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Sunday
Jun162019

Sense and sustainability 

What causes someone to change roles, to turn to sustainability after years as a distinguished engineer? An interview with Klaus Grobe of ADVA; the second in a series of articles about work.


Klaus Grobe spent nine productive years as part of the Advanced Technology team at ADVA. 

Grobe had authored 150 academic papers, issued 25 patents, and had published, along with co-author Michael Eiselt, a textbook on wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) when, in 2015, he decided to switch roles and become ADVA’s director of sustainability. 

Two factors influenced his decision: one was the importance he attached to the topic of carbon emissions and global warming, the second was a sense that it was time for a change. 

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that being a technologist had become boring but it wasn’t that exciting anymore,” says Grobe. “I was looking for something new and perhaps more relevant.” 

At the time, a position had opened up at ADVA to head its sustainability programme after the company recognised it needed to do more. Grobe put himself forward and was appointed.

Grobe answers straightforwardly why he refers to sustainability as more relevant. “Do I understand and believe what is going on with the term climate change? Am I a denialist or not?” he says. “And if I’m not, it is very clear that these things are more relevant because they are a prerequisite for everything else.” 

 

WDM book

Grobe co-authored the WDM textbook after contributing a chapter on the topic for two editions of a book on fibre-optic data communication.

The resulting book, Wavelength Division Multiplexing: A Practical Engineering Guide, published in 2013, involves quite a bit of maths; one page includes an equation with a quintuple integral. 

Grobe says that while he didn't use that much maths in his role as a technologist, he was familiar with the maths needed to understand the many references included in the book due to his doctoral work. 

 

Do I understand and believe what is going on with the term climate change? Am I a denialist or not? And if I’m not, it is very clear that these things are more relevant because they are a prerequisite for everything else 

 

“I'm not sure I'd do it again [writing a book] if I’d known the effort required,” says Grobe.

The book, however, did deepen his overall understanding. “If you want to go into a certain level of detail regarding a topic, write a book about it,” he says.

 

Changing roles

“From a purely mathematical point of view, I could argue my PhD was on the topic of non-linear processes,” says Grobe, adding that the majority of people don’t understand the effect of non-linearity and in particular exponential non-linear processes. “And here we are, exactly in the middle of one [such process],” he says.  

Currently, humanity is experiencing what he says is the very steep part of the curve of emission-increasing carbon dioxide. “And there are other non-linear growth processes going on as well,” he says. 

Grobe says that at the time of his role change, ADVA was being pushed by its operator customers to do more in the area of sustainability. It also became clear to ADVA that a new company organisation was needed that would report to the senior management of the company, the CxOs. 

 

Sustainability model

Sustainability for a telecom systems vendor covers many company aspects besides issues such as carbon emissions and product recycling.  

ADVA first adopted a sustainability model developed by telecom operator BT and later from the QuEST Forum, a global organisation that addresses sustainability in the information and communications technology (ICT) segment. 

The QuEST Forum is known for its TL-9000 quality management practice for the ICT segment, and in 2017 it merged with the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). 

“BT, the QuEST Forum and the TIA developed and use this [sustainability] model which covers ten segments,” says Grobe (see diagram).   

 

Source: TIA

 

Broad scope 

One model category is emissions and is known as the carbon dioxide footprint. Another is resource efficiency optimisation that holds for products and also production processes, says Grobe. A third category - environment management certification - includes meeting a family of standards that make up ISO 14001 qualification. Another qualification standard Grobe mentions is energy management, ISO 15001. 

Then there are categories that, at first sight, are harder to grasp such as the circular economy lifecycle and stakeholder engagement.  

Klaus GrobeThe circular economy is a vehicle aimed at decoupling commercial or business growth from resource usage.  

Stakeholder engagement asks of a company such questions as to whether it knows all its interested parties and has it contacted them. Does it know their requirements? And are these interested parties involved in decisions the company makes?

“It seems to be a weird concept, I agree, but it is necessary to know what the main interested parties want,” says Grobe. “For example, if three or four of our larger customers want something consistently, we do it beyond any questioning, so it is probably better to ask them in advance.”

Grobe says that ADVA must follow to a good extent all the sustainability model’s segments.

ADVA is not classed as a small-to-medium business such that it is a class of company that must fulfill all aspects of sustainability. ADVA thus has to work harder than the largest systems vendor competitors that have more resources addressing sustainability. 

