Sustainability telecom nothing to mail home about
Mobile phone, digital TV and Internet subscriptions—you might think that for such services, which are digital after all, sustainability is not a main concern.
But it is. By 2025, the Telecom sector is expected to use a whopping 10% of global power consumption, so climate change is a key issue. Yet Telecom companies also use ample high-tech electronics and thousands of kilometres of cables and wires which, if not properly recycled, contribute to the growing ecological and health problem of electronic waste. And then there is the procurement of such electronics, where child labour, forced labour and conflict minerals are still a significant risk.
Our updated rankings and ranking criteria reflect this, focusing strongly on climate neutrality, the circular economy, and improved labour conditions. And, like last year, in our rankings we were—much to our delight—advised and assisted by Global Business & Sustainability Master students from the Rotterdam School of Management.
Climate change policies contributed most to the difference in rankings. Brands from KPN Group (KPN, Ortel, XS4ALL, Telfort and Simyo) are leading the field, as already in 2015 they achieved climate neutrality. Other brands, such as Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Tele2 generally have a climate policy, but have not reduced their carbon emissions, nor sufficiently demonstrated that they really source renewable energy.
In transitioning to the circular economy, KPN brands also prove frontrunners, as they are on schedule to basically become fully circular by 2025. Even so, all brands can substantially increase the percentage of waste they recycle, and none report what percentage of their input materials has been recycled, even though the Global Reporting Initiative specifically recommends this.
No telecom brands score high on labour policies. Vodafone and its brand hollandsnieuwe are the only ones to show good progress in implementing a fair supplier Code of Conduct. However, none of the brands reviewed here could fully guarantee—in spite of their efforts—that at least one conflict mineral is sourced conflict-free, nor did we find a brand that was so transparent as to provide a list of its direct suppliers.
Of course, we hope that the telecom sector answers our calls—for more sustainability, that is.