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Verizon debuts new carbon emissions 'intensity' metric

Posting in Energy

Verizon's new carbon emissions metric calculates its electricity and fuel consumption as a ratio of how much data it transmits.

Some consumer products companies, like Anheuser-Busch InBev, measure their environmental impact per liter of beverage or food item produced. Professional services firms often look at a per-employee, per-year number to express it. Still other businesses figure it out strictly as a percentage of revenue. If you are an IT-intense business, on the other hand, it makes sense that you would calculate your impact as a ratio of the amount of power it takes to run your technology versus what your technology hosts or produces.

Such is the new strategy of American telecommunications giant Verizon, which has debuted a new metric for measuring the impact of its carbon emissions as a ratio of how much data it transmits over its communications networks. Verizon's carbon emissions calculation includes everything from its electricity, the fuel used to heat its buildings and the fuel used to run its service fleet vehicles. That number (in metric tons) is divided by the number of terabytes of data that is transmitted over the Verizon networks. Here's a fun bit of trivia: one terabyte of data is roughly the data needed to transmit 300 feature-length movies across the network. In 2010, Verizon transported 78.6 million terabytes globally, which was an increase of 16 percent over the previous year.

Based on this new metric, Verizon figures it improved its carbon emissions efficiency by 15 percent between 2009 and 2010. The company is targeting an improvement of 15 percent during 2011.

In a press release describing the metric, the company got a senior vice president -- Jeremy Symons -- from the National Wildlife Federation to weigh in on its new metric:

"The information transmitted over Verizon's networks every day is already equivalent to 215 million copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and customers want more. It requires a lot of energy to deliver all that data. By setting a goal of a 15 percent carbon-efficiency improvement for 2011, Verizon is helping to minimize the carbon footprint of the digital age even as customers ask for more services."

By the way, Verizon USED to calculate its carbon dioxide emissions on a per-revenue basis.

There are many different things the carrier is doing to address its sustainable operations profile, including a focus on fleet management (it deployed 1,642 hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles in 2010 alone) and more energy-efficient network equipment.  By the end of 2011, approximately 7.5 percent of the Verizon fleet will use alternative fuels (that compares with about 5 percent now). Verizon Wireless even has introduced what it calls the first CarbonFree smart phone. Mind you, at last count, Sprint had four mobile phones (including a smartphone) that it has vetted for green credentials.

Do I sense a new battleground for mobile phone loyalty with sustainability at the center?

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure