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Swisscom is one of the world’s most sustainable telecommunications companies. How does it manage it? Marius Schlegel, a member of the Corporate Responsibility team, explains, with the help of a few practical examples, how Swisscom is constantly developing and implementing its sustainability strategy in dialogue with its stakeholders. Close consultation with these stakeholders is crucial for the company’s success.
Marius Schlegel
Marius Schlegel, is the Swisscom employee responsible for climate friendly services.
28 May 2021

Swisscom’s vision is to make the opportunities of the connected world available to everyone who has any kind of link to the company’s activities: customers, of course, as well as business partners, employees, investors, politicians, media representatives and civil society stakeholders. These stakeholders often have different, sometimes completely contrasting expectations. Swisscom wants to mediate between their different interests in a spirit of transparency.

A company keeping pace with the times

In order to keep up with growing demands when it comes to sustainability, setting the right priorities is essential. In its sustainability strategy, Swisscom sets out its commitment to contribute to the social, ecological and economic sustainability of Switzerland and the world by meeting a series of medium-term objectives by 2025. Each year, in consultation with its stakeholders, it defines a number of key issues to be tackled in the shorter term.

 

As part of this process, Swisscom constantly gathers feedback through informal dialogue, such as conversations with customers, daily dealings with partners such as NGOs, at conferences and by monitoring the media. This information can have a significant impact: Swisscom’s mobile phone repair service and refurbished smartphone shop, for example, were set up in response to a palpable need among price-sensitive and environment-conscious customers.

 

To supplement this informal dialogue, Swisscom carries out a sustainability survey with between 20 and 30 stakeholders each year. It deliberately asks open questions that can prompt individual ideas and suggestions, rather than just enquiring about the relevance of particular topics. Swisscom also invites stakeholders to a World Café, which provides a valuable chance to meet and talk face to face. Those who take part appreciate this opportunity, as well as the direct contact with Swisscom that it offers.

 

The results of these surveys and information-gathering exercises are then compared with the issues raised by Swisscom’s internal stakeholders, including employees, the teams responsible for sustainability in its various divisions and senior executives. Members of these inhouse groups are also invited to the World Café, where they can share their ideas openly with external stakeholders.

 

On the basis of all this feedback, the Swisscom sustainability team determines the main areas in which Swisscom sees a current need and potential for action. In 2019, for example, the theme of data ethics was paramount, while in 2020 the focus shifted to the effects of 5G technology and network expansion and decommissioning as part of a stronger circular economy. These discussions led to the tabling of a series of motions in the Swiss parliament in 2020, as well as important developments at EU and industry levels.

Creating transparency and sharing expertise

Swisscom’s sustainability team draws up a list of proposed actions in each of the key areas, which it submits to the Group Executive Board. The issue of 5G technology, for example, raised numerous questions: while consumer protection organisations were concerned about the health effects of radiation and compatibility with existing devices, environmental bodies questioned 5G’s impact on energy consumption. In order to contribute some facts to the discussion, Swisscom, together with the Swisscleantech association, commissioned the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) to analyse the impact of 5G technology on the climate. Swisscleantech made a valuable contribution by adding different viewpoints at the commissioning stage. Meanwhile, an advisory group comprising politicians from different parties helped to choose the use cases that were investigated as part of the study and assessed the findings in relation to their various political leanings. Swisscom was therefore able to create greater transparency and bring facts to the table in a credible way.

Mediating between stakeholders

Swisscom’s different stakeholders often have different needs. Swisscom is not always able to reconcile these conflicting objectives, but mainly plays the role of mediator between them. By explaining their positions and dependencies in a transparent way, it can facilitate a better understanding of the situation.

 

Civil society is no longer the only driver of sustainable development, with investors becoming more and more demanding in this area. Swisscom’s EUR 500 million Green Bond, launched in 2020 to finance sustainable projects, has proved very popular. Legislators are also increasing their calls for sustainable management. In Switzerland, the corporate responsibility initiative and the debate on the revision of the CO2 Act were particularly influential in 2020. Investors expect Swisscom to be ready for such changes.

High staff engagement

The practical implementation of sustainability measures is often the direct responsibility of the business divisions concerned, which are assisted by Swisscom’s sustainability team. This collaboration is helped by the fact that many employees are firmly committed to greater sustainability. This became apparent during the spring 2020 lockdown, when many of Swisscom’s digital media training courses were moved online in the blink of an eye. Some employees voluntarily supplemented these courses with a public online platform providing creative home-schooling ideas while schools were closed.

 

Further information about stakeholder dialogue can be found in the Sustainability Report 2020.  

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