New STF Magazine Department: Sustainable Subsea!
A BLUE INDUSTRY GOING GREEN
By Nicole Starosielski & Nick Silcox
January 20, 2022
In 2021, the Sustainable Subsea Networks research project was launched. This was one of the first projects of the newly-formed SubOptic Foundation, a charitable arm of the SubOptic Association that is working to advance education and research initiatives for the subsea cable industry.
The Sustainable Subsea Networks research project grew out of SubOptic's Global Citizen Working Group, which
focuses on developing ways for the subsea cable industry to better itself and the world. This research project's focus is on the investigation of the cable system's energy use and impact across various sectors, from supply to recycling. Even though the industry is already relatively green, industry and academic members of the research project are working to enhance environmental sustainability as much as possible–a crucial project given the devastating impacts of climate change.
Over the past decade, many companies have begun to investigate green data centers, but very little attention has been paid to subsea cables' role in a greener telecommunications future–possibly because cables clock in at a smaller footprint. This is something that many in the industry already know, but it needs to be documented especially as green regulation and legislation is rolled out globally.
From talking to companies, the research team has found several already ahead of the curve on greening their operations. Below, we share some of these best practices to generate inspiration and conversation about the path forward.
Above and Beyond: Orange Marine takes Steps Toward a Greener Internet
Some companies have begun to consider the environment at nearly every level of their operations and practices. This is certainly the case with Orange Marine, a subsidiary of the French telecommunications company Orange. Since 2017, Orange Marine has prioritized sustainability and made significant strides toward reducing their environmental impact in both technical and business practices.
Installing and maintaining subsea cables is a fuel-intensive component of the industry. These tasks often require ships that are often powered by fossil fuels at every stage of the process. To combat the carbon density of their fleet, Orange Marine powers some ships in port using the onshore electrical grid rather than the fuel stores to reduce overall emissions. In at least one port, Orange Marine has installed solar panels to generate and store their own electricity to power these stations. Furthermore, they have begun to consider sustainability in designing the newest ship in their fleet–it will be fuel efficient and have reduced atmospheric pollutants.
In addition to these initiatives, Orange Marine has partnered with several French and European organizations and initiatives, including act4nature, the Souffleurs d’Ecume association, and Euro Argo to preserve biodiversity and to minimize local environmental disturbances, as well as to contribute to ongoing monitoring of the ocean environment for scientific study of climate change’s impact on the ocean. Some of Orange Marine’s other efforts include powering their cables with low sulfur fuels to minimize pollution, improving their workplace QSE management system, and reducing waste in their offices.
Orange Marine’s efforts were propelled by existing and anticipated regulation, but the real catalyst was a shared commitment of the company and the individuals who work there to improve the sustainability of their work. Bénédicte Bigot, Orange Marine's Sales & Communication Development Director, took the initiative to pursue many of these opportunities. While these efforts demonstrate the ways Orange Marine has gone above and beyond, it also suggests that these kinds of initiatives are possible in other parts of the cable industry where there is a willingness to make it happen. In fact, similar efforts are happening in other corners of the subsea cable industry all around the globe.