T-Mobile has an ambition: the telco giant aims to be using 100% renewable energy for all its operations by 2021. As sustainability dominates the thoughts of many industry leaders as well as their clients and customers, for a company as large and expansive as T-Mobile, which covers manufacturing, IT, construction and much more, ambitions as bold as these require an agile and strategic approach that will cause as little disruption to its day-to-day operations as possible. Chad Wilkerson, Director, Sustainability & Infrastructure Sourcing at T-Mobile, is the man entrusted with delivering this program – we caught up with Wilkerson at his Dallas office to find out more.
“I get to lead a great team of people that are doing things differently in energy sustainability across T-Mobile,” he explains. “With RE100 and our commitment to be powered by 100% green energy by 2021, we’re not just buying green energy, but taking a whole systems approach to sustainability. For example, we’re working to make sure our operations are as energy efficient as possible, we’re working to decrease our carbon footprint and we’re supporting third parties like the Nature Conservancy to promote a low-carbon, clean energy future. Our goal is to make an impact on the whole sustainability realm – and lead the wireless industry in this area. At T-Mobile we want to make the biggest impact we can, not just in the environmental space but really, in everything we do – that is the Un-carrier way.”
Telcos can seem rather amorphous when it comes to internal processes and infrastructure, but of course there is a physical architecture that feeds T-Mobile’s processes and products. “Telcos do have an interesting model that you might not have in your normal retail or manufacturing footprint. Not only do we have retail stores, corporate offices, call centers and data centers, we also have a massive network infrastructure and antennae network – and that’s where the bulk of the green energy we're acquiring is being utilized -- to sustainably power that infrastructure.”
Sustainability in action
So, what exactly does T-Mobile’s sustainability strategy look like? “At a high-level, we didn't just look at the standard environmental, social, governance (ESG) model – we went beyond that and took an Un-carrier approach, like we do with everything else. In this case, we focused on three key pillars - protecting the planet, inspiring our customers and employees, and leading responsibly. Our Un-carrier culture is really rooted in the belief that business success is measured not just with financial results, but in our commitment to delivering a positive and sustained impact on the economy, community and the planet as a whole.”
T-Mobile is growing, and Wilkerson and his team are tasked with ensuring that with this expansion the green energy programs keep up with the new power needs. “We frequently evaluate our environmental impacts to determine how we can make significant improvements or offset the impacts of our operations. We first aim to decrease our carbon footprint through energy efficiency, sourcing renewable energy and utilizing innovative techniques to reduce our greenhouse gases. The greenest, most economic energy you can get is the energy you don't use, right? So, that's a big focus for us. We aim to mitigate the impacts that our operations have on the environment to help ensure the long-term viability of our communities and our business.”
Of course, by tackling climate change, there is also a vested interest in protecting the T-Mobile supply chain. “As far as how the environment affects the supply chain... if there's flooding in an area where our supply base is located, or even in areas where, like us in Texas, our network is located, it affects our operations. If a network or a store can't open, or an employee can’t get to work, it affects our staff and the communities they live in. So, focusing on minimizing our impact on the environment is good for customers, employees and the community alike.”
T-Mobile, a green power partner with the EPA, is expanding its commitment to operating sustainably in partnership with our supply chain. “The suppliers we have the best relationships with are those that echo our values and our thinking – and are focused on implementing new, innovative solutions and structures for the future. With suppliers like Ericsson for example, we can together have a much bigger impact both for the planet and the economy!
T-Mobile is also currently working with Tradewind Energy and Enel Green Power on a number of initiatives including one, Red Dirt Wind Farm. “That’s a large project. We're utilizing partners that are in alignment with us, and have proven they can deliver results that pave the way for our future renewable progress. We are also working with Engie North America on Solomon Forks, located in Thomas County, near the city of Colby in northwest Kansas, which is going to be T-Mobile’s second wind farm. T-Mobile is also working with Puget Sound Energy to power it’s Bellevue, WA HQ with 100% green energy that is locally sourced through PSE’s Green Direct Program.”
T-Mobile’s sustainability strategy is part of the company’s broader CSR program which aims to leverage its brand, technology and people to positively impact the community and planet. “In addition to sustainability T-Mobile has a strong focus on supporting veterans, youth development, assisting communities impacted by disasters and enabling our employees to give back to their communities and favorite non-profit partners. So far, in 2018, T-Mobile has given more than US$8mn and employees have volunteered over 34,000 hours – and this is all before Giving Tuesday which kicks off the busiest giving season of the year. T-Mobile plans to give up to $2mn for Giving Tuesday alone.”
T-Mobile has also been recognized for its commitment to diversity and inclusion and overall ethical business practices. “T-Mobile is one of Fortune’s Best Places to Work for Diversity, and one of Forbes Best Employers for Diversity, and for five years in a row has received a perfect 100 from the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Equality Index, earning the “Best Place to Work for LGBT Employees” for 2017. We also received a top score from the Disability Equality Index for “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion” for 2017. And finally, for the past 10 years T-Mobile has been voted Most Ethical Company by the Ethisphere Institute.
T-Mobile has a number of LEED certified facilities including its Bellevue campus which achieved LEED Certification from the US Green Building Council. T-Mobile just announced a $160mn renovation that – over the next three years - will transform its Northwest headquarters into a modern, inclusive, connected and flexible workplace to better support innovation and collaboration among employees. The new offices will earn a LEED certification with sustainable green building design, construction and ongoing maintenance and operations. In addition, the redesigned HQ will be the first corporate campus in the US to achieve a Fitwel certification, a wellness standard that promotes a comprehensive approach to a healthier workplace through increased physical activity, accessible design, access to healthy food options, natural lighting and outdoor spaces. Also, the T-Mobile Arena is a LEED Gold certified facility and first LEED-certified sports and entertainment facility in Las Vegas.
Some of the key initiatives T-Mobile has introduced include waste reduction programs such as paperless billing, minimizing product packaging and increased use of FSC certified recycled and post-consumer materials. “We’re really cutting back on the amount of paper receipts we're using in our stores,” Wilkerson explains. “Reducing collateral – like direct mail advertising and customer billing. We've been relying more on electronic communications with our customers and about 70% of our clients have signed up for paperless billing.”
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“We work closely with the CTIA Green Working Group to efficiently and effectively protect the products we sell, like phones and accessories, while minimizing the impact, footprint and waste associated with our packaging as much as possible. The results have been pretty good, and include eliminating plastic insert trays, labeling all packaging with internationally recognized symbols to encourage recycling, and reducing volatile organic compounds to less than 10%. We've also recycled over 25,000 technology items from our offices including computers, servers and monitors. It's about 300,000 pounds of IT equipment that would have gone to a landfill. In addition to internal electronics and battery recycling, we have a consumer device recycling program and since we started that, we've had over 18mm devices reused or recycled, and that continues to grow. Just having the incentives in place for our customers to encourage them to recycle and trade in their devices is vital. We have efficient LED lights in the stores and offices, and smart thermostats that significantly reduce energy use as well. We sit down with our partners on the construction team and help them make decisions and design things with sustainability in mind. We’re not just considering what the upfront cost is, but the total long-term costs of ownership when we look at our facilities. Obviously, if you're able to reduce your energy use to become more efficient, then you're lowering your operational expenses over the life of that facility and having a better impact on the environment at the same time.”
As a telco, T-Mobile is no stranger to data, but it’s now utilizing metadata to drive its sustainability strategy. “We believe in the old adage ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’. So, we regularly assess our energy footprint to track the progress we are making toward our goals and identify other areas of opportunity.
“Obviously, we're looking at how IoT and 5G will impact our sustainability efforts as 5G is the future. However, as our ability to get more and better data increases and we have better information we can more quickly identify where the inefficiencies are and make the changes that will have the biggest impacts. That’s pretty cool and we expect that to just keep getting better over time! We are well on our way to RE100 and a sustainable future for T-Mobile, but there is still more to do and – we won’t stop!”