The Climate, Cables and Advocacy – An Opinion

By Kristian Nielsen
May 26, 2021Copy of Mag 118 - The Climate, Cables and Advocacy – An Opinion

As featured in the May 2021 Issue of Submarine Telecoms Forum Magazine

Innovation has always been a tricky subject in our industry.

Technologically speaking, new transmission materials, armoring methods, terminal equipment, and terminal equipment have seen tremendous transformations over the 170 some odd years we have been laying cables. As innovation has been driven by demand for better faster and safer communications, this literal industrial revolution marvel has remained mostly unchanged in its methods since the first telegraph was laid in the 1850s.

Sure, the core is faster, the armor stronger and we’re shooting light instead of electrical impulses over glass instead of precious metals. But the core of how a cable is laid and how said cable is operated has remained largely unchanged.

Even today, the primary concern for innovations has been how to keep systems secure and fast with reliable uptime. Power consumption is a concern insofar as how to acquire it and maintain it.

In other technology-based industries there has been a groundswell of support for a new normal, a cleaner one, a sustainable one.

In my opinion, this very well established, best kept secret of the telecoms world, niche industry is at an intersectional point in time – we have the opportunity to pivot and make this world a genuinely better place.

What are we going to do about it?

On April 22, 2021, Earth Day, WFN Strategies was pleased to announce joining The Climate Pledge alongside Amazon, Verizon and over 100 other companies from across dozens of industries.

WFN Strategies is a long-time innovator in the submarine telecommunications industry, this felt a natural progression for us. Since 2001, we have been at the forefront of Polar and Offshore Energy fiber cable engineering, as well as attaining industry-first ISO certifications for Quality Management and Information Security. In an industry over 170 years old, they have in recent years set many industry firsts in engineering and management.

The submarine telecoms industry is due for a new change, one that is renewable and sustainable. From vessels burning fuel to lay cable, to powering the data centers those cables connect to, the telecommunications industry is replete with opportunities for positive change. WFN proposes to not only reach carbon neutral operations by 2040 but also become the industry champions for powering submarine cable systems with renewable sources.

Our unique position within this industry allows them to act as Green Evangelists with system suppliers, developers, and everyone within the supply chain.

“WFN has long committed to sustainable practices, ranging from volunteer work with the Scouting movement to supporting environmental conservation initiatives.” Said Wayne Nielsen, Managing Director. “With this Pledge, and with the ISO 14001 certification, we take our work into the global scale and refocus our efforts for Renewable Advocacy back into this tremendous and dynamic industry. It’s a very exciting time.”

We believes that climate change demands urgent and universal action. As such, we are proud to sign The Climate Pledge. WFN Strategies stands with Amazon, Global Optimism, and the other signatories of The Climate Pledge, in a commitment to being net zero carbon by 2040—ten years ahead of The Paris Agreement.

In addition, as a signatory of The Climate Pledge, WFN Strategies will:

  • Measure and report greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis.
  • Implement decarbonization strategies in line with the Paris Agreement through real business change and innovations, including efficiency improvements, renewable energy, materials reductions, and other carbon emission elimination
  • Take actions to neutralize any remaining emissions with additional, quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially beneficial offsets to achieve net zero annual carbon emissions by 2040

By joining The Climate Pledge, WFN Strategies is reinforcing its commitment to sustainability and we are excited to join a community that will share knowledge, ideas, and best practices.

We are not alone.

This year, for the first time in recent history, companies in the submarine industry have started focusing their attention on sustainable practices. Just recently on 4 May 2021, Prysmian Group announced their ECO CABLE initiative, a first for our industry.

Like WFN, Prysmian Group holds a unique industry position wherein they have the ability to impact significant change in cable development.

In their own words “We provide products that are the green life blood that brings energy to homes, infrastructures and cities around the world. With a business strategy consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we strive to be green inside. We express this through products that when installed in homes, infrastructures and cities around the world, make these just as green inside. ECO CABLE is the first green label in the cable industry and vouches for the greenness of our cables.”

Prysmian Group has proposed a label, the ECO CABLE certification, for cable systems that can meet criteria and key performance indicators, all scored in a proprietary Sustainability Scorecard. Their goal is to make the data as transparent as possible, with a priority of reaching 20% of total products assessed using ECO CABLE criteria by 2022. (ECO CABLE | Prysmian Group)

I’ve terrifically oversimplified their approach – I wholly encourage you to read more about it. These are the steps that we, as an industry, need to take to step into the next generation.

Not just a set of standards.

My father once told me that you cannot seek to solve a problem unless you first quantify it, an adage I’ve seen true just about anywhere I have looked. While the opportunities are best quantified to be achieved, the work must be done by those who can to achieve them. But who, you may ask?

Development of systems that are focused on sustainable solutions, cliché as it may be to say, are already in development.

Once upon a time, our focus was fairly focused on what happens between beach manholes, in recent years that’s grown from POP to POP, and now from DC to DC. I would argue, that with Datagrid and Meridian partnering to build a hydro power supported Datacenter in New Zealand the marker has moved again to now consider the power supply of systems as well.

“A significant part of the $700m project involves laying a new submarine cable to connect Invercargill directly to the east coast of Australia, a shorter distance than between Auckland and Australia.  It also involves laying a domestic festoon cable to connect Invercargill with cities on New Zealand’s east coast.”

There are others in the works, companies like Bulk Infrastructure, based out of Norway, are at the forefront of development of new ideas, systems and technologies that are sustainably minded.

What’s next?

We, as an industry, need to treat “green” cables with as much seriousness as the universal joint or a common set of reporting standards. You can help, get involved with your industry associations and start the conversation. I would charge PTC, ICPC and SubOptic with the task of taking up the banner of sustainability!

We can do it, we must.