How Can the Connectivity Industry Create a More Sustainable Future?

Frédéric Moreira, Chair of the Sustainability Working Group, Trusted Connectivity Alliance

As the world looks to tackle urgent climate and environmental pressures, encouraging sustainable practices is a key priority for governments, organisations and consumers. The mobile and connectivity industry has already demonstrated a strong commitment to building a greener future. It was the first industry to commit to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and has been recognised as a ‘breakthrough’ industry by the UN Climate Change Champions.

But despite the progress that has been made, significant challenges remain. As digital transformation accelerates and technological demands continue to grow, how can the connectivity industry promote a more sustainable, connected future?

Understanding the challenges ahead

To help address pressing environmental threats, there are three broad challenges that the connectivity ecosystem must work collaboratively to overcome:  

  • Rising energy demands

To mitigate growing energy demands and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the mobile industry has collaborated to create an industry-wide roadmap to achieve Net-Zero by 2050. And today, GSMA reports that around 80% of the global mobile industry is disclosing its climate impact assessments and GHG emissions data according to the international CPD global disclosure system.

Yet the fact remains that telecoms is already an energy-intensive industry, and this is set to rise amid rapid digitalisation across the world.

  • Plastic Waste

Plastic production and waste have a significant environmental impact. It is estimated that 380 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced each year and the impact of the estimated 50 billion smart cards in circulation must be acknowledged.

By reducing plastic waste, the connectivity ecosystem has another opportunity to play a significant part in building a more sustainable future. Already, SIM manufacturers are using more environmentally-friendly, renewable materials and we can expect continued progress and innovation in this area.

In addition, eSIM technology can significantly reduce the plastic used for manufacturing and packaging (particularly as a new SIM card is not required every time a user switches operators).

  • Electrical waste (e-waste)

As more consumers around the world own, use and eventually discard connected technologies, mitigating the impact of e-waste is a critical challenge. Each year, it is estimated that more than 53 million tonnes of e-waste are produced, of which only 17% of it is recycled sustainably.

The good news is that there has been strong progress in this area. Currently, 71% of the world’s population is covered by a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation. However, there is always more to be done as it still leaves 117 countries lacking any policies to protect the most vulnerable people and ecosystems from the harmful effects of e-waste.

Towards trusted, sustainable connectivity

Given the scale of the challenges, identifying a roadmap to realise more sustainable, environmentally-friendly products and practices must be a priority for organisations across the connectivity ecosystem.

Firstly, and most importantly, sustainability efforts across the industry must be legitimate. ‘Greenwashing’ is a growing problem that undermines progress and erodes trust. This means that all initiatives must be built on a solid foundation of accuracy, clarity, and transparency. For example, all environmental claims should be fully substantiated by publicly available, measurable performance indicators such as improved energy efficiency and increased use of renewable materials.

This commitment to ‘real’ action must also be combined with a comprehensive understanding of industry best-practices, policies and legislation to ensure organisations can stay ahead of the regulatory curve.

Finally, big problems need big ideas, and it is clear innovation is needed.

This requires an industry-wide effort. To facilitate broad engagement and collaboration, TCA has established a dedicated Sustainability Working Group. The group brings together leading companies to support the entire industry transition towards greener practices and achieve a more sustainable, connected future.

Sustainable Connectivity: A TCA Position Paper is now available to download.