​​Telecoms sustainability news 2023​

In the dynamic landscape of 2023, telecom companies are taking on the responsibility towards sustainability. By embracing innovative technologies and eco-friendly practices, the industry is gearing up towards a more sustainable future.  

January: Amercian Tower Corporation seeking to expand its solar energy park to support the expansion of its fibre optic network in Brazil 

Amercian Tower Corporation was seeking to expand its solar energy park to support the expansion of its fibre optic network in Brazil. As part of the project, American Tower Corporation will increase its installed capacity by around 50%, from 4,900 to 7,200 solar panels. This source of clean energy is connected directly to the public electricity distribution network and is designed to reduce the company’s annual carbon emissions. 

Airtel Nigeria announced the launch of its eSIM, which provides users with the same functionality as a physical SIM but without the embedded carbon associated with plastic SIMs. Given the size of the Nigerian market, this is likely to have a significant positive impact on carbon emissions and e-waste. 

T-Mobile committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2040. The pledge covers scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and includes interim goals to be achieved by 2030. T-Mobile’s leading priority, as outlined in its pathway report, is improving energy efficiency. To achieve this, it has set a goal of reaching a 95% reduction in energy consumption per petabyte of data traffic on its network by 2030, against a 2019 baseline. In achieving this goal, T-Mobile has said this will use 20 times less total energy each time a customer uses its network to search the internet or stream a song. 

February: Nokia launched its Sustainable Finance Framework 

Nokia launched its Sustainable Finance Framework. The framework is designed to allow the alignment of Nokia’s financing instruments with their broader sustainability targets and ambitions. Second-party opinion for the framework has been provided by Sustainalytics, which has assessed Nokia’s Sustainability Performance Target as “Highly Ambitious.” 

NTT DoCoMo and Japanese mobile phone company FCNT announced the launch of a “waste-neutral” mobile phone. They have partnered with a Dutch social enterprise, Closing the Loop, to collect and recycle and old device for every new device sold. 

March: The O2 Recycle scheme has paid out over £320 million to UK mobile phone users since its launch in 2009 

The GSMA developed global guidance and KPIs for the telecoms industry to drive sustainability goals. Given the GMSA’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it has been exploring ways in which the sector can meet its ambitious targets. 

The O2 Recycle scheme has paid out over £320 million to UK mobile phone users since its launch in 2009. Virgin Media O2 has released data around its recycling scheme, noting that is has sustainably recycled 3.8 million devices while leaving none for landfill. Users receive an average of £197 per device, although the number of users opting to receive credit against their mobile phone bill instead of a cash payout has increased by 37% to 2022, likely driven by the UK’s economic context. 

Ericsson partnered with stc (Saudi Telecom) to help the telco to sustainably dispose of old equipment as part of Ericsson Product Take-Back Program. The aim of the initiative is the minimise the environmental impact associated with end-of-life e-waste. The partnership will help contribute to Saudi Vision 2030, its drive to achieve its sustainability goals. 

April: BT launched a new sustainability proposition enabling enterprises to measure their carbon footprint 

BT launched a new sustainability proposition enabling enterprises to measure their carbon footprint. BT stated that its new sustainability offering can support their customers’ network transformation plans across their local area networks and operational technology infrastructures. Their service includes a calculator that enables enterprises to see information regarding the carbon emissions of their network devices. 

Supply chain issues helped to bolster the circular economy of telecoms equipment. While for many the global supply chain shortages caused major issues, there may have been a silver lining. TXO, a refurbished telecoms equipment provider, published a survey that highlighted some of the issues that operators faced due to disrupted supply chains. As a result, around 38% of operators reported they used refurbished equipment to overcome these challenges, with a further 32% considering doing so. 

FTTH Council Global Alliance Sustainability Service revealed the fibre broadband industry will see its largest investment cycle this year and the investments are expected to increase in the next five years. One of the most compelling reasons for this momentum is given as the sustainability benefits of fiber networks as telcos look to reduce their carbon emissions.  

May: New research showed that consumers are shifting their spending towards sustainable goods 

NTT announced a deal with Cisco to launch IoT-as-a-Service for enterprise customers. These solutions will combine Cisco’s IoT capabilities (including Low Power Wide Area Networking (LoRaWAN)) and NTT’s managed services and automation at the edge to help enterprises drive efficiency and increase sustainability of operations. Target industries include manufacturing, transportation and sustainability. 

