How to deal with environmental regulations and green networking

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At a time when environmental sustainability is at the forefront of global concerns, the networking industry has found itself facing increasing scrutiny regarding its environmental impact.

For data network administrators, achieving a green network is relatively easy. Assuming the network configuration is satisfactory, it is important to ensure that network devices, support systems, and external carriers are energy efficient and compliant with environmental policies.

Regulatory and standards landscape

As with many other technology areas, environmental regulations impact data networking activities. Assuming your organization is committed to environmental management, the following three regulations are likely to be on your short list of compliance targets:

  1. Clean Air Act. This law aims to reduce air pollution.
  2. Clean water law. This law aims to reduce water pollution.
  3. Comprehensive environmental response, compensation and liability law. This law addresses the cleanup of contaminated sites.

Although the federal and state governments have many other laws in place, these are the most important for proving compliance. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees compliance with most regulations. It is essential for businesses to understand the EPA’s expectations and how to comply with them. Many guides and tools are available to assist you with the compliance process.

An important international standard is ISO 14000, the International Organization for Standardization’s family of environmental management standards. ISO 14000 includes:

  • ISO 14001:2015 — Environmental management systems — Requirements including guidance for use.
  • ISO 14004:2016 — Environmental management systems — General guidelines for implementation.
  • ISO 14005:2019 — Environmental management systems — Guidelines for a flexible approach to phased implementation.

Of these standards, compliance certification is only awarded for ISO 14001. Any organization can use this standard to demonstrate its commitment to environmental management.

Current environmental considerations

Green data networking and IT departments share the same overall goal. Both aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save energy, recycle waste and reduce floor space. To achieve these goals, the following network technologies must comply with environmental regulations:

  • Network devices such as routers, switches, and hubs.
  • A server linked to a network device.
  • A networked VoIP phone system.
  • Environmentally safe internal cable routing.
  • Energy efficient backup power system.

Ensuring technical compliance is only half the battle. Companies should also consider the following supplementary measures:

  • Understand how external network operators and power companies are addressing the environment.
  • Determine which building materials, carpets, and paints are environmentally safe.
  • Replace window glass with highly reflective, energy-efficient glass.
  • Updated entryways with energy-efficient doors.
  • Harness renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
  • Recycle and refurbish old devices such as servers and switches.
  • Replace fossil fuel vehicles with electric or hybrid models.
  • Migrate to cloud-based or MSP network services for environmental efficiency.

Strategies for achieving compliance

Considering the various environmental regulations, IT leaders and network administrators must develop strategies to address regulatory compliance with green networking infrastructure. Consider the following objectives:

  • Align green networking activities with corporate and IT strategies. Environmental protection goals often overlap across sectors. Coordination allows network administrators to collaborate with corporate IT. Together, they can develop or update green data networking policies and protocols and define appropriate end goals for green project development.
  • Identify the most relevant regulations and standards. Follow important regulations and understand how to achieve compliance. Understand what you need to do to make your network infrastructure greener and identify non-compliant internal and external networks.
  • Decide how to report. Determine how you will report your green networking efforts to IT leaders and how your organization will report compliance to government agencies such as the EPA.

Building a green data networking environment

Developing a green data networking infrastructure does not require changes to the internal virtual infrastructure. The main strategy for increasing green networks is to replace external devices such as servers, switches, and routers with energy-efficient units. Devices with an Energy Star label are an ideal choice. Energy-efficient data centers and network operations centers may also use energy-efficient HVAC, security, and backup power systems.

It is important to investigate the compliance of your external network environment. LAN and WAN carriers, ISPs, cloud service providers, and MSPs must also comply with regulations. External providers should be able to communicate details about how their infrastructure is environmentally friendly.

Green data networking is an important step in ensuring that businesses go green. All policies, procedures, and compliance requirements must be consistent with regulations. Data network managers must align their activities with internal and external environmental management and sustainability programs.

Paul Kirvan is an independent consultant, IT auditor, technical writer, editor, and educator. He has over 25 years of experience in business continuity, disaster recovery, security, enterprise risk management, communications and IT auditing.

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