O2 has had its carbon footprints independently verified by the Carbon Trust and says it’s the first mobile network operator to have done so. The bottom line is that the carbon footprint of making a one minute voice call on the O2 network is 3.6g CO2e and transferring one megabyte of data is 11g CO2e. So making a five minute call is the carbon-equivalent of boiling water to make a cup of tea.
The company used the Carbon Trust’s Footprint Expert tool to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions embedded in the lifecycle of its voice and data services.
The footprinting exercise came after research commissioned by O2 showed a lack of awareness of the environmental impact of mobile networks. Since emissions associated with its mobile services make up the majority of O2’s carbon footprint, the company is trying to address the issue.
The next stage for O2 is to provide customers with the tools to calculate the CO2 associated with the services they use and provide comparisons with various activities.
The story harks back to the Sunday Times report in 2009 that performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea. The claim was subsequently denied by the originator of the research and Google, understandably, took exception to the accusation, coming back with the comment that "....in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will likely use more energy than we will use to answer your query".
The O2 figures seem to be a lot more reliable, given the Carbon Trust endorsement. And it’s a good idea to give customers the means to check the CO2 from the services they use, but it strikes me that putting the figures on individual bills would be a significant step forward.