Talking ESG With T-Mobile’s Brigitta Witt

As a tech analyst, I’ve expanded my purview in recent years to include not just the latest technology but also how the titans of the tech industry attempt to affect positive change and give back to the global community during this time of massive social and environmental upheaval. It’s a broad area that includes everything from environmental sustainability to social governance, education, community development, and everything in between. Some companies’ programs are better than others. The good ones, in my opinion, are the ones that meticulously measure and report the results of their efforts with the utmost transparency to the public and everyone involved. Typically, we see this in the form of an annual report summarizing a business’s efforts and progress toward its various corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals.

2021 Corporate Responsibility HighlightsT-MOBILE

I recently chatted with Brigitta Witt, T-Mobile’s VP of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, ahead of the release of T-Mobile’s 2021 Corporate Responsibility Report.She gave me an excellent overview of where the company’s program currently stands and what she believes will come next. Here are my takeaways from the conversation. 

A program coming into its own

First, a brief intro—Witt has been with T-Mobile for the past three and half years, having joined the company right before its industry-shaking merger with Sprint. She brought with her to the company her wealth of experience working in social impact, sustainability and corporate responsibility and philanthropy, most recently overseeing the development of Hyatt Hotels’ first worldwide CSR function. According to Witt, T-Mobile saw in the merger an opportunity to strengthen and double down on its social impact and sustainability goals—work that Witt continues to this day. 

I began our conversation by asking for her highlights with T-Mobile—what she was most proud of during her time with the company and how she thinks T-Mobile’s program stands out from the rest. She noted her department’s success in growing T-Mobile’s ESG efforts into a broader strategy, culminating in the company’s release of its first Corporate Responsibility report last year (its “debutante ball,” as she referred to it). Acknowledging T-Mobile’s relatively late entry into the world of CSR disclosures, Witt promised the forthcoming report would display the program’s continued maturation. 

Project 10Million

Witt seemed particularly proud of T-Mobile’s Project 10Million—a commitment to end the “homework gap” over the next five years. Project 10Million sprang from research (around the time of the Sprint merger) that indicated that approximately ten million families with school-aged children across the country lack reliable internet access. In a time when education is becoming increasingly virtual, this gap in Internet access puts students at a severe academic disadvantage. Imagine doing your homework entirely on your phone at a noisy coffee shop.

T-Mobile’s solution, Project 10Million, seeks to offer qualifying families with school-aged children either free or significantly reduced connectivity over the next five years. At the end of 2021, Witt says the initiative has connected approximately 3.2 million kids with free or significantly discounted connectivity. Aiding this is the estimated 94% of Americans T-Mobile now covers with its Extended Range 5G.

Also, in digital empowerment, T-Mobile’s report shared that the company has provided around $1.89 billion in funding and in-kind products and services to support communities in need. The company also reported its workforce had contributed approximately 52,000 employee volunteer hours to the cause of digital empowerment. 

Witt has a good reason to be proud of the program. It fits into exactly what you’d expect from the company.

100% renewable and proud of it

Witt also praised T-Mobile’s sustainability efforts. T-Mobile says it is the first wireless company sourced by 100% renewable electricity, which it achieved through a combination of solar and wind PPAs (power purchasing agreements) and renewable energy credits (RECs). It seems lately, T-Mobile has been scoring many firsts over AT&T and Verizon. 

Witt also shared that T-Mobile has met both of its science-based targets ahead of schedule, achieving a 97% reduction in combined Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gases from 2016 levels and a 16% reduction in Scope 3 greenhouse gases per customer during that same time frame. For these achievements, T-Mobile received a grade of A- on the 2021 CDP Climate Change assessment. 

One thing the tech industry must wrestle with when it comes to the environment is what I call “ESG hypocrisy.” We must reconcile its compulsive need to roll out new devices every two years with the environmental imperative to keep devices and products in circulation and out of the landfill for as long as possible. When asked, Witt shared with me that T-Mobile reused, resold, or recycled approximately 11.6 million customer devices over the past year—an encouraging number, albeit one that T-Mobile should continue to improve upon. I’d like to see T-Mobile supporting more modular smartphone designs. I understand the prior failures don’t bode well for a modular smartphone future, I don’t think the industry should give up on it, either. 

Lastly, looking towards the future, Witt says T-Mobile will soon go public with its plans to reduce further its carbon footprint. Personally, I would like to see T-Mobile sign on to Amazon’s Climate Pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040. Taking that step would do much to get T-Mobile’s CSR program on the same page with others in the industry.

Wrapping up

Anyone who has been part of one will tell you the same thing—mergers are not easy. Many moving parts are up in the air, and some things will inevitably fall by the wayside. Now that the dust has settled, I believe T-Mobile is doing a great job of catching up with its CSR program. A year after the inaugural report lifted the curtain on T-Mobile’s initiatives and targets, its execution is looking promising. From meeting several science-based targets ahead of schedule to becoming the first U.S. carrier powered 100% by renewable electricity to its efforts to close the homework gap across America’s schools, I’ve been impressed by the points the program has already put up on the board. 

It’s a relatively young program, but I see enormous potential in T-Mobile’s CSR vision. I’ll continue to watch with interest.