23 January 2023
We caught up with Fida Kibbi, Ericsson’s vice president and Head of Marketing, Communications and Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility for the Middle East and Africa (MEA), at the AfricaTech Festival in Cape Town, and asked her about Ericsson’s sustainability agenda for Africa, given that sustainability is no longer a buzzword but a requirement for preserving our planet and future generations, in light of recent events, including the pandemic, a raging energy crisis, and the effects of climate change.
Lars Magnus Ericsson founded the company in 1876 and since its inception, Ericsson has been driven by the belief that connectivity is set to deliver positive change creating a sustainable and connected future. Today, Ericsson continues to provide people and businesses with endless opportunities enabled by limitless connectivity while putting sustainability at the heart of the company’s purpose.
We asked Fida if sustainability had been a priority in the past and had an impact on an organization’s bottom line. Also, to find out if she thinks the sustainability agenda today positively or negatively affects Ericsson’s profit levels, or if it can at least be offset by the organization's solid green credentials.
“About two years ago, or just before COVID-19, a significant number of companies in the industry were focused on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). I think it was driven by companies with clear targets to achieve Net Zero by 2030, but it is not just the private sector; governments and countries are also focusing on ESG,” Fida explained.
“Companies and nations are seeing the value of drawing clear ESG roadmaps as it links to their vision and mission, contributing back to society. In recent years, we saw corporations and nations prioritizing this topic for several reasons. Mainly two things are driving this focus, one being the global dialogue and attention by nations, organizations, and the United Nations. The entire ecosystem has been very focused on this. The second reason is the discussion and exchange of knowledge that is drawing attention to this important topic, as well as the return on investment. Let us take, for instance, our industry. When you launch efficient products that are helping businesses reduce their energy spending and usage, it will definitely become a subject of interest for organizations. Ericsson’s new Radio 6646, for example, cuts energy consumption by 40% compared to triple-band single-sector radios. Besides helping save energy, it is indeed helping our customers operate more efficiently at a significantly reduced cost,’’ she added.
We see and hear the news about the floods in Nigeria and Pakistan and other dire effects of climate change, such as draughts in Eastern Africa. “I believe that the public is very much aware of the impact of climate change. Everyone is responsible and must all help in addressing this global conundrum. My personal view is that we are late, in view of what is happening in the world today. It is no longer a choice; we need to be faster in adopting all actions and decisions aimed at addressing climate change,” Fida explained.
She continues saying: “At Ericsson, it all comes back to our Swedish roots. Sweden is one of the leading nations and early starters focusing on sustainability. It is embedded as part of the Swedish culture. Since inception, you can still see how the company's sustainability plan is ingrained in our operations.
We have revised our purpose as a company. Why do we exist? At the core of why we exist is to create and enable a sustainable world through technology, as well as to drive pioneering technology for good. Essentially, we deliver sustainable and innovative products and solutions that also help our customers act responsibly. We have, as part of our vision, a commitment to drive responsible business and products, as well as innovations that drive energy efficiency. We are interested in the sustainability of our communities, and this is reflected in our own operations. We do not only preach; we also lead by example. Ericsson set a science-based target to reduce emissions by 35% by 2022. This covers emissions from fleet vehicles, facilities, business travel, and outbound product transportation. By the end of 2021, Ericsson had achieved a 60% reduction, which is ahead of the target trajectory.’’
Fida explained also that collaboration with the right partners within the ecosystem is how you make an impact that is far-reaching and scalable. “We have examples of such critical partnerships with our partners in both the private and public sectors, government, academia, and other key players in the industry such as NGOs. This dialogue is crucial to making things happen. So, partnerships like our research with Intel or our acquisition of Vonage are all important. Forums such as the Africa Tech Festival, LEAP or GITEX are no longer just about showing your brand; they are also about dialogue and how we can collaborate with likeminded brands to make things happen,” she said.
“On sustainability, for example, we now have a common agenda with key operators such as stc in Saudi Arabia and e& Group. We partnered with Orange in Jordan and JAZZ in Pakistan to launch the Ericsson Educate. These are few examples of customer partnerships and are the enablers since we cannot do it alone anymore or be in silos."
