Patrick Blankers has already celebrated his silver jubilee at Ericsson with several roles on his curriculum. Now, his main task is to promote Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility creating engagement with governmental bodies. That includes several topics such as business ethics, human rights, and, of course, environmental sustainability, where CO2 emission and energy efficiency are two of the main priorities. Several years before taking on the role of Sustainability Program Manager, Patrick felt inspired by Ericsson CEO’s talk during the Mobile World Congress: “he said there were two important trends for Ericsson at that moment. One was mobile broadband. And the other one was climate change. The audience was amazed: why would climate change be an important trend for Ericson? He explained that we were part of the ICT sector, a field that can play a vital role in providing solutions that help reduce carbon emissions,” Patrick recalls.
The impact of that speech was like a call. Therefore, when the opportunity to manage sustainability initiatives in the company arrived, Patrick knew it was the role for him: “When I was in the university, sustainability studies did not exist yet. So, I didn’t have a formal education when I started working in this field within Ericsson nine years ago,” he says. As a Dutch citizen, he was especially motivated to take on this responsibility: Patrick is definitely concerned about global warming and rising sea levels. Moreover, his technical background and his many years of experience in telecommunications give him a clear overview of the relevant influence mobile operators can have on the sustainability debate.
Through telecommunications, videoconferencing is a thing. That means less need to travel, which, in turn, equals a lower footprint. Sure. But that’s not all. The 5G Hub and other initiatives are developing innovations that can support businesses in becoming more optimized and energy-friendly. Think of remote controllable machines, drones, and ships, also reducing the need to travel. Technology has progressed incredibly, and for this reason, every new mobile generation has been much more efficient than previous ones, using less spectrum for sending the same amount of data. The result is much less energy consumption. Ericsson’s target is that 5G should be using ten times less energy than 4G (for a given amount of transferred data).
Adding 5G gadgetry to all the existing equipment might seem like a breeding ground for extra energy consumption. However, Ericsson believes that if the correct decisions in network architecture and infrastructure are made, and by replacing old hardware with new equipment that can support multiple mobile generations, 5G can be introduced in a very energy-efficient way. Patrick clarifies that energy efficiency is an essential design parameter for new products. Not only for sustainability reasons but also when it comes to costs. With energy prices on a dramatic rise, there is very high pressure on network architects to make the infrastructure more energy-efficient.
Part of the solution is to modernize the existing hardware with the latest generation upgrades. In addition, it is recommended to use software features to put hardware in sleep mode during quieter times—in the evening, for instance—when the network’s full capacity is not needed and, as such, specific signals can be switched off. “Several features are available to make the network more energy-efficient,” he says. For Patrick, 5G is an enabler for society, triggering innovations and fomenting digital transformation in many sectors, such as agriculture, entertainment, health, energy, and more. “In the energy sector, smart grids will rely on 5G infrastructure. In agriculture, a farmer may use sensors connected through 5G to optimize the processes and get the most out of his resources, such as fertilizer, water, and whatever you can think of,” he exemplifies.
As previously mentioned, from a technical perspective, 5G can help reduce carbon emissions thanks to the better energy efficiency of its infrastructure. Now, from an application point of view, we can think of the many 5G-enabled innovations that will make society and other industries more carbon-friendly. According to Patrick, it’s estimated that by 2030, the new solutions provided by the ICT sector alone can help reduce 15% of CO2 emissions globally. That is the equivalent of the emissions of Europe and the USA together. Yes, that is huge. We may think that investments in the ICT industry result in purchasing more electronic equipment, which also consumes energy and cause emissions. However, in the end, those improvements help save way more than what’s spent. The total footprint of the ICT sector constitutes 1.4% of global emissions, as Patrick explains.
Furthermore, mobile networks represent about 0.2% of global carbon emissions. Why is it so low? Because the telecom sector is already making enormous efforts in the transition to renewable energy. Many European operators are already using 100% renewable energy sources. VodafoneZiggo, Ericsson’s partner at the 5G Hub, is an example.
For Patrick, 5G and other mobile technologies can help tackle each one of the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Ericsson has decided to focus on goals number 9 and 17. Number 9, Innovation and Infrastructure, of course, is the closest to their core business; and goal number 17, Partnerships, is also considered utterly relevant because “we, as Ericsson, are just one of the players. We cannot do this alone; we need partners like mobile operators, application providers, and other parties in the value chain to implement such projects,” Patrick highlights.
Patrick praises the mobile operators that are actively showcasing their positive imprint on the community. He cites British Telecom, which has for several years targeted to be not carbon neutral but carbon positive. This means their CO2 savings should be three times bigger than their own footprint. “This is just an example, but I think that by setting a target like this, operators can make clear and emphasize the positive impact they have on society by bringing down carbon emissions,” he illustrates. For him, more and more operators are aware of their role in building a low-carbon world. “In fact,” he says, “I think operators are now also triggered by the fact that they have net zero goals.” Net Zero is about establishing a target to bring emissions down to zero throughout the whole value chain. Ericsson has committed to be Net Zero by 2040, a plan which includes their own emissions, the emission of their products when employed in the networks, and the supply chain. Therefore, the Net Zero goal is much more impactful than the previous “carbon neutrality” target, as it only covered the company’s own emissions.
But how to successfully embark your suppliers on that mission? As Patrick details, Ericsson’s supply chain has more than 10,000 providers. Therefore, a careful analysis of the areas with the highest impact has been made. As a result, 350 suppliers were strategically identified and individually approached: they are responsible for 90% of the company’s supply chain emissions. Ericsson’s target is that these 350 suppliers should be in line with the climate targets, according to the Paris Agreement, by 2025. “The target is currently successfully being executed—more than halfway already. Of course, some suppliers need more effort than others. In Europe, for instance, we see a high level of commitment compared to other parts of the world. But through dialogue and increased awareness, so far, we have been able to get these suppliers on board in our carbon reduction targets,” he celebrates.