What Sustainable Transformation Looks Like for Proximus
Let’s be honest: historically, telecom companies aren’t the first brands you think of when it comes to environmental sustainability.
This perception is far from the truth I have seen around me since I took up my current job at Proximus about a year ago. This said, I’m a down-to-earth person who considers making a positive contribution to society should go hand in hand with economical sustainability. Still, on the occasion of World Environment Day on the 5th of June, I would like to share some perspectives on what my journey and the transformation to a sustainable business looks like for Proximus.
Transformation is the keyword here: while I was surprised about all we had already achieved, I also quickly understood Proximus is in the midst of a major process, one that will take a long time to complete – and by the time today's goals have been reached, new ones will have taken their place. A business needs to constantly adapt to the realities of the society it operates in. That's why caring for the environment has moved from a sidedish to making it one of Proximus' four strategic pillars.
This is a great first step to make sure the subject gets the necessary attention. But what we really want is for environmental sustainability to become a matter of course, an automatism that permeates all levels of the business.
How do we get there? Here are a few steps that we are taking now on the road to that future. We are not there yet. We are far from perfect. But we are laying foundations today that will allow us to become a leader in corporate responsibility and sustainability for the future.
How can you claim to be respectful of the environment and wanting to contribute to it without looking at our own operations and making sure that our actions match our commitments? Telecom is inevitably a sector that consumes a lot of energy, so we make sure that the electricity powering our networks is renewable. We worked hard on our core business operations. We can claim carbon-neutrality since 2016 albeit through Gold climate projects, a voluntary carbon offset program, to compensate for the little still left and by 2030 our own carbon footprint should be zero.
And that's not the end of the story, we want to go beyond our own operations and aim for a 50% carbon footprint reduction throughout our value chain. In other words the carbon footprint linked to our own operations but beyond our control, such as the products we buy, the transport of them and the way they are used by our customers or how they are treated at the end of their lifecycle.
In that light, product design is another important topic. We need to put physical equipments in people's homes and businesses to get them connected, so we inevitably use raw and scarce materials. Our new modems are designed to contain less plastic, and the plastics that are used are recycled. We also think about how we can extend their lifecycle and refurbish or recycle them more easily.
These are just some examples of how we incorporate circular design throughout our operations. There is more work to do at many levels, but a decisive shift has taken place from sustainability as an afterthought to greener designs as the obvious choice.
We also want to empower our customers to make sustainable choices. Did you know that using Wi-Fi is much more energy-efficient than using mobile internet? Or that fibre networks consume less energy and are more efficient than the old copper ones? Knowing these facts can help increasingly footprint-conscious consumers make better choices in their daily lives.
You cannot inspire customers to make greener choices unless you walk the talk. Therefore, while we make our network more energy efficient, refurbish and recycle devices and continue our own transformation, we also want to increasingly supply customers with options to make their own informed decisions.
At Proximus, we want to look beyond our carbon footprint to inspire and instigate change at a larger scale. We firmly believe that digitization is a major step on the way to decarbonizing society. The coronavirus pandemic underscored this point: suddenly, stable internet connections in every home became more important than ever. The side effect: fewer cars on the road, fewer office buildings in use, and an overall reduction of society's collective carbon footprint.
But we do much more than simply get people on the internet to enable decarbonization. Through technologies like the 'Internet of Things', Fiber or 5G, we pave the way for smart applications in the public and private sectors that can help monitor and reduce things like energy and water usage or even fertilisation management in agriculture.
The journey to environmental sustainability is a multi-faceted and complex process that does not take place in a vacuum. We are interdependent on our suppliers, work together with competitors, complementary telecom businesses, and society at large when it comes to our operations. That's why investing in durable relationships is incredibly important to facilitate a sustainable future.
This takes various forms at Proximus. We ask our suppliers about their own sustainability goals, set KPIs together, and keep each other accountable. We share our network with competitors to avoid redundant network building and are investing in joint delivery services to reduce our carbon footprint together.
Environmental sustainability in business will always be a balancing act. As a major telecom operator, we cannot simply stop consuming energy or raw materials. But the days when sustainability was seen as the opposite of good business are far behind us. We know that good business and corporate responsibility go hand in hand, and Proximus commits to operating by this principle in everything we do – not through bold statements, but through the cumulative effect of lots of small efforts at all levels of our business.