Sustainability assessment results show year on year improvement

The mobile industry is positioned at the centre of many of today’s global sustainability challenges. Its products and services play a critical role in society, improving the lives of billions of people worldwide. Responding to global sustainability challenges means being responsible and accountable for environmental and social performance. A company with a clear and comprehensive approach to sustainability will be in a stronger position to take advantage of the opportunities this presents, including better profitability, access to capital, lower operating costs, enhanced reputation, and greater productivity.

Sustainability Assessment Framework

The GSMA developed the Sustainability Assessment Framework to better understand the landscape of operator efforts in social and environmental sustainability. The Framework is based around three pillars. The first, Operating Responsibly, focuses on an operator’s systems to improve performance on sustainability issues within its operations and supply chain. This is closely linked to the GSMA’s Guide to Operating Responsibly. The Delivering Value for Society pillar considers how core business activities and technology are used to create shared value with society and deliver positive impacts that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Finally, the Values-led Leadership pillar looks at how operators are leading transformational change by aligning sustainability with their company’s strategic goals and through collaboration within and beyond the sector.

Year on year improvement

The results of the third annual assessment, released today, show overall year on year improvement across the sector, numerous examples of best practice to share and several areas for improvement to focus on for the future.

The assessment found leading companies are consistently disclosing clear strategies and management arrangements for a broad range of material issues relevant to the sector. They have robust governance arrangements in place, engage and respond to stakeholders, and disclose performance data, trends and targets.

“The leaders demonstrate a close link between society and their core business; how they are leading on issues at a sector level; and describe in detail their contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Anne Euler, Sustainability Director, GSMA

In assessing the management arrangements companies have in place across a range of sustainability issues relevant to the sector, strategy and policy was the highest scoring area. While companies generally scored well in terms of disclosing relevant data in their communications, targets and performance trends were the lowest scoring disclosures and present the most significant area for improvement. To address this gap, companies in the sector need to ensure clear targets are set across all relevant issues, and achievements and challenges are discussed when presenting trends in performance.

Climate Risk leads the way

The assessment results show clear improvements in several key focus areas for the industry. Climate Risk was the highest scoring issue area in the assessment, with several companies improving their score significantly this year. This reflects the mobile industry position as one of the first major industry sectors globally to voluntarily collaborate in agreeing to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as part of a new GSMA-led initiative to develop a climate action roadmap in line with the Paris Agreement. During the last year, many of the world’s largest mobile operators agreed to start disclosing their climate impacts. A decarbonisation pathway for the mobile industry, aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), was also developed. This includes an industry-wide plan to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Encouraging improvements in SDG reporting were found too, with more companies disclosing information about how the organisation impacts relevant SDG’s. The most significant change this year was the number of companies reporting their impact on the SDGs at indicator level. This reinforces the position of the sector in making a significant contribution to the Goals, particularly in the areas of reducing poverty, improving healthcare and education, and driving sustainable economic growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of mobile technology in providing vital connectivity and digital services to help inform citizens, design appropriate responses to the crisis, and preserve livelihoods. Over half the companies in the assessment referred to the pandemic and their response in their annual publications, or on separate online websites dedicated to the issue. Providing dedicated network capacity for critical services during the pandemic was the most common contribution MNOs made, followed by capability roll out, removing data caps and reducing (or removing costs completely) for access to critical online information.

The GSMA encourages all companies to engage and understand the results of the Sustainability Assessment Framework. Detailed feedback is available to all companies included in the assessment, including examples of best practice and relevant recommendations for improvement.

“To achieve the mobile industry’s purpose of Intelligently Connecting Everyone and Everything to a #BetterFuture, it is vital that every mobile operator recognises their role in sustainable development, integrating global environmental and social needs, while also maintaining robust profitability. The GSMA’s Sustainability Assessment Framework is an essential tool to help us compare and understand mobile operator efforts in social and environmental sustainability, and highlight best practice that we can all learn from.”

Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA

A summary of the 2020 Sustainability Assessment Framework, which includes more detailed results, comment and best practice examples can be downloaded.