Communications company Verizon has come up with a new way of measuring how efficient it is in minimising carbon emissions. The new metric is based on the amount of data transported across the company’s networks, rather than related to revenue.
Verizon’s Sustainability Office developed the measure, known as the ‘carbon intensity metric’, and tested it over the last year. The tests showed an improvement of approximately 15% in carbon efficiency, from 2009 to 2010.
The company has implemented a range of green initiatives, including using alternative fuels and hybrid-engine vehicles in its fleet and deploying more energy-efficient network equipment. Verizon believes that by measuring how many metric tons of carbon emissions it produces to move a terabyte of data it can better assess its sustainability efforts and where it needs to focus more attention.
Until now the company has used a measure based on metric tons of CO2 emitted per $m of revenue. The new metric is calculated by adding up Verizon’s total carbon emissions, including electricity and fuels for buildings and vehicles, and dividing the total by the number of terabytes of data that the company transports across its network.
Verizon is committed to reporting its carbon efficiency each year and has a goal of increasing its carbon efficiency by an additional 15% this year.
Using carbon intensity as a means to measure and target carbon reduction has one main flaw – it doesn’t necessarily result in less carbon being emitted, which is the ultimate aim if we are to restrict global warming.
In the case of Verizon, from 2007 to 2009 the company reports that carbon intensity, based on revenue, saw a fall of almost 10%, from 66.5 metric tons of CO2 per million dollars of revenue down to 60.2 metric tons of CO2. But over the same period actual CO2 emissions were up from 6.2 million metric tones in 2007 to 6.5 million metric tons in 2009, a 4% increase. And this is for US operations only.
In fact carbon efficiency can be a useful tool, if it relates back to real CO2 reductions in the long term, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. On the other hand, some aspects of the economy may inevitable increase their carbon emissions whilst helping other businesses to reduce theirs, and communications is a prime example.
In this case though, the question is how the new metric will be applied. By changing to the new methodology Verizon found that its carbon intensity has improved by 15% in just one year – I couldn’t find the data to run a comparison using the previous efficiency metric. The company has targets for improving carbon efficiency, but its not clear if and how the new measure will be incorporated in assessing its achievements against existing targets.