Telcos are increasingly engaging with sustainability as it becomes an expectation from customers, shareholders and employees. What can others learn from Telefónica’s experiences?
Telefónica’s sustainability: A 20-year journey
Sustainability in the Coordination Age
As part of STL Partners’ research on the opportunities for telecoms operators and the wider industry in the Coordination Age, where the ultimate goal for operators, their customers, and society at large is to make better use of the world’s resources, we have explored how telcos can integrate sustainability into their activities. Previous research on this topic includes:
- The net-zero enablement use case directory
- Telco roadmap to net-zero carbon emissions: Why, when and how
- Sustainability: Why it’s good for business
- Why energy management is critical to 5G success
- Curtailing carbon emissions: Can 5G help?
During the course of this research, we have identified Telefónica as one of the most proactive operators in sustainability. Through our interactions with Telefónica’s sustainability team, we have also found the team to be seriously committed, organised and successful in achieving buy-in to their vision from both the executive leadership team and several business units and opcos. This is a highly impressive achievement for such a large operator.
With the support of Telefónica’s sustainability team, through candid interviews with the team and their colleagues across the business, we have created this case study on their experiences in embedding sustainability across the business. We believe this will help other telcos intent on following a similar trajectory to understand how they can embed sustainability into their corporate strategies and day-to-day activities.
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How Telefónica got to where it is today
Since the creation of Telefónica’s first sustainability team in 2001, the operator has gradually built up its sustainability activities into a company-wide approach with cross team participation over the last twenty years. The first move in this direction came with the creation of the Climate Change Office in 2007, which included senior representatives from Operations, Procurement and Social Responsibility.
Over the last ten years Telefónica has implemented more than 1,400 energy efficiency projects and has carried an annual Energy and Climate Change Workshop with more than 30 vendors for 12 consecutive years, to exchange challenges and solutions to reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions.
It has three main climate targets: energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption; utilising renewable energy; and reducing its carbon footprint to achieve net-zero emissions in 2040, including its value chain. Figure 2 outlines Telefónica’s sustainability journey and key inflection points through the years.
Key activities and inflection points in Telefónica’s
Achieving buy-in across the organisation
Embedding sustainability into Telefónica has been a grassroots effort on the part of the small but hardworking Global Sustainability Department (hereafter known as the environmental team in this report) to find the proof points necessary to convince Telefónica’s senior management to build sustainability into the corporate strategy. The team has used a mixture of bottom-up and top-down approaches, with management support at crucial moments, which will be explored later in the report.
Through our many conversations with Telefónica’s environmental team, perseverance stood out as the most important characteristic within the team. When they recruit new employees, their priority is to find people with the ability to come up with innovative ideas for meeting sustainability targets, resilience, and perseverance.
This determined and visionary approach means that the environmental team works intuitively and pre-empts other departments’ needs. By the time colleagues from other departments approach the environmental team with their requirements for sustainability-related projects (for example the finance team’s interest in launching a Green Bond), the team is already armed with a range of data, materials and resources needed to put together a business case for the activity. As a result of this preparation, the environmental team has been able to quickly support and capitalise on new opportunities as they have arisen, ensuring they can keep the momentum going whenever it builds.
However, the process of embedding sustainability into company strategy has not come without challenges and difficulties. In conversations with STL Partners, the environmental team said that one of the challenges of working with different teams has been picking the right moment to approach them with ideas. Telefónica also stressed the importance of finding strategic alliances and internal champions on other teams. Through strategic, considered and strong relationship building, the environmental team has found internal champions in their Spanish core network operations, finance, procurement, enterprise, and sales teams, who are fully on board with the Telefónica sustainability vision and strategy.
Although the environmental team is currently working with the marketing team to ensure its sustainability message and efforts is more present in its brands, the environmental team cited this as one of its top priorities in 2022. Aside from needing to build stronger relationships and buy-in, part of the challenge is working with the marketing team on how to accurately and effectively market sustainability, without appearing to be ‘greenwashing’.
Another challenge is adapting to the different ways in which the other teams operate when implementing sustainability initiatives across the company. For example, the sales team generally work towards quick deadlines with short-term results, hence it may be harder to create an aligned dialogue with this team. Having a strong insight into the way Telefónica works as an organisation, by working directly within other teams e.g., helping the sales team to complete RFPs, helps this challenge.
By embedding sustainability into the company in these ways, all departments see the benefit and engage with the process. Telefónica told STL Partners that its employees believe in sustainability on a personal level as well as seeing the business benefit and commercial opportunity. Employees are genuinely engaging with sustainability issues themselves and want Telefónica to work towards sustainability goals as a company. As one employee said to us, “you don’t have to work in the environmental team to want to protect the environment”.
Ultimately, this rigorous, patient, committed and collaborative approach to sustainability has enabled the team to achieve broad buy-in across Telefónica’s business units and international opcos. Throughout the report we will explore how it has done this in:
- Core network operations
- Enterprise services
- International opcos.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- What makes Telefónica different to other telcos?
- Next steps
- Table of Figures
- Telefónica’s 20-year sustainability journey
- Sustainability in the Coordination Age
- How Telefónica got to where it is today
- Achieving buy-in across the organisation
- Why Telefónica stands out among telcos
- High level overview of achievements so far
- How Telefónica compares with other telcos
- How Telefónica collaborates with its peers
- Network operations: The first step to embedding sustainability in Telefónica
- Sustainable financing: A pioneer in telecoms
- How the first Green Bond came to life
- Subsequent green and sustainable bonds
- Challenges and benefits
- Eco Smart label and consulting services: Expanding from networks to services
- How the idea came to life
- Consulting services through Telefónica Tech
- Eco Smart label in 5G services
- Sustainability as a core component of digital transformation
- Implementing sustainability across a global footprint
- Aligning goals with individual market dynamics
- Ten takeaways from Telefónica’s holistic approach