For several years, Orange has been committed to using new technology responsibly, in a sector where energy consumption is growing exponentially. To reverse the trend, it’s essential all telecoms operators engage in the move towards energy transition. In order to bear fruit, these initiatives must also be adopted by citizens and supported by political decisions as part of a collective social effort.
Chantal Dubon-Chevallier, Market Information Director at Orange (Technology and Global Innovation), shed light on the progress being made in the telecoms world.
In recent years we’ve witnessed a growing trend that finally seems to go beyond the simple “green washing” that we saw before. What has actually changed in terms of how operators are approaching the subject? And what does this collective awareness mean?
Environmental disasters are becoming more and more front-page news. Faced with this climate emergency, citizens are saying they’re ready to change their habits but they believe everyone should do their bit, and in particular businesses. Telecoms operators have responded to this demand by reinforcing their CSR strategies, which for many are structured around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. But some telecoms operators are going further, integrating ecological transition initiatives into their business strategies. This is very clearly expressed by Shameel Aziz Joosub, CEO of Vodacom: “We don’t consider sustainable development as separate to our core business, on the contrary, we’re continuing to create value in our business by using it as a permanent objective to identify the risks and opportunities that affect our ability to continue to add value to our stakeholders and achieve our goal.”
What are companies in Europe or the United States doing in concrete terms to reduce their carbon footprint and energy consumption?
Operators around the world are taking action to reduce their network energy consumption, sometimes drastically such as Tele2 in Sweden, which turns off amplifiers in unused 4G base stations. Another priority is to optimise server cooling systems. Energy optimisation also involves greener buildings, such as Telenor’s head office in Pakistan. The use of renewable energies is developing quickly, in the wake of precursors such as KPN. Some operators are even going as far as to produce their own green energy, such as Telstra in Australia who use solar farms or AT&T who use wind farms. But for the most part, the solution is mainly around procuring renewable energy.
Beyond internal initiatives, what means or drivers can operators deploy to raise awareness among their own customers? What are their long-term strategies?
Operators are increasing the ways they support consumers in this ecological transition. They have to encourage them, for example through smartphone recycling. The first driver is the reward, with a gift or voucher, making it as easy as possible for consumers. Telecoms operators then have to promote the purchase of reconditioned smartphones. Another trend is “repairability”, whether via dedicated spaces as proposed by Swisscom’s “Repair Centres” or through commercial offers such as the Fairphone.
Finally, operators have to start right from how they design their offers and services. One example here is Smart Home offers, which reduce household energy consumption. Another key example is the transformation of Deutsche Telekom in Germany into an infrastructure operator of vehicle charging stations with its “Get charge” offer that exploits its existing telecoms infrastructure.
Can you give us an example of an initiative that has impressed you?
I’d like to mention two particularly interesting initiatives. The first is in the Netherlands with T-Mobile, which has integrated smartphone recycling into its “Recycle Deal”: customers pay less each month if they commit to return their phone at the end of the contract for it to be recycled or reused, and if they don't respect the clause they have to pay out a significant fee. Another interesting programme is the Unplan broadband offer from New Zealand operator Spark, where the price adapts to the customer’s actual consumption as an incentive to avoid wasting time online.
When it comes to the initiatives that are now embedded in strategic plans and also the awareness campaigns to engage consumers… is hammering these best practices home to people actually paying off?
There is a clear need for energy transition. The awareness is there. What’s needed now is actions to support the words, and this is true as much for citizens as businesses.
The fact that some companies such as Deutsche Telekom are showing their ambition to protect the climate so opening is good news.
At Orange, besides our actions to reduce carbon footprint, we're committed to supporting our customers across all of our operating countries by raising awareness of best practices.