In 2021, Telefonica and Mainova (a smart energy solutions provider) converted a street light into a 5G hotspot in Frankfurt am Main. They are now expanding this initiative and will be converting more street lamps into smart poles, with energy efficient 4G/5G capabilities. The technical cabinets that go alongside will be housed in street furniture designed to look like a bench, which will also feature an inbuilt water tank that uses data from ground sensors to water surrounding trees when needed. 

New research showed that consumers are shifting their spending towards sustainable goods. They are more likely to pay for products that have ESG-related claims than those that don’t. They are also more likely to buy products where the claim is less common. For example, products labelling themselves as “carbon zero” grew more than those with more common claims such as “sustainable packaging”. It’s clear to see that ESG is no longer just a moral imperative for companies, but a strategic differentiator. 

June: 12 operators globally committed to a new set of circularity targets developed in collaboration with the GSMA 

Twelve operators globally committed to a new set of targets developed in collaboration with the GSMA, that aim to accelerate the industry’s transition towards circularity by moving away from the traditional linear approach of “take-make-dispose” in mobile phone materials. The operators have pledged to increase the collection of used mobile devices through take-back schemes to at least 20% of the number of new devices sold by 2030. Additionally, they are committing to ensuring that 100% of collected devices are either repaired, reused, or recycled by the same deadline, preventing them from ending up in landfills or being incinerated. 

NEC developed Aspire NetZero, a SaaS solution that autonomously analyses network traffic patterns and optimises performance parameters to strike a balance between energy usage and customer experience. NEC claims at least three-fold improvements in power consumption, potentially up to 10-fold, compared to existing energy reduction features, which is crucial considering that the RAN accounts for 73% of an operator’s energy consumption and is one of the largest costs for telcos. 

Vantage Towers constructed its first wooden telecommunication mast in Germany, as part of a pilot project. The Ecopol tower, made from recyclable wood, offers a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional steel masts. The project was realised in collaboration with Ecotelligent, a Finnish start-up specializing in wood-constructed communication towers. 

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July: Vodafone expanded its agreement with renewable energy firm Iberdrola 

The Joint Alliance for CSR (JAC), whose members include AT&T, Telefonica, Orange, Elisa and Vodafone amongst others, released a report focussing on how operators can reduce upstream Scope 3 emissions by engaging with their suppliers and other telco collaborators. 

Key insights presented: 

  • 84% of members report that over 70% of their carbon footprint is attributable to Scope 3 emissions with 40% citing over 90%. 
  • Increase sustainability criteria on supplier scorecards to 20% of the overall score weighting. 
  • Include contract clauses into supplier contracts can improve supplier sustainability performance with 73% of JAC members already doing this. 

12 top UK CSPs pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their supply chains and committed to collaborate through the Digital Connectivity Forum’s (DCF) Climate & Sustainability Working Group. The companies include BT, Cellnex, CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Openreach, Sky, TalkTalk, techUK, Three, Virgin Media O2, and Zen. They agreed to meet four more times before the end of COP28. 

Vodafone expanded its agreement with renewable energy firm Iberdrola to supply it with 410 gigawatt-hours of solar energy annually across Germany, Portugal and Spain. That’s equivalent to that of 117,000 homes and Iberdrola has also installed over 140 electric vehicle charging points at Vodafone Spain’s main facilities. This agreement supports Vodafone’s commitment to purchase 100% renewable electricity and achieve net-zero operations by 2030. 

August: Schneider Electric unveiled a new framework to enable companies to estimate the total carbon footprint of enterprise data centres 

Vodafone UK achieved 92% reduction in carbon emissions in the past three years. Between March 2020 and March 2023, the company reduced its own operational carbon emissions by 92%, focusing on Scope 1 and Scope 2 categories. This was mainly achieved by various programmes to ensure that 100% of its electricity consumption is generated from renewable sources. Other impacting initiatives included collaborations with energy firms, investments in solar and wind farms, and notable projects like the installation of self-powering mobile phone masts and solar panels at key locations. 

Schneider Electric unveiled a new framework to enable companies to estimate the total carbon footprint of enterprise data centres, including Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. The framework includes a free Lifecycle CO2e TradeOff tool which enables organisations to estimate the full environmental impact of data centres. By calculating Scope 3 emissions, organisations can measure their total carbon footprint across the value chain, including any outsourced IT services from cloud and colocation providers. The framework also enables data centre operators evaluate their emissions from operations and their supply chain to make impactful carbon reductions.  

