To sustainably support the tremendous global demand for connectivity, collaboration is needed across the value chain to create solutions that enable more information to move faster, with greater protection and safety, using less energy.
For many years, a common complaint among people in the US has been the state of the country’s infrastructure. Now, as continuous connectivity has become increasingly critical — with people spending more time at home since the pandemic — market trends for power and telecommunication networks are accelerating demand for cable solutions.
The passing of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021 will bring a greater focus on upgrading our utilities and transportation. In fact, over half of the bipartisan plan allows for accelerated growth to the current infrastructure — which includes broadband, power, airports, public transit, roads, electric buses and electric vehicle infrastructure — making improvements to wire and cable a necessity.
However, as this rise in enhanced connectivity subsequently causes record demand for energy, all industries related to power and telecommunications must also shift their mindsets to prioritize carbon-reduction goals and more sustainable solutions — without sacrificing safety and reliability. By keeping an open mind to partnerships and collaboration throughout the value chain, organizations can be better equipped to not only meet their sustainability goals, but also drive meaningful change.
The industry should focus on developing advanced materials that are safer, and enable longer service life and more efficient installation, for reliable communications while using less material.
Sustainability and safety must be synonymous
According to a 2021 report from Boston Consulting Group, the telecoms sector is responsible for about 3-4 percent of global CO2 emissions — about twice the level of the much more heavily scrutinized aviation sector. As experts predict global data usage will increase by 60 percent, that number could increase to 14 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2040 unless telecoms and communication technology companies take significant steps to lower their environmental impact.
In terms of sustainability, the cable and connectivity industries have both a tremendous opportunity and an analogous challenge. Equally paramount to sustainable solutions are safe solutions — starting with the materials used. Whether utilized in buildings, emergency backup applications or broadband, the solutions must meet and exceed industry expectations — offering the reliability that’s essential for consistent, long-term performance. After all, it’s expected that newly erected infrastructure should last at least the next 50 years.
Key to safety and performance, materials must be proven for fire performance by demonstrating low levels of smoke, corrosivity and toxicity — attributes that help save lives and equipment — such as Dow’s high-performance, halogen-free, flame-retardant (HFFR) UNIGARD™ Flame Retardant compounds, which are designed to meet such requirements. The service life of a product is also vital to help reduce the frequency of replacement, which directly results in lessened environmental impact and disruption to consumers and communities. Crucial to achieving this quality consistency is the development of complementary new products — such as AXELERON™ Telecom Cable Compounds with CONTINUUM™ Bimodal Polyethylene Resins.
Achieving sustainability goals requires collaboration
Because sustainability is such a broad topic, companies and groups are still defining what it looks like within their industries. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value’s annual CEO study, while more than half of CEOs at telecoms companies say operating more sustainably is a top priority in the next two to three years, those same respondents also consider sustainability to be one of the top three challenges in that same time span.
Therefore, to support the tremendous global demand for connectivity, closer collaboration will be necessary throughout the industry — across the value chain from material providers to end-users — to create sustainable solutions that enable more information to move faster, in denser configurations, with greater protection and safety, using less energy.
Understanding this importance, material providers such as Dow and major cable internet service providers (ISPs) including Comcast, Cox and Charter have all made carbon-reduction commitments and plan to be carbon neutral in or before 2050. Yet, these aspirations don’t stop with carbon. For example, Dow has recently committed to “Transforming the Waste” by converting plastic waste and other forms of alternative feedstock to commercialize 3 million metric tons of circular and renewable solutions annually.
As the industry progresses, active involvement with trade associations will allow companies to stay on top of emerging performance trends and customer needs. Collaboration between strategic partners also allows the industry to implement far-reaching ideas — such as utilizing post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content or creating an advanced-recycling program for wire and cables. According to the Internet and Television Association, to reach their own commitments and achieve zero waste to landfill, ISPs are putting programs in place that focus on recycling the coaxial cable used to lay broadband networks by breaking down the wires into raw materials to resell. Additionally, the program is adapting the recycled plastic from the coaxial waste to use for other industries.
As the US focuses on evolving its infrastructure, the power and telecoms industries have an opportunity to make an impact through long-lasting and sustainable solutions — both in the short and long term. But achieving this will take widespread collaboration, as no company can do it alone.