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Telecoms Are Poised to Become Sustainability Leaders

Posted by: Kevin Perlmutter on Friday, July 13 2012 10:49 AM

power cellphone

Interbrand’s Corporate Citizenship research confirms that those telecoms that are known for contributions to society will yield greater consumer interest and loyalty. Many telecoms contribute a significant amount to their communities, but sustainability remains an underleveraged opportunity.

Thanks to the learning from developing our Best Global Green Brands 2012 ranking and our general telecom industry understanding, Interbrand has identified key ways in which the growing environmental sustainability agenda could – and should – impact such brands. Many of these opportunities build on existing initiatives and policies, demonstrating that this sector has great potential to become a leader in sustainability efforts.

Conserving resources, for example, is an area telecoms have made great advances in, creating the digital means to reduce the need for printed material, thus saving the precious resources needed to create more paper. Telecom businesses can and should be models in producing digital content for sharing, storing and consuming without printing for employees, suppliers, partners and end users.

More could be done to conserve resources if excess packaging and package inserts were eliminated on the retail side of the sector. Encouraging device manufacturers to minimize packaging and printed materials would go a long way toward sustainability. As devices become more intuitive, printed instruction manuals will become less necessary and could be viewed digitally.

packaging waste

Digital capabilities also allow for an ever-increasing ability to connect with people, reducing the amount of local and international travel needed to do business. As telecoms continue to innovate high definition video technology that makes meeting and collaboration from different places around the world more realistic and accessible, the carbon footprint of all businesses, and those of telecom companies themselves, can be greatly reduced.

Innovation in product development can improve the sustainability of the products themselves as well. Mobile phone chargers, for example, still consume a significant amount of energy, although there are new technologies in use that will reduce their carbon footprint. Telecoms have the power to insist on supporting devices that use less energy, and even to go as far as to implement a rating system -- much like the US government’s “Energy Star” rating system.

Millions of customers replace their mobile phones every few years to obtain the latest and greatest models. Encouraging and supporting year-round donation programs within retail locations, enabling customers to easily recycle their products while doing good, would go a long way in supporting sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

For devices that cannot be donated, it is incumbent upon the telecom industry and equipment manufacturers to improve the recyclability of their components safely and efficiently. Not only will this reduce landfill waste, as well as soil and water contamination, but it will also make more efficient use of scarce materials used in mobile devices.

Some equipment manufacturers mass-produce their products in countries where the cost of labor is very low. Telecoms have the opportunity to take a stand, boycotting suppliers and countries where human rights are being violated, following the lead of garment manufacturers. After several years of controversy, Apple is allowing independent inspections of its Asian supply chain. Others should follow suit.

social media green

Global social networks are making the world smaller – giving people from all social classes and countries access to the same information and capabilities. Twitter has more than 175 million accounts and claims 140 million active users. Facebook is closing in on one billion accounts and boasts more than 500 million daily active users. Some predict the number of people accessing these networks on mobile devices globally will exceed 1 billon within the next five years. This access to knowledge and communication will result in human progress and a closing of the digital divide.

As Interbrand’s global CEO Jez Frampton has said, “It’s our view that brands should do good in the world by doing what they do best. …Being a good citizen is a complex and vital part of corporate strategy and it starts with core operations. …It’s only by applying their particular expertise to the world’s problems that brands can really hope to effect any real change. It also transforms corporate citizenship from being a nice to have philanthropy to a must have business asset.”

Kevin Perlmutter is a Senior Director of Brand Strategy in Interbrand’s New York office.

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