How to handle environmental regulations and green networking

In an era where environmental sustainability is at the forefront of global concerns, the networking industry finds itself facing increased scrutiny regarding its ecological impact.

Data network managers can achieve green networking relatively easily. Assuming the network configuration is satisfactory, it’s key to ensure that network devices, supporting systems and outside carriers are energy-efficient and comply with environmental policies.

Regulatory and standards landscape
Like many other technology sectors, environmental regulations affect data networking activities. Assuming an organization is committed to environmental management, the following three regulations are likely on a short list for compliance:

Clean Air Act. This act aims to reduce air pollution.
Clean Water Act. This act aims to reduce water pollution.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. This act addresses the cleanup of contaminated sites.

Federal and state governments have enacted many other laws, but the above are the most important for demonstrating compliance. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees compliance of most regulations. It’s essential for enterprises to understand EPA expectations and how to comply with them. Many guides and tools are available to assist with the compliance process.
An important international standard is ISO 14000, the environmental management family of standards from the International Organization for Standardization. ISO 14000 includes the following:

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

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

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

Network devices, such as routers, switches and hubs.
Servers linked to network devices.
Network-connected VoIP phone systems.
Environmentally safe internal cabling.
Energy-efficient backup power systems.

Ensuring technological compliance is only half the battle. Enterprises should also consider the following ancillary measures:

Understanding how external network carriers and electric power companies address the environment.
Determining which building materials, carpets and paints are environmentally safe.
Replacing windowpanes with reflective and energy-efficient glass.
Updating entry and exit points with energy-efficient doors.
Using renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
Recycling and refurbishing old devices, such as servers and switches.
Replacing fossil fuel vehicles with electric or hybrid models.
Migrating to cloud-based or MSP network services to increase environmental efficiency.

Strategies for achieving compliance
Considering the variety of environmental regulations, IT leadership and network managers should form strategies to address regulatory compliance with a green networking infrastructure. Consider the following objectives:

Align green networking activities with corporate and IT strategies. Environmental protection goals often overlap among departments. Alignment enables network managers to work with corporate IT. Together, they can develop or update policies and protocols for green data networking and define an appropriate endgame for green project development.
Identify the most relevant regulations and standards. Follow important regulations to understand how to achieve compliance. Understand what needs to be done to increase the green level of the network infrastructure, and identify noncompliant internal and external networks.
Determine reporting practices. Determine how to report on green networking initiatives to IT leadership and how the organization plans to report its compliance to government entities, like the EPA.

Building a green data networking environment
Developing green data networking infrastructure doesn’t require internal, virtual infrastructure changes. The principal strategy for increasing green networking is to replace external devices, such as servers, switches and routers, with energy-efficient units. Devices that have the Energy Star label are ideal choices. An energy-efficient data center or network operations center might also use energy-efficient HVAC, security and backup power systems.
It’s important to examine the external network environment for compliance. LAN and WAN carriers, ISPs, cloud service providers and MSPs should also follow regulations. Outside providers should be able to impart details on how their infrastructures are environmentally friendly.
Green data networking is an important step toward ensuring enterprises are environmentally conscious. Policies, procedures and compliance requirements should all match with regulations. Data network managers should 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 more than 25 years of experience in business continuity, disaster recovery, security, enterprise risk management, telecom and IT auditing.