How T-Mobile, Verizon and Others Are Fighting the Climate Crisis

The mobile industry body GSMA reports that close to a quarter of energy used by mobile networks is now renewable.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read
Vodafone logo surrounded by foliage

Sustainability is a major trend at this year's MWC.

What is your mobile carrier doing to combat the climate crisis? It might not be something you've thought much about, but with increasing numbers of networks around the world aligning themselves with science-based targets, it's easier than ever to see if the service you're paying for is taking genuine action to reduce its environmental impact.

In a report released at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday, mobile industry body GSMA said that nearly a quarter of energy (24%) used by the mobile sector comes from renewable sources, up from 14% in 2020. In addition, 62 carriers globally have now committed to rapidly decreasing their direct and indirect emissions by 2030, representing 61% of the industry by revenue. This is an increase of 12 networks since the previous report published last April.

The GSMA is leading an industry-wide drive to ensure carriers reach net zero emissions by 2050. A key metric it's using to measure the ambition of its members is their commitment to preventing global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, the science-based target laid out in the Paris Agreement.

With the impacts of the climate crisis -- from floods to wildfires to deadly heatwaves -- increasingly being felt in regions around the world, there is growing pressure on all industries to prioritize transitioning to clean energy and ensure they're playing an active role in preserving rather than harming our ecosystems. The mobile industry is no exception, and some networks are doing more than others to alleviate their environmental impact, which could make a difference to where you choose to spend your money.

On the hardware side, phone makers are investing heavily in giving phones a longer life and using more recycled materials in their products. But on the network side, companies are increasingly investing in finding ways to build and operate infrastructure using highly efficient methods that are less energy-intensive than those used in the past.

The biggest challenge for carriers, said John Giusti, chief regulatory office for the GSMA, is access to renewable energy. "The good news is that the industry is moving forward, with operators now directly purchasing 24% of their electricity from renewable sources, up from 18% in 2021 and 14% in 2020," he said in the report. But with carrier demand outstripping supply, governments need to help expand access to renewable energy, he added.

Europe and North America, two of the regions most responsible for historic emissions, are leading the charge when it comes to ambitious sustainability commitments and actions. "It's perhaps only fair because it's parts of the world where they're the most advanced climate wise, and therefore they have the most capability to actually reduce their emissions," Steven Moore, head of climate action for the GSMA, said in an interview with CNET the week preceding MWC.

The GSMA's report looked at actions by mobile operators across the world but called out T-Mobile as an example of a company making great strides to reduce its carbon impact in the US.  It's the first company in the US wireless sector to set a net zero goal validated by the Science Based Target Initiative covering all of its emissions, including those from across the supply chain and indirect emissions from purchased electricity. It's also one of only a small handful of networks so far to set a net zero by 2040 target, instead of 2050.

Meanwhile, its main competitors, Verizon and AT&T have both aligned themselves with the 1.5 degrees pathway, and Verizon has committed to net zero emissions across the board by 2050. Moore said that he wouldn't be surprised if networks in many places end up achieving net zero much earlier than 2050. "Once we start to invest, it's incredible how quickly things can change," he said.