Telefónica’s 10 steps to sustainable telecoms

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:

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

Telefónica's sustainability

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
  • Finance
  • 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
  • Conclusion
    • Ten takeaways from Telefónica’s holistic approach
  • Index

 

 

 

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Sustainability: Why it’s good for business

Introduction

In the last year, businesses all around the world underwent unprecedented changes and had to adapt to the most challenging of circumstances. Priorities shifted for all stakeholders with telcos operating in an increasingly complex world and having to rethink how they do business.

The world is connected digitally now more than ever. With office closures and working from home, Zoom calls with loved ones having been the only way to socialise and to carry out online schooling, telecoms and technology have become even more relied upon industries in the last 18 months.

The idea that a strong corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategy is good for business has been around for decades. This report outlines how telcos can evolve their purpose beyond just being profit driven by aligning core strategy with sustainability initiatives and a sustainability policy, and in doing so benefit their business and add ‘society’ or ‘the world’ to their stakeholders.

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Scope of Research

The modern concept of ‘sustainability’ is composed of three components: economic, environmental and social. This is also sometimes called the ‘triple bottom line’ of business – stating that businesses should commit to measuring social and environmental impact, as well as financial performance, rather than focusing solely on profit. The ‘triple bottom line’ theory states that businesses should focus on the “three Ps”: people, profit and planet.

The three components of sustainability

three-components-to-sustainability-stl-partners

Source: STL Partners

Modern discussions of ‘sustainability’ refer to the economic, environmental and social effect an organisation has on the societies or markets in which it operates. It is an umbrella term that covers issues such as diversity and inclusion, energy usage, human rights and supply chain management.

Through this research we sought to understand if there is a business value to incorporating sustainability into a telecoms operator’s purpose and strategy. Speaking to seven operators across the world, some of whom are named in this report (Telstra, Globe and Orange), we wanted to know how telcos are thinking about sustainability, and to learn more about the following:

  • Telcos’ perception of the impact of sustainability initiatives in wider stakeholder groups e.g. employees, customers, shareholders, society
  • Which sustainability issues telcos are focusing on
  • The business benefits of sustainability initiatives
  • Case studies of companies that have incorporated sustainability into their company strategy
  • The effect the markets in which a telco operates in has on its sustainability initiatives (e.g. developed vs developing)

To gain an idea of how sustainability affects all aspects of the business, we interviewed employees in telcos’ sustainability and CSR teams, as well as in corporate strategy and product management.

All interviewees were asked largely the same questions, covering topics including: the initial motivations for engaging with sustainability; the effect of sustainability on multiple stakeholders (including customers and employees); if being sustainable puts telcos at a competitive advantage; important sustainability issues and solutions; successes and challenges of different sustainability initiatives; adapting sustainability strategies in different regions and the selection of their term for what we are calling ‘sustainability’.

Notably, some of the telcos we reached out to were not willing to participate in interviews because they were in the process of revising, changing, or updating their position on sustainability. In itself, this tells us that sustainability is an important and topical issue that many are still figuring out how to “get right” and how to incorporate it into their company strategy.

Sustainability is a cornerstone of the Coordination Age

As we outlined in The Coordination Age: A third age of telecoms, we believe that the telecoms and the wider digital economy is in its third age, ‘The Coordination Age’, which builds on ‘The Communications Age’ and ‘The Information Age’.

The three ages of telecoms

coordination-age-basic-stl-partners

 

Source: STL Partners

The Coordination Age is a result of the changing needs and demands of the world’s people, businesses, and governments, evolving technological solutions and possibilities, and the need to preserve the most habitable possible future environment for the world’s population.

To create major growth and advance as a telco, operators need to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. We believe some of those major problems are:

  • A desire for greater business efficiency and productivity
  • The distribution and availability of human resources and services such as healthcare, education, employment, and entertainment
  • Mitigating climate change and minimising its effects
  • Reducing the amount of waste and harmful by-products polluting the environment
  • Concerns over employment due to automation and global economic changes

These major problems can and are starting to be addressed through sustainability initiatives set out by companies in their agendas and policies.

In addition, telcos have important and unique assets, as well as specific resources and capabilities, such as access to data, technology and their prevalence in the everyday lives of their customers, that can enable them to contribute to tackling some of the world’s problems and ‘help make our world run better’. A specific common problem is to help companies and people coordinate their resources in or near to real-time.

For example, a major problem in delivering sustainable energy is ensuring that the variable demand of populations is coordinated with supply. Wind turbines and solar panels cannot be relied on to produce at peak capacity at exactly half-time in sporting events, when the audience goes to make a cup of tea by boiling their electric kettles. As such, supply needs to be very flexibly managed in relation to demand.

This means sharing information about those resources and demands effectively, which in turn takes modern communications in some shape or form (although connections may not always need to run through a telco network, for example Bluetooth, WiFi, etc.) Given his common need, telcos are well-equipped to help enable sustainability.

The motivating value of a compelling purpose

Protecting the future of the planet and society is a compelling purpose, and one which is progressively becoming part of our daily lives.

Our research on sustainability found that that there are a number of benefits for different stakeholders when telcos incorporate sustainability into company strategy, including increasing employee engagement. Sharing a mutual goal or purpose unites a team and creates value, which is important for business performance, and thus a business benefit of sustainability.

How a unifying purpose helps create value

unifying-purpose-CSR-stl-partners

Source: STL Partners

A clear unifying purpose applied successfully creates a virtuous cycle:

1. Clarity of direction: A clear purpose can provide direction for people at all levels. E.g. incorporating the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, into company strategy and developing processes around it that involve employeesat all levels.

2. Energising work: Most people work for money, to a greater or lesser extent, and a range of other drivers: status, socialcontact, etc. However, work with a clear purpose is much more energising, especially if (like sustainability) it has some broader merit or meaning. It can make work ‘worth getting up for’. All the telcos we spoke to said that their employees are motivated by the sustainability work their company does.

3. Switched on people: If a telco is full of people that care about what they are doing, and know what they are trying to do, it will be a much more enjoyable and attractive place to work for everyone. Telcos we spoke to also said that sustainabilityis beneficial for talent attraction and retention, as employees want to work for a company that they feel is making a positive impact on the world

4. and 5 – Compelling offer and support, and attracts and satisfies customers: The combination of engaged people in the company and a compelling offer will be attractive to customers. Telcos we spoke to also referenced the need to be attractive to and satisfy different types of customers through their sustainabilitywork, such as the socially conscious Generation Z, and the older generation who can be engaged through digital inclusion

6. Feeds the business: The combination of internal clarity and alignment, motivation, and external attractiveness creates a virtuous circle that benefits telcos and drive business growth.

We think that engaging with sustainability and incorporating it into company strategy is a crucial part of operating in the context of the Coordination Age, and fundamental to operating in this way successfully. To support our hypothesis that having a clear and motivating purpose (in this case sustainability) can help to enhance currant performance, engage its employees, and find and nurture new areas of growth, we interviewed telcos to better understand how they define and measure the benefits of sustainability for their business. The research conducted for this report further validates our belief that commitment to sustainability is crucial to telcos’ success and growth in the Coordination Age.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Context
    • Key findings from research
    • Recommendations
    • Next steps for research
  • Introduction
    • Scope of research
    • Sustainability is a cornerstone of the Coordination Age
    • The motivating value of a compelling purpose
  • Defining and contextualising sustainability
    • ‘Corporate social responsibility’ vs. ‘sustainability’
    • The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
    • Where are telcos focusing their efforts?
  • What are the business benefits of sustainability?
    • Employee benefits
    • Customers and government
    • Shareholder benefits
    • Challenges of sustainability
  • Conclusion
    • To what degree are telcos taking a holistic approach to CSR and sustainability?

STL Partners’ telecom sustainability hub:

Related Research: