Can mobile technology really help tackle climate change?

Smartphones and mobile technology are helping to dramatically cut carbon emissions in the US and Europe by a staggering five times more than are produced by the operation of mobile networks. This boost to combatting climate change is made in a new report from the Carbon Trust.

Use of mobile technology in Europe and North America alone is saving more than 180 million tons of carbon emissions per year, claims the Mobile Carbon Impact report released by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and the Carbon Trust. This figure is greater than the total annual emissions of the Netherlands.

The report is the first time that the impact of mobile technology today has been qualified in detail. The Carbon Trust looked at a number of carbon-saving systems across ten categories. This covered a variety of uses of mobile communications technology, from smartphones to machine-to-machine (M2M) connections.

The largest carbon emission savings are being made in the operation of buildings and transportation. This is due to improvements in building management and route planning, which have reduced energy and fuel use. The Carbon Trust also noted that mobile is having a meaningful impact on lifestyles, work patterns and energy infrastructure.

Consumers making a difference

In addition, the Carbon Trust carried out an international study of 4,000 smartphone users across the US, UK, Spain, South Korea and Mexico for the report. It discovered that many people are using their smartphone in ways that help cut their personal carbon emissions. These included satnav apps to plan travel routes more efficiently or purchasing digital downloads of newspapers, music and books, instead of physical products. 

The majority of those surveyed said they would be happy to adopt new “mobile” behavior if it could further cut carbon emissions. This included using an app to control electrical devices, heating and air-conditioning and replacing a non-emergency visit to the doctor with a video call.

“This report shows that mobile is already making a real difference across the global economy, helping us to shape a more sustainable world,” commented Luis Neves, Chairman of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative.

The unstoppable march of mobile technology continues.  Advanced mobile technology will be globally ubiquitous by 2020, according to Ericsson’s Mobile Report 2015, with 70 percent of consumers using smartphones and 90 percent covered by mobile broadband networks.  This could lead to a threefold abatement impact from mobile technology over the next five years, according to the Carbon Trust.

Looking forward

Looking into the future, the Carbon Trust is confident that mobile technology will continue to help cut carbon emissions through innovations such as smart grids and driverless cars. “Mobile is going to have a key role to play in helping to tackle climate change. But the impact the technology is having today is just a fraction of its full potential,” explained Andie Stephens, Senior Consultant at the Carbon Trust.

“Given the urgency of the challenge the world faces then there is a clear case to accelerate the adoption of the various mechanisms through which mobile can help to cut carbon. It should also help promote green growth in the developing world, helping them to leapfrog their way to a more sustainable economy,” concluded Stephens.

The Orange Group is focused on reducing CO2 emissions across its business and is committed to playing an important role in reducing climate change. It has, for example, entered into a partnership with Huawei to create highly energy-efficient telecoms networks by 2020. The target is to cut CO2 emissions per customer usage by 20 percent via network architecture, component and infrastructure design enhancements. Read more about the Orange commitment to the environment here.