SUS: Sustainability

By definition, sustainable: “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). The concept of a resource shall be applied indeed to communication networks. It sits beyond traditional thoughts on energy consumption and carbon emission – terms mistakenly advertised as the sole embodiments of sustainability. According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [United Nations, 2020] there are 17 means posing an urgent call for action by all countries in a global partnership. As described, those goals encompass different aspects of sustainability, such as inclusive economic growth, reduced inequalities, and quality education. An example inside such a framework of common knowledge by different organizations, the access to the Internet creates an inclusive information society, improving economic growth [Bar and Galperin, 2007]. With the responsible mindset to have networking and computing advances support the UN SDGs, within SMARTNESS we aim to focus on the following topics:

  • Deconstruct the research mindset bias: consists in spreading the message about the UN SDGs and the important role communication networks pose towards achieving them. The industrial and academic communities need to be clearly conscious about the means and methods to include sustainability in their research agenda – a crucial and permanent role of this STA. 
  • Establish metrics: the STA needs to define technological, social and economic metrics to be utilized by sustainable communication networks e.g., [The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), 2018]. The composition of such a framework of metrics, rationalized as [Vardi, 2020], will be used and targeted by the SMARTNESS activities towards sustainability.
  • Create models to measure the impact of sustainable networking efforts: to construct, enable and continuously review methodologies to realize the impact of sustainability metrics in research activities, e.g., [Micholia et al., 2018]. Similar to the CI/CD techniques of agile software methodologies, incorporating the means and metrics to achieve the UN SDGs in communication networks needs to establish a continuous pace towards success. 
  • Incentivize and endure long-lasting research targets and outcomes: to produce relevant and high-impact research results directly applicable on inclusive digital societies. The means to achieve that encompass growing innovation cycles on solid ground and clear methodologies to transfer knowledge and technologies to the society, so it can endure in the long-term.
  • Conceive trustworthy networking models: enforce the inclusion of network neutrality and privacy preserving solutions into the research outcomes of SMARTNESS, as those compose the core of inclusive digital societies, detaining an important and direct impact on the freedom of information flows worldwide. 
  • Internet access for all: Mitigate the connectivity gap and the digital divide as a large sum of the world’s population lives without Internet access or experiencing limited connectivity models (e.g., exploratory zero-rating charges) [Mozilla Press Center, 2018], restricting those societies from affordable access to information, and therefore economic growth.
  • Make networks more resilient and affordable: to design and build resilient infrastructures together with inclusive connectivity models and equipment costs that foster rapid innovation cycles in networking [Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), 2018]. The means to attain that can be expressed via the decomposition of network building blocks, contributions to open networking models, and the realization of open source projects.
  • Keep alive the energy savings and carbon footprint agenda: there still is much to be accomplished in these areas, and research on 5G, B5G, and 6G networks can contribute to a smaller materials footprint, renewable sources of energy, and technologies with improved energy performance.

From the novelty of approaching communication networks towards a sustainable future, no clear line of sight exists yet. Tackling the enlisted issues to explore the presented goals, complex challenges emerge intertwined with the other areas of study, likewise posing solutions as much as challenges. The outcomes of SMARTNESS efforts towards sustainable networks will reverberate on the other STAs and help to reshape the biased view of sustainability commonly involved in information and communication technologies.