As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, and digital transformation continues to affect both emerging and mature markets, the role of the telecom operator has never been more pivotal to the continued operation of the modern world. At the same time, the seriousness of the climate crisis has never been felt more strongly, as large parts of the planet struggle with rising temperatures and extreme weather.
For telecom operators, the line to walk between underpinning the fabric of the communications age and drawing down on CO2 emissions has never been narrower. At Orange, finding the right way forward lies with Mr Hervé Suquet, the group’s VP of Energy.
“I'm in charge of coordinating and delivering the objectives of Orange in terms of energy efficiency. Here at Orange, energy efficiency is understood in two ways: its cost efficiency and its environmental impact, which is measured in terms of CO2 output,” explains Suquet. “My role sits in the middle of those two metrics, between the finance team and the corporate social responsibility team. We have a joint objective to be more efficient in our energy usage across the whole Orange group.”
Delivering both increased energy efficiencies and dramatic CO2 reductions is a challenging prospect, not least thanks to the sheer scale of Orange’s operations. Orange is the world’s eighth-largest telecom brand, with subsidiaries operating across 26 countries, and more than 142,000 employees. Across the entire group, Orange served 259 million customers last year, invested $5.4bn into its networks, and has already launched 5G services in Romania, Poland, Spain, France, Luxembourg, and Slovakia. Tackling the company’s ambitious Environmental, Social and Governance goals across the entire organisation is no mean feat. However, Suquet maintains that “it’s quite simple in principle,” although he admits it’s “sometimes challenging in terms of day-to-day implementation.”
He continues: “Orange has made the commitment to acting as a trusted partner, to give everyone the key to a responsible digital world. As such, we are very much concerned with our responsibility to the world, especially our responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as our overall environmental impact.” To meet these goals, Orange’s approach to energy is a critical piece of the puzzle, as laid out in the group’s Engage 2025 strategic plan.
Orange has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 30% compared to 2015, and to use 50% renewable energy across its entire organisation by 2025. The group’s current renewable energy mix sits at around 31%.
Suquet explains that achieving these milestones is “a key step towards our long term goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions across the whole Orange group by 2040, 10 years ahead of the objectives set by the rest of the telecom sector.” Orange’s sustainability commitment is endorsed by the SBTi - the Science Based Targets initiative - which Suquet stresses “is very important to us. This roadmap will allow us to play our part in saving the climate.”
Driving Sustainable Development Goals in Rural Communities
In order to drive real, meaningful change across both its own organisation and the markets in which it operates, Orange is engaging wholeheartedly with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) laid out by the United Nations. In order to support a better, cleaner, more inclusive world, the UN has identified 17 SDG objectives, which range from reducing emissions to promoting diversity and inclusion. “We've identified 6 areas that resonate deeply with our purpose and strategy as an organisation,” says Suquet. “These are key areas where we can make the most positive contribution and there are definitive actions we're taking to support the individual goals of inclusion, connectivity, and climate.”
In order to reduce inequalities in terms of access to knowledge and resources, Orange is working tirelessly to share its digital knowledge and experience with digital tools across developing markets. “We are supporting education, especially for women. We are working hard to provide connectivity to the un-connected by working to broaden the geographical coverage of our network, deploying low cost access connectivity, both in terms of direct connectivity cost and also in terms of affordable 4G onset connectivity,” says Suquet.
Efficiency and Technology - Fighting the Climate Crisis
Orange’s commitment to combating the climate crisis takes several forms, all of which conspire to drive the company towards achieving its 2040 Net Zero target. “One is energy efficiency, in terms of reaching net zero carbon emissions, not only across Scope 1 and Scope 2, but also across our Scope 3 emissions. We're promoting the recycling and reuse of materials in order to promote a greener environment,” Suquet explains.
One way in which Orange is driving energy efficiency is through the use of cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics. The group is deploying an AI-powered analytics and monitoring tool called Energy Big Data across its networks. This tool, Suquet explains, “allows us to understand how energy is being used throughout our networks, and to cross-reference if the energy usage is normal, abnormal, or to be improved, so we can take action.”
5G networks - which Orange is continuing to roll out at speed - are another piece of the puzzle. When commercial 5G deployments started to hit the market in 2019, concerns were raised over how higher data capacities, more cell sites, and larger antennas would affect energy consumption. “5G is very important for us - as it is for the whole telecom sector. Since the beginning of our 5G journey, however, Orange has taken specific steps towards increasing the energy efficiency of our 5G network,” Suquet explains. “Thanks to the commitment and passion of our team for energy efficiency from day one, it is now standard practice that all Orange 5G equipment has energy saving features built in from day one. Thanks to these measures, transmitting one gigabyte of data on 5G is much, much more efficient than what can be achieved today on a 4G or 3G network.”
He adds that “Another commitment we're making as part of Engage 2025 is to have 100% Orange branded products - in particular routers - to have an eco-design approach.”
Combating Climate Change Together
For an organisation with the scale of Orange, the battle against climate change can’t happen alone or in a vacuum. “As a responsible actor within the telecommunications sector and beyond, we are committed to reducing our Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions. As of today, most of the focus has been on Scope 1 and Scope 2, but the next step is to really focus on Scope 3, because carbon generation largely occurs in this area,” says Suquet, adding that “We expect our whole ecosystem to work together with us to achieve our SBTi targets.” Working closely with its entire partner ecosystem will, Suquet continues, be key to Orange’s goals of cutting Scope 3 emissions. Driving down CO2 emissions across its entire supply chain is so essential, explains Suquet, that it’s fundamentally changing the ways in which Orange approaches its partner relationships. “In the past, we would sign contracts with our partners based only on cost and technical results. More and more, we are also engaging with partners based on metrics like energy efficiency,” he says. “As of today, in any major outsourcing decision, we consider energy and environmental impact, and we expect it to become even more of a key driver in our decision-making process going forward.”
A Better Future
“Energy cost increases and energy usage increases are neither innovative nor sustainable,” reflects Suquet. “If we don't take the necessary steps, energy usage across our network is going to be directly proportional to network traffic - and we know which way the amount of traffic is trending. We have to take action.”
With this challenge in mind, Orange is leveraging both its external ecosystem of partners, and its vast reserves of internal expertise in order to hit the group’s ambitious climate goals. “This must be done, and the good news is that it can be done thanks to company transversal action - combining the efforts and expertise of finance, network, corporate social responsibility teams and more,” Suquet explains. By leveraging the full range of available skills and labour from across the Orange group, he is confident that Orange can achieve the stabilisation of its energy usage, even as trends like the growth of 5G and network traffic continue. “Once this has been achieved, we will also be able to reduce the amount of CO2 generated by our operations thanks to the right portfolio of energy sources,” he adds. “In the future, we will continue to reinforce our capacity to master energy efficiency and usage. One key challenge we face is ensuring that each business unit across all the countries where we operate our networks has the ability to correctly forecast their energy needs, so as to drive the group's action plan towards becoming more efficient, towards sourcing energy more efficiently, towards reducing cost, and shrinking our CO2 impact.”