commended for holding itself accountable to an external, global standard.) Lessons from this effort will be invaluable to others undertaking analyses of other networks.

The effort did use some debatable approximations. For example, it uses a PUE of 1.7 for a wide range of ICT gear, based on measurements make at one data center. While commercial "mega" data centers have made considerable strides in driving PUE well below 2.0, it is unclear if this is true of R&E facilities. These are typically smaller facilities, where very low PUEs are harder to achieve, and they often lack strong stakeholder pressure to drive down energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The GÉANT backbone analysis also relies on self-audits by the network's constituent organizations. The report note that the "decision of the partners to conduct the audit themselves rather than outsourcing the measurement, calculation and reporting stages has had tangible benefits. Partners were able to appreciate the standard by applying it directly to measurements of GHG emissions. As part of the measurement process, they were able to see areas where reductions in GHG emissions – and savings in time and money – could be made, without a reduction in the level of service or its resilience." There is no discussion of how local reporting can be influenced by local political and social pressures, nor of the value of third-party verification.

Beyond the above-quoted nod to GHG reduction, the report is generally silent on reduction follow-up. We have previously noted that R&E professionals who bring large amounts of grant money to their institutions are rarely held accountable for their work's GHG impact. We'll see if the GÉANT audit helps evolve the R&E culture in Europe.