How to Approach Sustainability in the Network Industry
Planning to incorporate sustainability into your business models? Pick up on tips for a framework devised by Inter.link, ranging from certification standards to monitoring software.
The topic of sustainability has been growing in importance in many industries, as companies are facing new regulations (e.g., CSRD, EU Supply Chain Law, EU Green Deal Initiatives) and closer scrutiny of their operations. In the network industry, specific areas, such as data centers and the building of physical infrastructure, have come under increased scrutiny around their carbon emissions. However, everyone must play their part in the industry: the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem accounts for more than 2 percent of global emissions,i which is on par with the aviation industry’s emissions from fuel.
Tips for Managing the Process
Whether you and your company are just starting to incorporate sustainability into your business model or have been wrestling with this issue for a long time, we hope that this article will provide you with some insights and tips to help you along the way.
A general approach has appeared as a way for companies to approach their sustainability journey. Most begin by monitoring or trying to get a baseline around what, where, and how much their current emissions are. Once that has been established, this is followed by reporting, which is focused on addressing specific regulatory requirements. Since it can take quite some time to reach goals such as Net Zero, intermediate reduction targets are used to be able to show incremental progress towards the overall goal. When it finally comes to be time for certification, the methods used will most likely need to be validated by either an internal or external audit.
While this framework has helped many companies create a roadmap for how they can make progress towards their sustainability goals, when you have a strict timeline and need to gain a quick overview, another approach might be more beneficial.
Inter.link was founded in 2021 with the goal of disrupting the network industry. One of our key values has been to find the most sustainable way to deliver high-quality services. This served as the starting point for how we started to approach the topic of sustainability.
One of the biggest drivers to how we approached sustainability was to look towards our long-term goals first, as opposed to where we were starting. That meant focusing on which certifications made the most sense for us in the long-term. The use of certification standards reflects “voluntary predefined rules, procedures, and methods to systematically assess, measure, audit and/or communication the social and environmental behavior and/or performance of firms.”ii
At Inter.link it was determining which certifications were most closely aligned with where we saw ourselves in the future. For example, B Corp and ISO Certifications fit our industry and where we were headed. Depending on the structure and size of your current corporation, there may be different certifications that align with your goals. However, the result is that by knowing the certifications you are interested in, you can design the rest of your roadmap around the steps that you need to take to get there, while also leaving space for other certificates in the future.
Working backwards, our next step was to look at validation and all the measures which are associated with data collection and reporting in general. Some of the factors that we looked at were to identify the key players and stakeholders, collect data on processes and industry benchmarks, define KPIs, and review ESG reporting and disclosure platforms.iii The key benefits were the ability to get buy-in and transparency with all stakeholders and to develop a clear roadmap that would follow regulations and reporting standards.iv
Setting Reduction Targets
Because we had built a foundation and knew where we wanted to be, the next step of setting reduction targets became easier. However, this doesn’t mean setting random targets that are in-line with the end goal, but rather setting goals that are aligned with management and changes in your business model and supply chain. The last step is to expand the communication process so that the goals are transparent across the organization.
Once you’ve measured your emissions, it is easier to revisit targets and adjust. As most companies in the network industry have a large supply chain, Scope 3 emissions will likely be the highest category. Hence, you can already start preparing the reach out to your top 5-10 suppliers to set up collaboration and to agree to mutual reduction goals. Also, preparing a budget upfront for reduction projects will enable the company to move at a faster pace towards reaching their goals. By finding ‘low hanging fruits,’ which are easy and low-cost tasks, you can also gain an early momentum for your sustainability projects.
There is a wide variety of different ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) Frameworks that can be implemented depending on the industry, geography, company type, and stakeholders involved. Regardless of the chosen framework, effective reporting has the following characteristics: concise (focus on priorities), consistent (gain insights over time), current (latest information on operations and business opportunities), and comparable (benchmarking against peers).v Another factor to consider is whether your reporting will be handled internally, with software or a sustainability manager, or externally through a consultant or partner. Overall, in understanding the certifications you want to achieve, a roadmap will get you there to help determine which option is best in your specific situation.
By having all this information under your belt, entering the carbon market (marketplaces and offset providers) and deciding on which monitoring software to use will be much easier. In our specific case, we were looking for an automated solution that offered an easy API integration, regular updates, and the ability to set targets. This helped us to narrow down the software options tremendously and ultimately reach a decision to use the Salesforce Net Zero Cloud.
For us at Inter.link, changing the way that we approached sustainability and working backwards helped us to get a better understanding of our end goal and the steps that we needed to take, with both internal and external stakeholders, to get there. We hope that, wherever you are on your sustainability journey, these tips have helped to provide you with some fresh ideas.
i Nature, “How to stop data centres from gobbling up the world’s electricity”
ii Gilbert D. U., Rasche A., Waddock S. (2011). Accountability in a global economy: The emergence of international accountability standards. Business Ethics Quarterly, 21(1), p. 24.
iii Global Reporting Intiative
iv Sophie Willink, “8 Essential factors to consider for your sustainability audit”, November 8, 2021.
v Integrating the SDGs into Corporate Reporting: A Practical Guide
Nicol Nógrádi is the Founders Associate at Inter.link and has been an integral part of shaping the company's environmental goals and is deeply committed to making Internet connectivity more sustainable for everyone.
Carolyn Allebrodt is the Senior Marketing Manager at Inter.link and has focused on ways to connect with other organizations who support sustainability efforts.
Working together, their goal is to help advance the conversation around the topic of sustainability in the network industry and to provide their perspective on integrating sustainability from day one at Inter.link.
Please note: The opinions expressed in Industry Insights published by dotmagazine are the author’s or interview partner’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the publisher, eco – Association of the Internet Industry.