BT announced plans to launch an EV charging pilot. BT Group revealed its plans to have its start-up and Digital incubation unit, Etc., carry out technical and commercial pilots to repurpose street cabinets into electric vehicle charging units. Over the next two years, these pilots aim to offer valuable understanding regarding the potential expansion of electric vehicle charging to additional sites within its network. The cabinets are currently utilised for copper-based broadband and phone services, and will be decommissioned as part of the nationwide upgrade to fiber-optic. 

September: Ooredoo Qatar deployed Ericsson Smart Connected Site solution to reduce carbon emissions 

BT showcased liquid cooling solutions in collaboration with Iceotope and Immersion4 for its networks and IT infrastructure during its inaugural Sustainability Festival. This technology could help them achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by March 2031 and solve a common challenge faced by the tech sector – keeping datacentre equipment cool, while saving energy. 

Ooredoo Qatar deployed Ericsson Smart Connected Site solution to reduce carbon emissions. The solution will allow Ooredoo to monitor and control energy consumption in real-time while reducing dependence on diesel generators and enhancing energy efficiency, which will contribute to the operator’s sustainability journey. 

Orange successfully issued its first sustainability-linked bond, for a nominal amount of EUR 500 million. This bond is tied to Orange’s objective of a substantial -45% reduction in its overall greenhouse gas emissions (encompassing Scopes 1, 2, and 3) by 2030, relative to its 2020 baseline. 

October: Virgin Media O2 launched two new free ESG tools 

Virgin Media O2 launched two new free ESG tools that support their business customers in monitoring and reducing their scope 3 emissions. The ‘Carbon Calculator’ allows customers to track their own scope 3 emissions by providing emissions-related insights based on their service information within minutes of making a request. The ‘Tech Donation Programme’ on the other hand, allows business customers to donate free refurbished smartphones, mobile data, texts and calls to digitally excluded demographics of their choice. 

Liberty Global joined the Joint Alliance for CSR (JAC) to support the telecoms industry in reducing their scope 3 emissions and ensuring that telco vendors across the supply chain adhere to higher CSR standards. As a member, Liberty will have to conduct and share CSR audits on its suppliers and will benefit by receiving audits made by other telcos. It claims this will help it improve the ethical standards it applies to the £4billion+ it spends on equipment and services each year. 

The NGMN Alliance released a report that provides a roadmap outlining how MNOs can enhance energy efficiency from the short to long-term. In the short term, optimising network configuration to use existing features can immediately reduce RAN emissions by 10% when ML tools that already exist for this purpose are leveraged. Over the longer term, MNOs can reduce emissions even further by investing in tech such as direct contact liquid cooling. The report is worth a read as it contains many more recommendations to help MNOs progress towards their net-zero targets. 

November: The NGMN Alliance published recommendations to help the mobile industry reduce the amount of energy used by its networks 

Japanese incumbent NTT DoCoMo unveiled bold plans to tackle its Scope 3 emissions. DoCoMo is already spearheading an initiative called the ‘Caboneu’ ecosystem that helps customers visualise their carbon emissions. Now it is turning its attention upstream with CO2MOS, a CO2 emissions visualisation tool for suppliers.  

The NGMN Alliance published new recommendations to help the mobile industry reduce the amount of energy used by its networks, but most of the savings will not happen quickly. 

Oredoo Kuwait, the leading ICT provider in the region recently introduced solar hybrid-powered signal boosters in selected rural locations on the mainland and islands of Kuwait. The hybrid signal boosters are intended to reduce its reliance on diesel generators. 

 

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Miran Gilmore

Author

Miran Gilmore

Senior Consultant

Miran Gilmore is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in edge computing and sustainability.

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Tapping into the energy market: Telco energy propositions from IoT to EV charging

Telcos can leverage their existing capabilities and assets to dive deeper into the utilities industry and build a more sustainable future. There are several ways telcos can explore these possibilities. Some of these showcase the utilisation of existing connectivity and the deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to implement energy management systems and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

Refurbished devices: Why telecom operators should be pursuing this market?

The global market for refurbished phones is expected to take a growing share of the total handset market in the next decade and telecom operators have an opportunity to play a significant role within this. STL Partners has gathered research that uncovers three main selling points that telcos are using to pitch the refurbished phone market: affordability, sustainability, and quality and trust. STL’s insights highlight space for innovation in the market which can be applied to any telecom operator looking to craft an industry-leading proposition.

​​Telecoms sustainability news 2023​ 

In the dynamic landscape of 2023, telecom companies are taking on the responsibility towards sustainability. By embracing innovative technologies and eco-friendly practices, the industry is gearing up towards a more sustainable future.