Report: UK telecoms giants leading sector’s global net-zero transition

Four in ten of the world's biggest telecommunications companies are behind on the delivery of their environmental targets, but British firms are decarbonising far more rapidly than their international counterparts, new Boston Consulting Group (BCG) analysis has found.

Report: UK telecoms giants leading sector’s global net-zero transition

Businesses from the UK

The outcomes of the analysis, which covered the climate targets and broader sustainability strategies of 18 of the world’s biggest telecommunications firms, are detailed in a new report and ranking index published late last week.

According to BCG, almost every major company in the sector now has a net-zero target with a deadline of 2050 or sooner, backed up by a science-based interim target. But 40% of the firms analysed are not on track to deliver key targets relating to decarbonisation or to other environmental issues such as waste and resource management.

BCG noted that, in many cases, companies are setting sustainability goals and policies that are too broad, leaving resources thinly spread and making quantitative accounting against ambitions challenging.

Failure to get back on track, the report speculates, could impact the ability of nations or even the world to deliver the Paris Agreement. ICT, it states, accounts for some 4% of global annual emissions, with its absolute carbon footprint likely to grow 7% each year through to 2020. Around half of the sector’s annual emissions, at present, are accounted for by telecommunications.

Telecommunications firms in the UK could be looked to as examples of leadership, BCG claims. On average, these firms reduced their Scope 1 (direct) and 2 (power-related) emissions by 15% year-on-year in 2020, putting the sector on track to exceed the UK Government’s legally binding net-zero target for 2050.

Broader impact

It is important to note that much of the telecommunications sector’s climate impact lies in its Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, including the supply chain and customer use of products and services.

BGC states that many businesses might be underestimating the positive impacts they could be delivering in this area and that any business wishing to be viewed as a leader in the sustainability space should have strong ‘customer enablement’ commitments. The average company in the telecommunications space could reduce the emissions of clients and customers by up to 10 times the equivalent of its own footprint, it is estimated.

“The Global e-Sustainability Initiative estimates that ICT could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030 by helping companies and consumers to more intelligently use and save energy,” BCG’s partner and managing director Roman Friedrich said. “Telco operators could take the lead in this historic responsibility and tap into the corresponding business opportunity.”

Overall, the 18 businesses assessed by BCG for the index were better at setting sustainability commitments relating to operational performance than to customer enablement. The highest score out of 100% on the former was 76%. For the latter, it was just 43%.  

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Sarah George

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