Sustainability is gaining importance in companies' agendas across the globe and each sector is responding in its own way. The mobile industry was the first to fully commit to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2016 and has since been a forerunner in climate action. In 2019, the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) set a goal on behalf of the industry to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
In order to provide an insight into the mobile industry's sustainability performance and hopefully influence other companies or sectors into action, CIVITTA analysed the most recent sustainability disclosures of more than 50 companies across the globe and compared the progress between different regions. The company list was developed with an aim to a) include the companies which have the greatest market share in each region and b) include companies from different areas inside the region.
A short overview of the findings has been provided below and the full report can be accessed here.
To get an understanding of the overall sustainability ambition among the telecommunication companies, we first looked at reporting which is key for communicating the company's sustainability ambition and progress to the clients, investors and wider public. Globally, 87% of the 45 analysed companies are disclosing their sustainability information — whether through their website, in a separate document or part of their annual report — indicating the willingness of the majority to address the company's sustainability-related matters. Regionally, sustainability reporting showed to be the least common in Asia Pacific where 23% of the analysed companies do not yet practice it. The most widely used framework for disclosing sustainability information is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) which is used by 84% of the analysed companies.
While a large majority of the analysed companies are reporting their sustainability efforts to some extent, only one-third have anchored their commitment by setting Science Based Targets (SBTs) — a quantitative greenhouse gas emission targets in line with the needs of the Paris Agreement. Looking at the regional differences, it is clear that setting SBTs is most common among the companies in Europe where the consumers and stakeholders have come to expect more of businesses in terms of their climate action.
Energy use is a topic of great importance to the mobile operators as it presents one of the highest operating cost (20-40% of the network OPEX). The potential for cost-savings has placed efficiency improvements to this industry's focus for many years, but climate change concerns as well as projected increase in data traffic are making energy considerations more important than ever before.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy is being considered by most of the companies across regions and the majority provide quantitative information about their activities. But upon a closer look, only 9% of the operators have set clear targets for their energy efficiency and 27% for the renweable energy activities. This observation illustrates an important aspect visible in the companies' sustainability activities in general — namely, while most are mentioning various topics in their disclosures, specific and meaningful targets for their actions are oftentimes lacking. But the climate urgency does not leave any room for the „we-will-see-as-we-go“ behaviour — what is needed are clear goals and strategic roadmaps to achieve them.
Looking at the regional differences, the analysis showed that Europe is oftentimes leading the race. This raised a question about the territory CIVITTA is most present in — Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and urged us analyse further, for which two new groups of telecommunication companies were created and compared: CEE and rest of the Europe (ROE).
Compared to ROE, sustainability reporting is less common among telecommunication companies in CEE, where about 2/3 are doing it. Moreover, setting SBTs is even further down in the companies' agenda, as only 2 of the analysed companies have developed the targets.
Contrasting results are also clear when looking at the climate neutrality and net zero goals. Besides the fact that none of the CEE companies have reached carbon neutrality within their own operations (as opposed to the four companies in ROE), a large majority of the reporting companies have not even set any such goals for the future.
Fortunately, almost all of the companies which disclose their sustainability information take their energy efficiency and renewable energy into consideration – something that is of foremost importance, considering this region's high dependency on fossil fuels.
On the other hand, scope 3 emissions are receiving very little attention. This was to be expected, as the companies in CEE region, where corporate sustainability is still in the early development phase, first choose to focus on more direct sustainability topics as opposed to the indirect upstream and downstream emissions which are more difficult to measure and control.
All in all, while the telecommunication industry in Europe is well under way with their environmental action, a closer look shows that the CEE region is still waking up to the potentials and possibilities of this journey. This makes CIVITTA particularly well-positioned to guide companies in their sustainability transformation and thereby be part of this upcoming change.
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