How green is thy telecommunications carrier?

This question has been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of weeks, ever since I spoke with Orange Business Services, which was recently recognized by analyst firm Verdantix pretty high up on its matrix of sustainable telecommunications companies (sadly, the list is just specific to Europe): How green is your wireless carrier or broader telecommunications company?

This question has been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of weeks, ever since I spoke with Orange Business Services, which was recently recognized by analyst firm Verdantix pretty high up on its matrix of sustainable telecommunications companies (sadly, the list is just specific to Europe): How green is your wireless carrier or broader telecommunications company?

It makes sense to ask this question given our ever-increasing reliance on connectivity of all sort: for mobile phones, for fleet efficiency, for video collaboration, for the smart grid. As we look to all these applications to make IT greener, what about the underlying network? The Verdantix Green Quadrant attempts to answer this question, even those it is particular to the European market. Aside from Orange (which is part of France Telecom), the analysts list AT&T and BT as leaders in this arena. I haven't really done much research yet on the situation here in the United States, although I did notice that Sprint Nextel DID recently show up on the EPA's latest list of the top Green Power purchasers.

So, what makes Orange green?

I spoke with Axel Haentjens, vice president of marketing and external communications at Orange Business Services, to get a better sense of the company's green IT strategies.

As you might imagination, one big theme is greening its internal data centers; the things that support its business services. Haentjens says the company has already consolidated 40 data centers down into five locations and has embraced policies -- such as a massive virtualization project -- that will help the company save 30 gigawatt hours of electricity every year. Yes, giga with a "g." For perspective, that's enough electricity to power a town of 30,000 people. According to the company's web site, it already has saved about 14 gigawatt hours. So far, it has virtualized more than 8,000 servers, improving its utilization rate from about 15 percent to 60 percent in the process.

Other changes include adopting rules to increase the temperature in its data centers substantially. (Up to 75 degrees.) This has helped it achieve an energy efficiency ration of about 1.2 (the ratio of cooling to technology used.)

Internally, the company is espousing the same sort of work policies that it hopes businesses will also embrace -- because, naturally, it will require an increase in the usage of its videoconferencing and mobile communications services. So, for example, Orange Business Services employees now have access to about 500 videoconference rooms, so they don't have to get on planes or in vehicles (even though France Telecom operates a fleet of more than 16,000 low-emissions vehicles).

"It is the trend of humanity to have an exponential curve for telecommunications. We are analyzing each continent of the network to see where we can reduce consumption related to this," says Haentjens.

If you're a potential customer, you can gauge how using Orange versus another telecommunications provider might impact your carbon emissions footprint.

I ask again: How green is YOUR telecommunications provider? Isn't it time we started doing the research to answer that question? What good, for example, is rushing to encourage telecommuting or conferencing if the service provider you've chosen isn't using sustainable practices for running its data centers? What have you found? I'm starting to do my own digging with a focus on the companies ruling our services stateside.