wind mills

Since 1970, Earth Day has been recognized and celebrated by people and organizations around the world and it is also a day that means something unique and different to almost everyone. For TIA and the information communications technology (ICT) industry, Earth Day is an opportune time to reflect on how we work to improve sustainability in our products, businesses and industry as a whole. Millennial and younger generations are reshaping entire markets by demanding more sustainable practices and products from the businesses they buy from and companies they work for, both as consumers and as emerging business leaders.

According to a 2020 research report from IBM and NRF, now more than ever, consumers are seeking products and brands that align with their values, citing research that showed nearly 6 in 10 consumers surveyed were willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. Nearly eight in 10 respondents indicated sustainability is important for them. And for those who say it is very/extremely important, over 70 percent would pay an average premium increase up to 35 percent for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible.

In the ICT industry, standards and best practices are critical to successful business operations. For over two decades, businesses of all sizes have used TIA’s QuEST Forum to convene and collaborate to solve industry-wide challenges through the development of process-based standards, best practices documents, and business performance optimization tools. In 2014, several members met to form a new sustainability working group because as business leaders, they were being asked by employees and clients about what their sustainability plan looks like, but many didn’t have one and were not sure where to start.

The Sustainability Work Group later oversaw the launch and evolution of the TIA Sustainability Assessor, a convenient online tool used to measure a business’ sustainability and corporate responsibility programs – and benchmarks them anonymously against industry average, best, and worst performers. The TIA Sustainability Assessor was, in essence, established by the industry and for the industry, which is what makes it such a powerful tool in that it was designed for maximum impact without difficult budget conversations. The sustainability working group knew the tool had to 1) provide  to the user actionable initiative recommendations based on the organization’s priorities 2) be easy to use and 3) keep the cost low to ensure the tool doesn’t slip out of reach for small businesses and to allow for repeated use to track progress and benchmarking.

“Thankfully Assessor prioritizes the areas that give you the most bang for your buck and for us that was reducing our carbon footprint and improving resource efficiency—both of which would also help us save money,” said Nancy Patterson, Director of Quality and Sustainability at Teltech Group in a recent case study.

For ICT-connected smart buildings, there are aspects of sustainable operations which can be continuously optimized through new IoT sensor technology that enables more A.I.-based automation of building operations. TIA and UL teamed to launch the SPIRE smart building assessment and rating program in 2020 to help building owners optimize their technology investment strategies. The assessment criteria, which has sustainability as one of its six core categories, was shaped by the TIA Smart Buildings Working Group of over 100 individual contributors from more than 60 organizations that span commercial real estate, property technology and network services.

Commercial, nonresidential buildings consume over 20% of the total energy usage every year in the U.S. For owners, sustainable practices often mean big opportunity to improve performance and produce savings, from simple measures like automating lighting with timers and sensors to more complex machine learning based management applications that monitor and predict spatial settings.

TIA members and participant companies take sustainable business practices seriously and invest their people, money and innovations into doing better every year. This is why, for the last six years, TIA QuEST Forum has presented the Annual Sustainability Awards. These awards are presented to the highest performing ICT businesses that used the TIA Sustainability Assessor to analyze their organization’s  sustainability plan and progress.

ADVA Optical Networking was one of the 2020 Sustainability award winners coming out on top in the Excellence in Networking Equipment category. It was a testament to their sustainability journey, which was document in a recent case study. Back in 2015, ADVA also won for the most improved company after using the Sustainability Assessor to help unify efforts across the company which operates in 24 countries.

“When we conducted our first assessment, it became clear that there were some sustainability aspects that we didn’t follow very well and that we needed a centralized sustainability effort, which led to the development of our current Global Sustainability Department and triggered various company-wide improvements. The Sustainability Assessor is a very effective and easy-to-use tool for any company to identify where they need to improve their sustainability efforts,” said Dr. Klaus Grobe, Director of global sustainability at ADVA Optical Networking.

Earth Day helps remind us why sustainability matters. While we continue to make unprecedented strides as a global society, even recently landing spacecraft and flying helicopters on Mars, we still only have one Earth and it is critical that all organizations and businesses can commit to making  sustainability a core focus and function.