On a macro level, the need to focus on sustainability is clear. We need to use the world’s finite resources more efficiently. They are depleting, and this is an existential threat to us and the planet. Governments and businesses are beginning to understand that the onus is largely on them to bring about the necessary changes. Telecoms operators have a vital role to play in this effort, as outlined in our vision for the Coordination Age.
For businesses, the need to embrace sustainability is no longer abstract, and the consequences of not doing so are now material. Telcos are acknowledging that their future success is linked closely to their ability to be credible and resilient with regards to sustainability. Increasingly, a more sustainable company is going to be a more valuable company. We can already see this; companies that are focusing more of their efforts on sustainability are performing better financially. Things will continue to shift in this direction. Each year sustainability is moving higher up the global agenda and climate action is becoming ever more imperative.
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All telecoms’ stakeholders have a vested interest in sustainability:
- Customers – primarily enterprises – but also some consumers, want to purchase sustainable products so they can demonstrate progress towards their own net-zero targets or rest assured that they are taking responsibility and contributing towards a sustainable future. Nearly all operators we spoke with for this research reported rising demands to prove sustainability credentials in customer request for proposals (RFPs).
- Employees want to work for a company that is sustainable and gain a sense of purpose from contributing to their company’s sustainability A recent survey from IBM found that 67% of respondents are more willing to apply for jobs with environmentally sustainable companies, and 68% are more willing to accept positions from such companies.
- Governments are increasingly more prepared to help companies that are sustainable in the form of tax incentives, grants, loans and subsidies. The US government recently announced nearly US$400 billion in federal funding as part of its Inflation Reduction Act, much of which is aimed at tackling climate change. The European Commission has also adopted a package of proposals labelled The European Green Deal, and there are talks of further measures being adopted in response to US legislation.
- Regulators will also increasingly favour companies that are sustainable and hurt companies that are not. Governments have their own ambitious net-zero targets, for instance the UK targets net-zero by 2050. They are likely to begin enforcing stricter regulations as they try to meet these targets.
- Ultimately, all of this means that shareholders and investors are beginning to put pressure on companies to be sustainable, because the consequences of avoiding it will be too costly to a business over the long term.
There may be some very short-term gains to be made by sidestepping and ignoring sustainability, but these will quickly disappear. Even in the medium term, companies that cannot demonstrate concrete progress on sustainability will struggle to compete.
As Figure 1 demonstrates, getting to net-zero is not straightforward. Telcos that still have low hanging fruit to capture, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, can make faster progress, but those that are further along in their journeys such as BT and Telefónica must now work towards more incremental gains. Other operators risk facing rising challenges in sustainability depending on their strategies, as illustrated by Softbank which has pursued an aggressive M&A strategy to expand beyond telecoms since 2019. This reinforces the importance of ensuring buy-in and commitment at the C-suite and across the whole organisation.
Comparing carbon emissions of major telcos
Source: STL Partners
This report focuses on how to embed sustainability across key telco areas, including the sustainability team, the C-suite, network operations and IT, procurement, the consumer and enterprise units and the finance unit. Each section identifies key actions that these units can take and associated KPIs they can adopt in order to catalyse and measure progress. The research is based on interviews with eight telecoms operators globally as well as extensive analysis of telecoms sustainability initiatives.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- Why telcos must embrace sustainability
- Sustainability team: Direction and agenda
- Developing sustainability targets and agenda
- Working towards sustainability targets
- Facilitating and coordinating change
- C-suite: Vision and structure
- Vision building
- Incentives are crucial to delivery on commitments
- Sustainable network operations and IT
- Sustainable procurement
- Circular economy
- Identifying sustainable suppliers and educating SMEs
- Fair working practices
- Sustainability in enterprise and consumer units
- Delivering services in more sustainable ways
- Sustainability-enabling products for enterprise
- Helping consumers become more sustainable
- Sustainability is now integral to telco finance and investment
- Future proofing telcos
- Green finance
- Appealing to ESG investors
- Driving sustainability in telco metro networks
- Telecoms sustainability scorecard
- Net-zero enablement use case directory