Contribution of the European Telecommunication Satellite Industry to Global Sustainable Development (SUSSAT)

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This project aims to provide a holistic assessment of the contribution of the Satcom industry to global sustainable development, considering economical, societal and environmental aspects. From this assessment the study shall investigate less environmentally damaging mission and technology solutions, and propose business opportunities for new Satcom systems to enable sustainable developments.


Satellite communications can result in positive and negative impacts on important environmental, social and economic outcomes. Understanding the nature of, and tradeoffs between, these issues is increasingly important, including due to global and European policies that seek to balance these outcomes (e.g. pursuing low-carbon economic growth). It can inform future approaches to minimising negative impacts while enhancing beneficial ones, and therefore shape commercial approaches to developing the contribution of Satcom to sustainable development.


The primary benefit is expected to be a better understanding of the contribution of satellite communications to sustainable development (SD), including:

  • Identification of key SD issues for Satcom, and how to measure them;
  • Suggestions for cleaner future Satcom technologies;
  • Understanding of the relative importance of different SD issues to Satcom; and
  • Identification of future Satcom market opportunities related to SD outcomes.

eftec have assembled a team with international expertise in sustainable development (SD) issues, including application to the ICT sector, and Satcom manufacture and operation.

The study starts by looking at frameworks for assessing SD, and will then apply this information to Satcom activity. It will do this firstly by defining ways of measuring SD impacts from the use of Satcom through key performance indicators and externalities, and secondly by considering the system architectures that deliver these impacts.

This information will be brought together in an SD impact assessment for Satcom. The impact assessment will then provide the basis for identification of value chains for delivering improved SD outcomes from Satcom, and a SWOT analysis of the issues covered.

Six technical notes will be produced detailing each work package in the study.


The following will be carried out over the nine months of the project:

  • Assess frameworks of sustainable development issues and identify ways of measuring and the most material issues to Satcom, informed by understanding of relevant users and architectures of Satcom systems;
  • Develop an assessment of the impact of Satcom on sustainable development, and from this identify techniques to reduce negative environmental impacts in the development of Satcom systems, and value chains for opportunities to enable further positive impacts;
  • Interpret the future implications of this analysis for the development of Satcom, including in relation to future policies and technological developments.

The planned work schedule for the project is illustrated in the figure below.

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Current status
Work on the project started in September 2012, and the outputs of were completed in October 2013.
The study has identified characteristics of Satcom that give it strengths in relation to sustainable development (SD): its coverage; the relatively low infrastructure needs; and its ability to complement terrestrial networks in remote locations. Overall, SD presents opportunities for Satcom rather than threats, although threats exist if impacts are not effectively measured and managed.
Areas of greatest impact from Satcom are the materials, energy consumed and volumes of waste arising from set top boxes. The design of broadcast systems, and of much current Satcom hardware, could be improved to reduce energy, emissions and other impacts – issues that are similar to of many of the SD issues facing the wider ICT. Satcom should therefore engage with ICT sector activities, as well as with governments and other public-interest bodies that drive the pursuit of many SD goals.
It is recommended that the Satcom sector requires a strategy to guide its engagement in SD issues. This should aim to appropriately prioritise the Satcom sector’s efforts with respect to addressing SD are (based on a shared understanding of the sector’s impacts), and to support the best possible exploitation of the opportunities that SD offers Satcom.
In order to achieve these aims three broad actions are recommended:
      i.        Maintain an overview of SD policies and trends.
     ii.        Engage with wider ICT SD initiatives to ensure these accommodate the key opportunities for, and do not discriminate against, Satcom.
    iii.        Maintain up-to-date measures of the Satcom sector’s SD performance to anticipate threats and opportunities.

Dissemination of this study’s results to relevant stakeholders needs to build on an awareness of the extent of SD knowledge within the Satcom sector. Similarities with ICT mean it makes sense for the Satcom industry to become more involved with ICT related SD. 

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