'Painful learning process' for Verizon as it downgrades carbon reduction projections
America's largest wireless telecoms provider has drastically reduced estimations of the environmental impact of the products and services it offers after previously using 'over-optimistic' assumptions to inform its sustainability report.
In its 2015 Corporate Responsibility Supplement, Verizon reported previously over-estimating the total carbon savings generated by its telecommuting, fleet management systems and smart metering solutions by two and a half times the newly calculated values.
The firm, which operates the largest 4G wireless network across the US, partnered up with UK organisation Carbon Trust last year to review the model it was using to calculate carbon reductions. The Trust identified a number of assumptions that had been used within the previous model which had led to some overestimates being made in relation to carbon avoidance enabled by Verizon products and services.
The Carbon Trust therefore refined Verizon’s previous assumptions to improve the accuracy of the calculations, and has commended ICT company for taking a “leadership role” by transparently reporting its carbon abatement.
“The Carbon Trust updated some key assumptions in our model,” Verizon's 2015 report states. “The result is that — despite an increase in the number of Verizon products enabling our customers to reduce their carbon footprints — the total carbon savings for 2015 are significantly less compared to what we reported last year.
“We are committed to updating the model we use to calculate the value to be in line with the most recent research, and to report our progress in a transparent way.”
Total gross CO2 avoidance enabled by Verizon was reduced from an estimation of between 13.12 and 17.04 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in the 2014 report to 4.7-7.3MtCO2e in the 2015 report – the same difference as between one million and three million cars being taken off of the road.
Image: A comparison of Verizon's 2014 and 2015 reporting of CO2 reductions (Click to expand)
The Carbon Trust’s senior consultant Andie Stephens, who leads the Trust’s work with the ICT sector, told edie that Verizon’s data revisions serve to highlight the "painful learning process" that companies often have to endure when reporting on these "less tangible" environmental impacts.
“Verizon were previously working with another organisation to do these calculations,” Stephens said. “They asked us to update these figures and, in doing that, we reviewed their assumptions - there were some which were not ‘wrong’, but were over-optimistic.
“We went back to them and said they should update some of their assumptions - we had discussions about how they were going to present this because it is such a big difference. We were a bit nervous about going back to Verizon and telling them that we thought they should restate their figures, but they were actually very open to it – that’s the positive message here: it’s a learning process.”
The biggest change in Verizon’s assumptions in the 2015 report is 'travel substitution' (i.e. telecommuting), where Verizon products and services allow people to work from home. According to the Carbon Trust, Verizon had used data which overestimated the total number of telecommuters in the US. As such, the projections of CO2 avoided in this area was reduced from between 8.3 and 11.61MtCO2e to 3.45-5.15MtCO2e.
In the category of 'smart meters and demand response', Verizon, which sells machine-to-machine (M2M) connections for smart meters, was advised by the Carbon Trust to reduce the percentage savings of household energy from the use of smart meters. Additionally, Verizon identified a change in the method for counting the number of smart meters installed across the country, leading to a reduction in Verizon’s impact in this area from 3.85-4.21MtCO2e in 2014 to 0.78-1.19MtCO2e in 2015.
“Lots of these revisions relate to the measurement of behaviour change, which is such a new area; it’s much less tangible and difficult to obtain accurate data on,” added Stephens. “But the positive message here is that Verizon’s technology is still generating carbon savings, it’s just that they’ve overestimated them.
“It is only in the past three years that any company has reported its carbon abatement, and there are still only a small handful of companies in the world that are publicly reporting on this aspect of their businesses. Unless companies like Verizon take a leadership role and are encouraged to be transparent, the development of methodology and standards will not happen.”
In the UK, the Carbon Trust has worked with the likes of BT, O2, Vodafone and EE on measuring and tracking carbon savings and Stephens said that the organisation encourages companies to be "more conservative initially" with their data around carbon reductions enabled by products and services.
Late last year, the Trust produced a report with the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) – a trade association for IT firms, of which Verizon is a member – on the environmental impact of mobile technology. That report, which is the first of its kind, revealed that the use of mobile in the USA and Europe alone is already enabling a saving of more than 180 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year, which is approximately five times greater than the emissions emitted from the operation of the mobile networks.
Internet of Things
Elsewhere in Verizon’s 2015 sustainability report, the firm notes its recent signing of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge with a promise to reduce carbon intensity by 50% over its 2009 baseline by 2020 – a percentage which stands at 40% as of 2014.
The report also cites a number of new Verizon initiatives in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT), with the company acknowledging that "IoT technology is an important element in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable".