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The Media and Telecom industries combined are set to become the second largest sector in emissions behind agriculture by 2040. Our report uncovers an intention held by these industries to become more sustainable. However, to turn intent into action, businesses will need to weave AI into their sustainability strategies.

The majority of businesses (95%) consider sustainability to be a vital element of their corporate strategy according to Cognizant’s Deep Green survey.  The same survey revealed that in EU countries and the UK, the Media and Telecom sectors will see a 350% increase in sustainability spending between 2018 and 2030. For the full study, see “Deep Green: how data, technology and collaboration will drive the next phase of sustainability in business.

Despite a positive shift in mindset, progress towards hitting the elusive net zero goal in these industries is slow. The entire Telecom industry has just ten years to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Similarly, 29 out of 30 of the world’s top advertisers have pledged to make all ads net zero by 2030.  Lack of speedy action would make Media and Telecom, when combined, the second largest sector for GHG emissions by 2040, with Telecom experiencing a fivefold increase in global carbon footprint.

Following our global study of 3000 senior executives (215 in Media and Telecom) in partnership with Oxford Economics, we devised five recommendations for how leading enterprises can become “deeply green” by embedding sustainability at their core. One recommendation that would propel Media and Telecom towards their sustainability goals concerns the adoption of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

This article will cover why a clear sustainability strategy is critical in Media and Telecom, the industry-specific challenges that impede progress and how to overcome these challenges with an AI-powered “3E approach”.

Key drivers behind sustainability initiatives in Media and Telecom

In a society that places a huge amount of importance on transparency, accountability and responsibility, the pressure is on highly polluting industries to accelerate their sustainability agendas.

The Telecom industry itself contributes approximately 4% of global CO2 emissions—comparable to the Aviation industry—and by 2040, it will account for a staggering 14% of the overall environmental carbon footprint. The Media industry is not far behind; a single box office movie, with a production budget of US $70M, will require 20M trees annually to absorb the huge amount of CO2 emitted.

While the moral incentive is significant, our survey found that businesses are almost equally as driven by business performance. The number of firms expecting a positive financial impact from improving environmental sustainability will increase by 100%, in the next two years. There is also the huge financial risk associated with inaction. Failure to take the necessary steps would lead to increased regulatory, legal, reputational, and technological risks, affecting operating profits by as much as 60%.

Investing in sustainability isn’t just good for the environment but good for your business.

Why is net zero progress so slow in Media and Telecom?
Reason 1: Sustainability is not embedded in business strategy and culture

Despite 69% of Media and Telecom respondents ranking environmental sustainability strategy as highly important, with an emphasis on establishing performance targets and roadmaps, the main internal challenges hindering progress in this sector include:

1. Unclear roadmap: Lack of strategic clarity in environmental sustainability roadmap.

2. Alignment issues: Different business units and stakeholders are not aligned, resulting in siloed thinking and actions.

3. Talent shortage or cost: Insufficient availability or high cost of specialized talent to execute strategy.

Furthermore, limited reporting capabilities and a lack of data visibility hinder budget allocation and offer little to no support for managers and the workforce to stay motivated when implementing net zero plans.

Reason 2: Scope 3 emissions are the biggest problem but that doesn’t align with targets

For all the noise and sentiment around Scope 3 emissions, companies are struggling to prioritize them. Scope 3 emissions contribute a larger portion of the overall GHG emissions i.e. 70% for Media and advertising companies and 85% for Telecom. However, the focus from our survey respondents tends to be more towards Scope 1 and Scope 2---more than 70% across both these sectors.  At this stage, Scope 3 emissions continue to be a ‘mystery box’, underlining the lack of attention to upstream impacts.


Deep Green CMT


How AI can expedite the journey towards net zero

A key enabler for Media and Telecom in removing these obstacles will be technology. AI is one of the top technologies being implemented today to improve environmental sustainability and 75% find it to be effective or highly effective, according to our research. When leveraged alongside other innovative technologies, AI has the power to revolutionize the Media and Telecom industries, enabling them to meet their sustainability goals faster.

The 3E approach to faster sustainability: Enable, engage, embed

To take full advantage of AI, businesses should be implementing it as part of a wider data-led sustainability strategy. We recommend the 3E approach, powered by AI, to enable, engage and embed intuitive, intelligent and interactive capabilities across your organization. These three steps enable organizations to optimize energy use in operations, improve supply chain sustainability, re-imagine product design and benefit from circular business models.

1. Enable it

Adopt a ‘rethink-how-we-operate’ mindset through a data-driven approach that facilitates the decarbonization of your operations

You cannot control what you cannot measure. A robust AI-led data foundation backed by a common data language and source of truth will establish pathways for an organization to measure, monitor, forecast and track sustainability metrics in its operations across all business units. It will help unravel carbon emission hotspots, uncover patterns and generate necessary insights for the organization to develop actionable sustainability roadmap and decarbonization opportunities. 

2. Engage it

Engage in entirely new collaborative ways within and across the value chain to address scope 3 emissions

By 2025, sustainability initiatives will require a greater level of data sharing and  more sophisticated analytics. Building upon the established data foundation platform is pivotal, not only for expanding the reach of sustainability initiatives upstream and downstream but also to unify fragmented climate data. 

A collaborative data sharing approach between partners, suppliers, distributors, customers and even competitors will also unlock substantial value; enabling businesses to benefit from enhanced visibility and influence across the value chain.

3. Embed it

Embed data across the value chain

Data should be embedded at every level of the value chain including culture, strategy development, risk management and core business processes. This synergistic approach aligning AI-led solutions with sustainability goals ensures AI is leveraged for operational efficiency and becomes a driving force in advancing sustainability objectives throughout the organization.

Critical to this is an AI powered platform, facilitating the measurement of scope 3 data throughout the value chain spanning partners, suppliers, and customer product usage. This platform can utilize vast internal and external data to simulate decarbonization scenarios. It not only empowers executives to make informed decisions but also automates emissions disclosure requests through AI-driven reports and dashboards


The Media and Telecom sector holds the power to affect real positive change among businesses, people, communities and economies through its influence on resources, knowledge, and resiliency. To turn positive intent into positive outcomes however, a clear data-driven strategy for sustainability is required.

The 3E Approach, powered by AI, offers a path not just to turn the looming sustainability challenge into a business opportunity but also to accelerate critical positive change for our planet.

To learn more about how you can accelerate your sustainability agenda, click here or contact us.

Cognizant UK & Ireland
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