A transformation is underway in the telecommunications industry as the reach of global connectivity expands.

With the spread of 5G networks, advancements in artificial intelligence and a charged data boom, telecommunications companies are navigating rapid technological change. As they work to deliver the fast, seamless and secure connections that today’s consumers demand, they’re also increasingly seeking to do so more sustainably.

More mobile operators are committing to net zero targets, according to GSMA’s 2023 industry assessment on climate progress. But operators with commitments still account for less than half of all mobile connections, highlighting the opportunity for more businesses to set net zero goals.

Here, Faith Taylor, Global Sustainability, ESG and Social Impact Officer at Kyndryl, and Gretchen Tinnerman, Vice President and Leader of the Kyndryl U.S. Telecommunications, Media & Entertainment, and Technology (TMT) market, discuss how telecommunications companies are advancing their sustainability journeys and why technology is essential to accelerating their goals.

What are some top concerns for the telecommunications industry today?

Tinnerman: The telecommunications industry — as part of the broader TMT market — is transforming. Connected devices are becoming ubiquitous and the rapid digitization that many industries experienced during the pandemic has led to an abundance of data. Now, enterprises are asking what they should do with all this information, how they can secure it and how they can apply AI to improve the customer experience. But another topic that really sparked conversations this year at Mobile World Congress was sustainability.

So, data, security, AI — and sustainability. What’s behind this sharpened focus on sustainability?

Taylor: We’re seeing this trend across the business. A range of factors are involved, from needing to comply with increasing regulations to realizing that investing in sustainability efforts can help manage risk and lead to new business opportunities. Of course, there’s also the acknowledgment that businesses have a responsibility to help address the impacts of climate change by reducing emissions. In the last two years, the number of public companies with net zero targets has more than doubled

Tinnerman: Businesses have to manage their current operations and drive revenue, but also look to the future. They’re questioning what modernization looks like — not just tomorrow, but decades from now — and asking how they can place sustainability at the center of their strategies.

Taylor: Our research from the Global Sustainability Barometer study supports this. Organizations in diverse industries consider sustainability a strategic priority, but many find it challenging to develop an action plan. Organizations are looking for guidance on how to fully implement technology and integrate their sustainability and business strategies to support long-term goals.

What does sustainability look like in the telecommunications industry?

Tinnerman: Reducing power consumption is a priority. 5G networks are more efficient than legacy networks — but the amount of data traffic is expected to significantly increase in the coming years, requiring more energy. Some interesting use cases are developing around energy efficiency, including muting radio antennas during off-peak periods and using AI and machine learning to make networks more efficient. At the same time, companies are looking to increase renewable energy use and buy more efficient equipment. Reducing waste is also a main concern, as companies focus on extending the lifetime of devices.

How can technology partners help businesses navigate these challenges? 

Tinnerman: Our experts serve as trusted advisors through Kyndryl Consult, helping businesses move closer to both their digital transformation and sustainability goals. Take this massive influx of data the industry is experiencing, for example. Companies need to streamline their data storage and management, and we can help them do that.

Taylor: Data collection, validation and reporting is also essential to helping businesses understand their carbon footprints and make the most impactful decisions. Our experts can help companies gather their environmental data and develop strategic sustainability roadmaps. And we’re combining strengths with partners to provide end-to-end sustainability solutions that enable them to achieve their net zero goals.

How should telecommunications companies be thinking about AI in relation to sustainability?

Taylor: The potential of AI to solve sustainability challenges is promising. Companies are using AI now to report sustainability data, but there’s an opportunity for companies to use AI for predictive analytics and forecasting energy consumption, as noted in the Global Sustainability Barometer. It’s also important to balance emissions reductions with the power usage that AI can require. More efficient hardware and a greater reliance on renewable energy sources can help companies take advantage of these innovative technologies without losing ground on their progress.

What’s next for the industry as companies advance their sustainability efforts?

Tinnerman: Collaboration is going to be key. As is the case with other industries, telcos will be paying closer attention to their Scope 3 emissions and working more closely with suppliers to spread sustainable practices throughout the supply chain. The industry has an opportunity to help other companies achieve their sustainability goals by accelerating their efforts. And this is an opportunity we also have in the technology sector. It’s part of why we say we’re Customer Zero. We’ve learned a lot from building a strong sustainability program for ourselves from the ground up — now we’re eager to share our knowledge.

Featured leaders
Gretchen Tinnerman

Vice President and Leader of the Kyndryl U.S. Telecommunications, Media & Entertainment, and Technology (TMT) market

Faith Taylor

Global Sustainability, ESG and Social Impact Officer