ADVA has aimed - and to a degree succeeded, says Grobe - to balance the model’s segments to achieve decent performance in each, reflected by the ratings it has received from such organisations as EcoVardis and the TIA’s sustainability initiative. 

The company’s commitment to a long-term strategy regarding carbon emissions based on the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) recently received approval by the organisation. “That made us the fourth company with set targets in Germany,” says Grobe.

 

Measuring sustainability 

How straightforward is it to quantify how well a company is doing regarding sustainability?

Issues such as emissions, water usage, and waste products are exactly defined in all the ISO standards, says Grobe: “We know exactly what to do; we are tracking tons of numbers and report these.”

ADVA reports emissions on a yearly basis and it is therefore clear if emissions are being reduced. What is harder to gauge is supply chain issues. 

“Many requirements are now focussing to also sustainably manage supply chains,” says Grobe. “It is trickier but processes exist.” Internally. ADVA’s quality management and procurement teams are involved and they each have their own processes. 

 

Benefits 

Grobe says pursuing a sustainability strategy brings direct benefits as well as less obvious ones. 

One clear benefit is cost savings. “The standard example is optimising logistics - optimising packaging, freight modes, and distance,” says Grobe. “All of these emissions reductions go hand-in-hand with cost reductions.” 

 

What is a little bit astonishing to me is that there are all sorts of conferences on green electronics and recycling but the topic is completely unknown to traditional big [optical] conferences like OFC and ECOC

 

 

This comes under the sustainability model’s end-to-end logistics category. “This has been more or less optimised by ADVA in the last five years,” says Grobe.

ADVA is keen to reduce air fright further but this is dependent on customers’ requirements. “If a customer requires a six-weeks lead time, we can't go for sea freight,” says Grobe.

Sustainability also benefits ADVA’s relationships with customers. ADVA says it started with the big operators - BT, Deutsche Telekom, and then Verizon, followed by the large internet content providers. “It gets us onto their radar screen, and not just onto the screen but in its centre,” says Grobe. “In other words, it increases ‘stickiness’.”  

BT issues a yearly sustainability award and ADVA is the first systems vendor to win it twice. “Obviously it helps our key business,” he says. The same applies to ADVA’s relations with Deutsche Telekom. ADVA is the first vendor Deutsche Telekom invited to participate in one of its supply-chain webinars.  

ADVA has also been approached by a company that works with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) on pension funds. The CDP is where companies disclose their carbon dioxide emissions and one of the organisations that constitute the Science Based Targets initiative. 

“The next step may or may not be that, by demonstrating this performance, we are approached by investors,” says Grobe.   

Grobe believes that as an industry, telecoms is doing comparatively well.  But given that all the relevant sources predict increased emissions due to the exponential growth of internet traffic, which impacts WDM trunk traffic and router throughput, it means telecoms equipment will inevitably consume more energy over time.

That said, ICT is seen as an enabler of emissions reductions when applied to all the other sectors such as smart buildings, smart cities, transport and initiatives such as Industry 4.0. 

Moreover, the savings in these other sectors over-compensates for ICT’s own related emissions by a factor of 10, says Grobe. 

Yet much more is still to be done. 

Grobe cites an example close to home. “What is a little bit astonishing to me is that there are all sorts of conferences on green electronics and recycling but the topic is completely unknown to traditional big [optical] conferences like OFC and ECOC.”  

Grobe admits that the first couple of years after changing roles were difficult. He had been active for some eight years in the standardisation work of the ITU’s Full Service Access Network (FSAN) group. “I really liked these guys and not seeing them anymore was a little bit hard,” he says. 

But a change was required. 

“It was more necessary for me to be able to look in the mirror in the morning and say to myself: ‘Well, at least I tried to do something meaningful’,” says Grobe.      

He does not foresee returning to advanced technology: “But I hope I will always be open to change”.  

 

Part 1: A voyage around work, click here

Reader Comments (1)

This doesn't mention the emissions reduced by substituting ICT for transportation -- broadband VPN access instead of physical commutes, teleconferences instead of air travel, etc. Not clear whether that's included in the "factor of 10" cited, but appears to be a first-order affector in reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. It would be interesting to see that quantified. A future carbon tax or cap-and-trade system might be structured to incentivize that substitution.

June 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan Grossman

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