Blog: Leaders of sustainable success

Let’s not brush over the hard work; results require action. Meeting sustainability challenges needs resources, focus, committed effort and some defined direction. Getting started on the journey is important, but research has shown time and again, that companies who set goals for their performance enjoy more success. It’s an enticing prospect the GSMA believes more operators could widely benefit from.

Know the way, go the way, show the way

Mobile operators that report targets for material social and environmental issues are more likely to be sustainability leaders, according to the GSMA Sustainability Assessment Framework.

The research, conducted using a methodology developed by GSMA and Yale University Center for Business and Environment, evaluated mobile network operators (MNOs) across a range of sustainability criteria and found that those who reported targets for sustainability issues were also more likely to be leaders in their internal, industry and partnership practices. You can read the report in full here.

MNOs who reported sustainability targets achieved an average score of 38% in the leadership Pillar, while the 24% who did not include any targets achieved an average score of 17% – less than half.

This suggests that target-setting for social and environmental impacts is a driver for wider company success or that successful industry leaders understand the importance of making concrete environmental and social performance commitments.

Companies frequently report policies and metrics for performance on strategically important issues, such as climate change and diversity, but do not include any targets for improvement. Todd Court of Yale Business School’s Center for Business and Environment observes, “There are likely a variety of reasons that MNOs are not setting targets from lack of confidence in the performance data to difficulty in defining the desired outcome. Regardless of the reasons, setting targets, and to a lesser degree accountability, appear to be areas for potential improvement across the sector.”

Big names, big goals

Targets have been transformational for reducing the impacts of many organisations, with many of the most highly regarded brands in sustainability publicly committing to ambitious and far reaching environmental or social goals. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is built around three bold goals, with related targets and metrics, to help them achieve sustainable growth, while delivering their purpose and vision. Interface were pioneers in 1994 when Ray Anderson set their ‘Mission Zero’ target for the business to have zero impact on the environment by 2020.

Significantly, leading companies do not allow themselves to become limited by their targets; they endeavour to achieve them and aim even higher. Dutch operator KPN committed to become climate neutral by 2015. This was achieved and then evolved into the new goal of becoming climate neutral without the need to compensate with certificates by 2020. Other MNOs have similarly bold aspirations; for example, Vodafone has pledged to become the world’s best employer for women and Orange has committed to progressively integrating circular economy principles by 2020.

The biggest challenges of all

Of course, the most critical environmental and social goals of our generation – the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – require leadership on an unprecedented scale across government, business and citizens to achieve. The mobile industry was the first sector to commit to the UN SDGs and has ever since been making strong progress towards achieving the goals.

You can read more about the mobile industry and the SDGs in GSMA’s third Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals.