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Calling upon telecom providers to become more sustainable

When thinking about brands in sectors with a need for sustainable practices, telecom providers do not immediately come to mind. However, this sector uses so much energy that a change towards renewables would be a major improvement. This energy dependency is mostly caused by the data centres that allow internet and telephone communications.

Apart from energy, the purchasing of electronics is also a major impact of this sector. By moving to electronics with responsibly mined minerals, both with respect to the environment as to the workers doing the mining, this sector can create much improvement. Finally, telecom providers are often the primary source of mobile telephones sold to consumers. By showing consumers what the impact of such telephones are, and by offering sustainable alternatives (for an example, see our ranking of the electronics sector), telecom providers can nudge their customers to better choices. So, with all this being said, how do the large telecom providers actually perform? Find out below.

Not much change compared to previous update
In our previous update (blog in Dutch only) of this sector, the Dutch brand KPN and its subsidiaries (Ortel, XS4ALL, Simyo and Telfort) clearly took the lead. All five brands received the B-rating, meaning they were well on their way towards sustainability, while there was still room for improvement. However, in this new update, which was done by students of the Rotterdam School of Management, only Ortel was able to keep this rating. The reason behind this is that Ortel does not offer hardware, and in doing so doesn’t trigger the constant purchasing of new devices while old ones still work fine, thereby reducing this brand’s environmental impact automatically. Since KPN does not sufficiently report on its policy for the environmentally and socially responsible sourcing of its hardware (both sold and used), a lower score was rewarded in this update. This leads to the lower C-rating for KPN, XS4ALL, Simyo and Telfort. Noteworthy is that KPN only uses renewable energy which was generated in the Netherlands, by wind or biomass. Furthermore, KPN publishes its greenhouse gas emissions and has already taken steps to reduce them. Finally, KPN shows good recycling results for both consumer electronics and its own electronics, and publishes its waste footprint as well as a policy to reduce this waste.

Besides KPN and its subsidiaries, a C-rating was awarded to Ortel Mobile (a German brand owned by Telefonica S.A. and different from Ortel from KPN) and Hollandsnieuwe (a Dutch brand owned by Vodafone). Ortel Mobile receives extra points for not offering hardware, while Hollandsnieuwe uses 100% renewable energy. The rest of the telecom providers all received either a D- or an E-rating. In the former category are names like Ziggo, T-Mobile, O2, Lebara and Vodafone. While its Dutch brand Hollandsnieuwe performs well when taking renewable energy into account, Vodafone is not (sufficiently) clear on the use of renewables company wide, leading to a lower score.

In the lowest category, with an E-rating, we find telecom providers like 1&1 and Tele2. These brands publish either no or too little information about their corporate social responsibility policy, or too little to be rewarded more points. Our recommendation is therefore to avoid these brands, at least until they show better performance.

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