In the African market, is Ericsson setting the sustainability agenda for its products, or is it being pushed by individual African countries’ own agendas?
When developing a country strategy, we begin with the national agenda and we look at our customers strategies and plans, which drive our own actions. For example, our tailor-made radio for Africa, which has three sectors in two bands, is addressing a reality on the ground and helping accelerate digital adoption. Essentially, you can have one radio that does the work of six radios. It was tailor-made for Africa and has the added benefit of providing multi-standard and multi-band coverage while lowering costs and reducing footprint - up to 50% lower energy consumption. It was very well received by our customers. We read the reality and needs of our customers in line with our commitment to help accelerate digitalization across the continent.
Is it an objective of all African countries to promote sustainability in companies selling into their markets, or is it just the more affluent African nations that can afford to pay the sustainability premium on products that have a sustainability agenda?
There are priorities in life. In countries where water, electricity, health, and education are more of a priority, these will be on top of the agenda rather than climate change and environmental sustainability. When we partnered with UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Giga initiative on the Connecting Schools initiative, the objective was to map schools’ connectivity, improve access to educational content, and help accelerate digital inclusion. So, we looked at schools that did not have meaningful connectivity, and we moved in to provide support in line with our sustainable and corporate responsibility objectives. Indeed, this is a very good example of Ericsson's dedication to improving lives and transforming communities.
Can Ericsson imagine a future in which African countries use their own creativity and innovation to come up with solutions and products in Africa? This would help reduce greenhouse gases by cutting down on travel between continents.
I am so passionate about this. I believe the continent has great talent and can lead and implement innovations that address our challenges, given the right resources. As part of our strategy for 5G, we realized there were various interesting use cases. To tailor these use cases, we launched a hackathon in several African countries, including Nigeria and Egypt. I was so fascinated by the contributors' talents and the great ideas showcased across various sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and entertainment.
The first step to innovation is to identify a need. That is how ground-breaking innovations are born. A good example is the mobile money service, which has drastically accelerated financial and digital inclusion across the continent.
We are also in the last phase now of the Ericsson Innovation Awards. A global initiative that is open to university students of all ages based anywhere around the globe and recognizes revolutionary concepts that utilize technology to solve global challenges. And now, we are excited to announce the three top ﬁnalists, who will be mentored by a dedicated Ericsson team to expand their big ideas. One of the three top finalists is coming from Nigeria who invented a portable water disinfection system. They’re in with a chance to win the €25,000 cash prize, as well as being named the Ericsson Innovation Awards champion so stay tuned and let us wish them all the best!
When Africans develop their innovations, they get them right because they know the clues, the keys, what their needs are, and what will work. I am so impressed by the passion and intelligence, and the will to create something for Africa.
What we need to do is support them. For instance, we can pick some of these hackathon ideas to invest in and nurture. At Ericsson, we have reached the second phase of our hackathon, where we pick the best ideas, refine them, and bring them to life. In house, we have a department called Ericson One that does this, and I am honoured to be one of the judges on the panel responsible for reviewing and selecting the best innovation.
Various ideas from the hackathon are presented to Ericsson One. It will be a delight to see the next big idea from Africa.
Technology is all about continuous change, development, and improvement, but this can be contrary to the principle of sustainability. 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, 5G etc. continuous investment in products that have a short life span before replacement. Does Ericsson design for recycling and reuse?
We have an initiative called Product Take-Back, where we take our older products and dispose of them in a responsible manner by ensuring that they are recycled according to high environmental standards. We have taken back equipment at no cost to over 40 customers, covering 28 countries across Africa. Approximately 8,271 tons of waste electronic and electrical equipment were taken back from January 2012 to August 2022, of which approximately 98% was successfully recycled.
The materials we are using in our new radio as part of the architecture and the product lifecycle are in line with sustainable innovation. The product is also taken back for recycling at the end of its use. It is picking up now as lots of our customers have opted for the product take-back service. There is also a return on investment on this.