While the contribution of the telecom sector to the global carbon footprint is low as compared to other sectors like transportation and construction, it nevertheless contributes a noteworthy and increasing share to it, owing to the growing reach of telecom networks. By 2020, the information and communication technology (ICT) sector is expected to account for about 3 per cent of the global greenhouse gases emissions.

Efforts are currently under way, all over the world, to find measures to deal with this issue. India, too, is conscious of this growing challenge. In a bid to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently issued recommendations on the approach towards sustainable telecommunications.


In an endeavour to establish a framework for greening the telecom sector, TRAI had issued a consultation paper on “Green Tele­­­­com­munications” in February 2011, followed by recommendations on the “Ap­p­­r­o­ach towards Green Telecommu­ni­cations” in April 2011. These recommendations bro­adly highlighted the significance of energy efficiency in modern telecom networks and suggested directions for optimising network performance in terms of energy demand. Renewable energy targets were also recommended for the sector. Based on these recommendations, the De­part­­ment of Telecommunications (DoT) issued directions to operators in 2012. The adoption of renewable energy technology (RET) solutions in the sector, however, did not take off in a big way owing to a number of challenges.

Consequently, in March 2013, DoT constituted a RET committee to develop a comprehensive programme and viability gap funding for mobilising RET deployment in the telecom sector. The committee submitted its report in 2014. This was further examined by a departmental committee, which submitted its report in May 2015. Post the deliberation of these reports, DoT sought TRAI’s recommendations on the subject, following which TRAI issued a con­sultation paper on the “Approach to­w­a­r­ds Sustainable Telecom­munications” in Jan­uary 2017 and has now come out with a set of recommendations, which, amongst oth­er things, set targets for reducing the sector’s carbon footprint in the coming years.

Summary of the recommendations

  • The target for reduction in carbon emissions by the sector has been set at 30 per cent by 2019-20 and 40 per cent by 2022-23, taking 2011-12 as the base year. The targets can be reviewed in 2022-23.
  • Service providers should develop a “carbon credit policy” in line with carbon credit norms.
  • The government should consider passing all possible benefits related to RET deployment to service providers as per the existing government schemes.
  • Independent third-party audit of the carbon footprint of operators has been ruled out. Instead, TRAI recommends that the accuracy level of the carbon footprint should be considered adequate based on the operator’s self-certification.
  • Service providers should adopt a voluntary code of practice encompassing energy efficient network planning, infra sharing, deployment of energy efficient technologies and adoption of RETs. Service providers through their associations should consensually develop a voluntary code of practice and submit the same to TRAI within three months from the date of issue of the direction.
  • Operators should report their carbon footprint annually within 45 days after March 31 of every year. The first report for the base year 2011-12 as per the revised formula should be submitted within three months from the date of issue of DoT’s directions/instructions.
  • The existing approach of calculating the carbon footprint including scope 1 and scope 2 emissions should be continued.
  • Electricity generated by a RET solution fun­­­­ded/maintained by the operator sh­o­u­ld be subtracted from its overall car­bon emission irrespective of its use. Further, RET solution deployed in the telecom network, irrespective of its source of funding, should be counted as savings towards overall carbon emissions.

The government should make necessary provisions mandating that all telecom products, equipment and services in the telecom network should be energy and performance assessed and certified with a “green passport” using the energy con­sump­tion rating (ECR). To this end, the Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC) should be asked to set up a model lab facility for the certification of telecom products, equipment and services based on ECR. The TEC should also finalise the ECR document defining the test procedures and measurement methodologies.


The increasing need for data computation, data storage, and communication is driving rapid growth in the telecom sector, thereby adding to the carbon emissions from new equipment. Therefore, there is an urgent need to encourage telecom companies to adopt clean energy alternatives. TRAI’s recommendations have set the ball rolling in this direction.

Akanksha Mahajan Marwah