Here’s how operator carbon emissions stack up

Consolidated Communications just dropped its 2022 sustainability report and Zayo unveiled a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2030, building on a crop of environmentally oriented announcements from telcos in recent years. Zayo’s target actually puts it ahead of most ISPs, many of which are aiming to become carbon neutral by 2035. But how high is the mountain they’re trying to climb?

In recognition of the rapidly approaching Earth Day observance, Fierce decided to take a look at where several major ISPs stand when it comes to their emissions reduction goals. Since each company reports progress a bit differently, we homed in on commonly reported metrics around Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2e emissions.

AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, Consolidated Communications and Verizon are among those with commitments to have net zero emissions by 2035. It appears Verizon has the longest way to go to get there, recording 7.09 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2021. The operator has not yet posted its tally for 2022.

AT&T had the second highest total, emitting over 5.5 million metric tons of carbon in 2021. Comcast and Charter had significantly lower emissions, with the former reporting 1.8 million metric tons for 2021 and the latter 1.43 million metric tons in 2021. Charter’s figure actually increased 5.5% in 2022 to 1.51 million metric tons, with the operator attributing this primarily to Scope 1 fleet emissions related to its rural expansion and increased Scope 2 electricity consumption from a larger network.

Consolidated recorded carbon emissions totaling 97,151 metric tons in 2022. It does not appear to have reported a comparable figure in 2021. Frontier Communications put out its first ever sustainability report in June 2022, but did not include a CO2e number.

Fleet factors

In addition to efforts to source renewable energy, many operators pointed to reducing emissions from their vehicle fleets as a key priority. That’s in part because fleets are a significant contributor to emissions. For instance, AT&T said fleet emissions currently account for 52% of its Scope 1 tally of nearly 1 million metric tons of CO2e. Meanwhile, Charter said its fleet contributed 23% of overall Scope 1 and 2 emissions while Comcast put the figure at 18%.

Verizon, Comcast and Consolidated all reported replacing older vehicles with new electric or hybrid models which reduce fuel requirements. They also pointed to the use of battery-powered lifts to enable technicians to turn off their truck engines when working on aerial lines.

But, as Comcast previously told Fierce, fleet challenges remain, especially when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs). Verizon noted that while it has been able to utilize EVs to replace some light duty vehicles “there are few, if any, options for the larger, specialized, commercial EVs on which our operations depend.”

Charter also highlighted concerns around how power outages would impact its ability to respond to severe weather events if its fleet was comprised entirely of EVs, insufficient battery range, and the ability to install rapid charging stations where needed as issues hindering its adoption of such vehicles. For the time being at least, it has concluded “we will not have the ability to ultimately utilize electric vehicles to fully reduce the carbon emissions of our fleet.”