Ambitious ESG targets for digital infrastructure are achievable with the right tools: fibre assets

22 May 2024 | Transaction support

Richard Morgan

Article | PDF (12 pages)


Digital infrastructure’s greatest contribution to the transition to a sustainable global economy lies in its critical role as the conduit for other sectors’ sustainability improvements. But it also needs to look at its own direct impacts, risks and opportunities, especially as regulatory requirements and social pressures assert themselves. The most important ESG risks and challenges include: energy intensity and carbon footprint, data privacy and security, impact on local communities, labour practices, as well as governance and reporting.

Sustainability initiatives can serve as a powerful driver of innovation, business transformation and growth. They have the potential to shape evolving markets, driving positive change across the sector.

This article is the fourth in our series of five, and focuses specifically on fibre infrastructure. It presents a selection of the sustainability initiatives that can help investors in, and operators of, fibre assets outperform their peers. All of these articles are based on research from Analysys Mason’s dedicated sustainability research team, and draws on our recent client project work.


Fibre broadband infrastructure is energy efficient once deployed, but the deployment process can have a considerable impact on the local environment, workers and local communities. The relatively high cost of deployment also contributes to a persistent digital divide, meaning that the socioeconomic benefits of fibre broadband are not evenly distributed throughout society. ESG policies that address these issues and include thorough monitoring and reporting will become more important as financiers increase their scrutiny of ESG performance. The following initiatives are among the most effective for operators seeking to make their digital infrastructure fit for the future:

Foster a sustainable supply chain: Fibre companies can improve their ESG credentials by making sustainability a prerequisite in their purchasing decisions, for example by procuring ducting and cabling with high levels of recycled materials, or by working with deployment and maintenance contractors that have well-documented sustainability strategies and that implement initiatives such as using electric vehicles. Verizon, for example, promotes responsible procurement practices in the USA by accounting for factors such as carbon footprint, labour practices and ethical sourcing in its selection criteria. In the UK, Virgin Media O2 recently reported its success in removing 65 tonnes of single-use plastic from its operations and products, including a 94% reduction in plastic used in packaging sent to customers. It has a stated aim of achieving zero-waste operations and products in 2025, and net zero carbon across all its operations, products and supply chain by 2040.

Adopt low-impact deployment methods: The lowest-impact option is always to use what already exists. Where available, sharing (existing) infrastructure such as ducts and poles from other telecoms networks or utilities is the most efficient way for an operator to deploy fibre networks, but effective policy and regulation are often needed for this to become a practical solution. When it comes to greenfield deployment, there are alternatives to traditional trenching, which is both costly and resource intensive. Techniques such as directional drilling and micro-trenching (where very thin channels are cut into roads or pavements for laying fibre-optic cables) can be much more efficient and less disruptive, and are now a proven option. Finnish altnet Fibernet estimates that micro-trenching produces just 2% of the emissions created by traditional excavation trenching in an asphalted area.

Promote safe working practices: The high cost of fibre roll-out puts pressure on fibre companies to deploy infrastructure quickly and at the lowest possible costs. This can translate into negative impacts on workers (e.g. if contractors take shortcuts on health and safety practices) and on the infrastructure itself (e.g. if contractors do not follow best practice). Robust policies and governance oversight relating particularly to workers is an area every operator should be focused on, including monitoring and quality assurance to ensure contractors deliver the highest standards of safety and quality.

Drive digital inclusion efforts: The social and economic benefits of fibre connectivity are not evenly distributed, and high-speed networks are making the digital divide more pronounced as more services move online. Fibre operators have commercial incentives to bring digitally excluded segments online, but strategies should also account for the social benefit this brings. This can be done through general training to address digital skills and demonstrate benefits, or through measures to address affordability barriers. AT&T, for example, has committed USD5 billion to bridging the digital divide and aims to help 25 million people get and stay connected by 2030 through programmes including digital literacy and online safety training, and supporting the costs of laptops and devices.

More details on these and other ESG initiatives for fibre assets – with a focus on the different stakeholders – can be found in this article.


The telecoms industry has always thrived on innovation, and finding creative solutions to technical questions. The increasing pressure to find sustainable paths for growth offers new opportunities for that innovation and creativity.

Analysys Mason is the leader in telecoms-related ESG analysis and consulting. We operate at the nexus of digital infrastructure and sustainability. To speak to one of our experts, get in touch.

Ambitious ESG targets for digital infrastructure are achievable with the right tools

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Richard Morgan

Partner, expert in transaction support