To achieve their net-zero targets, telcos must be proactive in finding mechanisms to embed sustainability in their decision-making. Singtel shows how this can be done through three initiatives focused on scenario planning, carbon accounting and disclosures.
Telcos are struggling to find systematic ways to advance their sustainability goals
The telecommunications industry accounts for 1-1.6% of total global CO2 emissions, almost on par with the much-criticised aviation sector. Most operators recognise the scale of their impact and have committed to ambitious net-zero targets. The leading players have already made significant advancements in this direction but the majority of the efforts have been concentrated on realising quick gains by adopting more sustainable energy and improving energy efficiency in operators’ own networks. These initiatives are critical in their own right and should be implemented by operators that are starting out on their sustainability journeys. However, these efforts do not address the Scope 3 emissions that represent the bulk of telco emissions and generally constitute more than 70% of an operator’s overall carbon footprint. Because these emissions arise from upstream and downstream activities in the value chain, telcos have no direct control over them which makes it especially challenging to address Scope 3 emissions.
There is, therefore, a gap between operators’ net-zero ambitions and the systems in place within most organisations to achieve them. Beyond point solutions and isolated initiatives, telcos must find clever, systematic ways of elevating sustainability from an aspirational ideal to a measurable, attainable and essential goal that the entire organisation is mobilised to achieve. This is to say, that successfully tackling end-to-end, Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions will only be possible if sustainability is embedded into the blueprint of the organisation and decision-making at all levels and at scale. This translates into making every decision with its environmental impact in mind. Sustainability goals should be set and tracked with the same rigour, attention, validation and control as other important performance indicators such as financial key performance indicators (KPIs). Needless to say, this needs to be coupled with investments in systems, skills and processes that will carry the organisation’s sustainability agenda forward.
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There are several levers available to telcos to accelerate their progress
There are a handful of pioneers that are leading the way on sustainability and are serving as examples for the industry to follow. We call these strategies and initiatives “next practice” as they are still a few years away for most operators but will bear fruit for forward-thinking telcos, both in the form of cost savings and new customers and revenue opportunities down the line.
Singtel is one such telco, which, operating in a relatively more diverse regulatory environment compared to some European markets, has proactively embraced sustainability at the highest level of the organisation and has demonstrated tangible benefits in doing so. Singtel is one of four major mobile network operators in Singapore and is the parent company of Optus, one of the largest telecommunications companies in Australia. Not surprisingly, Singtel ranks first among other operators in the Asia Pacific region in our Sustainability Scorecard where we benchmark the performance of over 70 companies against eight sustainability-related criteria. Singtel has received a number of awards and accolades for its wider sustainability initiatives, including the 2019 President’s Award for the Environment and the 2023 Impact Enterprise of the Year Award at the Sustainability Impact Awards for creating social impact through digital enablement programmes. Singtel was also recognised by Corporate Knight’s Global 100 as Asia’s most sustainable telco operator in January 2024, and third among its global telecom peers.
We believe that some of Singtel’s initiatives can be a useful example to other operators looking to catalyse their own sustainability strategies, particularly when it comes to proactively taking steps to weave sustainability into the very fabric of the organisation in anticipation of future benefits.
For this report, STL Partners has analysed Singtel’s sustainability reports and publicly available information along with conducting a round of interviews with the operator’s VP of Group Sustainability to learn more about Singtel’s current and planned initiatives to drive forward its sustainability agenda. As a result, we have identified three “next practice” initiatives that Singtel is spearheading to progress its sustainability goals – see the graphic below.
Singtel’s three “next practice” strategies
Source: STL Partners
We examine each of these ”next practice” strategies in detail in the full report.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- Beyond picking the low-hanging fruit, telcos are struggling to find systematic ways to advance their sustainability goals
- There are several levers available to telcos to accelerate their progress
- Scenario planning is a proven tool that should be extended to climate resilience building
- Singtel deploys scenario planning to mitigate physical and transition climate risks
- Results are not reserved for the long-term
- Processes and incentives must be engineered to mobilise resources and align stakeholders
- Good intentions are not enough to encourage sustainable decision-making
- Singtel piloted internal carbon pricing and a green budget to assist in energy- and emissions-intensive capex decisions
- Traditional employee incentives are also essential
- Singtel is ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting rigorous reporting standards
- Singtel has been an early adopter of new sustainability standards
- How will this serve Singtel in the future?
- Key takeaways for operators
- The sustainability scorecard
- Net-zero enablement use case directory
- How to embed sustainability across a telco
- Driving sustainability in telco metro networks