T-Mobile is the first among the US wireless providers to announce a net-zero target for its entire carbon footprint – Scopes 1, 2 and 3— that has also been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi).Using a science-based approach, T-Mobile has set two targets to guide its near-term and long-term emission reduction actions. The Un-Carrier aims to reduce absolute Scope 1.2, and 3 GHG emissions 55% by 2030, and as part of its net-zero goal, it aims to reduce absolute emissions by 90% by 2040.
“We’re really excited to be able to finally announce this goal,” said Brigitta Witt, Vice President, Social Impact and Sustainability at T-Mobile. “It’s incredibly important for us to make sure that we’re rigorous in our approach and that we’re very thoughtful in what we communicate. This is because our work in sustainability aligns incredibly well with our mission to be the best in the world at connecting people to their world. From an Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) perspective, it means ensuring that everybody can thrive in a connected world. We also must make sure that responsibility we take for the impact that the world-class network we’re building is having,” Witt added.
As part of this effort, T-Mobile has also announced that it has signed up to The Climate Pledge, adding its name to over 400 companies committed to reaching the Paris Agreement 10 years earlier. In a statement, Sally Fouts, Global Lead of The Climate Pledge at Amazon, said: “T-Mobile has set and achieved aggressive renewable energy and carbon reduction goals across its operations, and we’re thrilled to see the comprehensive and thoughtful pathway they have charted to achieve net-zero carbon by 2040.”
T-Mobile’s strategy for reducing emissions focuses on cutting energy use and adopting energy-efficient technologies. In 2021, 90% of the company’s operational carbon footprint (Scope 1 & 2) came from powering its 5G network. T-Mobile is already reducing network energy demands through decommissioning cell sites, using direct air-cooling fan doors instead of air conditioning units, and optimizing energy consumption via network software. 5G has the potential to be the most sustainable generation of wireless networks, as it uses less energy per data transmitted, despite requiring more energy for infrastructure equipment. 5G also enables more efficient support for a more significant number of devices, and T-Mobile is exploring ways to improve cellular equipment performance and energy efficiency with high-efficiency rectifiers, antennas, lighting controls, and cabinet designs. AI offers the potential for advanced data analytics to optimize energy consumption and save power based on traffic and weather. T-Mobile’s energy conservation efforts must also include data centers where the company is upgrading systems, optimizing air management, and using smart thermostats for more efficient cooling. Investing in ENERGY STAR LED lighting and lighting controls in retail stores alone is expected to save 45,000 MWh annually.
Including Scope 3 in the net-zero target is certainly a typical un-carrier move.
Scope 3 includes emissions generated across the rest of T-Mobile’s value chain, such as those from customers using and powering their devices and from suppliers who manufacture and ship the devices and products we sell. This represents 71% of T-Mobile’s entire carbon footprint, but it is the one over which the company has the least amount of control. Yet because of its impact, it was paramount for the company to include it in the goal.
“Many of our partners are already doing the work, but we encourage our suppliers to commit to setting their own SBTi-validated goals, and we track these commitments through regular third-party sustainability assessments managed by EcoVadis,” said Witt adding that joining The Climate Pledge will help boost the effort around Scope 3 emissions given how many of the world’s large organizations share a common value chain and are part of The Pledge. In addition, T-Mobile engages with stakeholders throughout its supply chain to identify and address emissions hotspots and implement sustainability initiatives.
To help break down this vast area of impact, it measures and reports on ten categories of Scope 3 emissions relevant to the business leaning on its collaboration with key suppliers. T-Mobile recognizes that emissions from transporting and distributing their products account for a significant portion of their Scope 3 emissions, including upstream logistics (moving products from suppliers to T-Mobile distribution centers) and downstream logistics (moving products from their distribution centers to retail stores). The focus is on running an energy-efficient logistics and distribution network to reduce these emissions. In 2021, T-Mobile removed 833 trucks and 313 expedite vans from the road through shipping optimization efforts resulting in savings of 2,241 MT CO2e. Maximizing the use of space in its vehicles, reducing fuel consumption, and switching to lower-emission fuel sources will all help further reduce emissions.
While operational waste and end-of-life treatment of sold products account for a small percentage of T-Mobile’s Scope 3 emissions, the broader impact of waste on the planet makes it an important issue to address. Hence, T-Mobile works with third-party service contractors to track and measure their municipal waste, hazardous waste, and wastewater. In addition, it is committed to diverting as much waste from landfills as possible through recycling, composting, avoidance, and digitization across the business.
Setting such an ambitious goal, let alone having a chance to achieve it, is only possible with leadership backing from the very top. Witt shared, “Our CEO very smartly integrated sustainability into the business from the start, through the Sprint merger and the amazing growth we have had over the past few years. This is because we want to be accountable and align with what both customers and employees want and expect from us.”
The clock is ticking, and the future of our planet is at stake. The time for action is now, and businesses must lead the charge. As T-Mobile has demonstrated, building sustainability into the core of your operations is not just a moral imperative, but it is also a smart business strategy. With getting regulations stricter and stakeholders demanding more accountability, companies embracing sustainability will secure their place in a more sustainable future and gain a competitive advantage and build a stronger reputation.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.