The Industrial Ecology Of Infrastructure Operations

Direct infrastructure impact at the operation level is multidimensional in practice (Figure 35.1). Operating such an infrastructure involves many separate components and platforms,

Source: Based on data from BT Annual Report,

Figure 35.1 Information service provider environmental life cycle

Source: Based on data from BT Annual Report,

Figure 35.1 Information service provider environmental life cycle from 'traditional' activities such as office buildings and vehicle fleets, to more specialized requirements such as extensive battery back-up systems for switching centers to provide service continuity if the electric grid goes down. While most firms face strong financial incentives to optimize elements of their infrastructure activities, such as energy consumption resulting from network operation, there are few studies of information infrastructure as a whole. Perhaps the best source is British Telecom's 1996-7 annual environment, health and safety report (BT 2000). The data in this report support certain conclusions about the relative importance of certain infrastructure activities compared to others. For example, it is fairly evident from the data provided that network and infrastructure operations, as opposed to office building and fleet operation, constitute the single biggest source of emissions (somewhere around 90 per cent of carbon dioxide and 98 per cent of sulfur dioxide - 1996-7 data). Most batteries recycled are lead acid network exchange batteries (99 per cent in 1996,87 per cent in 1995 and 93 per cent in 1994), as opposed to vehicular lead acid or NiCad batteries. The major metal-containing residual stream from BT operations is from network switching exchange construction and replacement activities, as opposed to, for example, battery or cable recycling activities (averaging around 65 per cent over the period 1991-6).

Such systematic infrastructure data are obviously quite useful to the industrial ecolo-gist: they help define the system quantitatively, identify major as opposed to minor material flows (and thus potential impacts) and point towards priorities for management of environmental impacts. It must be remembered, however, that this is the only study of its kind of which the author is aware. Moreover, these data are preliminary, not peer reviewed, and somewhat ad hoc, and reflect the operation of a particular kind of infrastructure (primarily telephony) at a particular point in technological evolution in a developed economy. Thus, for example, one would expect scrap rates for many developed country telephony systems to be reaching a peak as telephone switches are replaced by Internet protocol routers, and the assumption that virtually all lead acid batteries are recycled, which is valid in countries such as the UK, may not hold in many developing countries. In addition, recent technological trends that could have a significant impact on certain material flows - such as the reductions in paper consumption resulting from electronic billing, e-mail, business-to-business e-commerce systems and intranet deployment of electronic business and management documents - rapidly date such studies. Accordingly, this must be regarded as an area where the industrial ecology of the system is poorly characterized and understood, and one that is thus ripe for continued research.

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