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#Connected Devices #Mobile

Green SIM cards: why small is beautiful

Feature
5 Mins.

As the telecoms industry looks to achieve net zero carbon emissions, there are some significant but rewarding changes that mobile network operators can make to become more climate-friendly

2020 was the year that many companies strengthened their climate change commitments. A cocktail of ongoing environmental disasters, a global pandemic, growing consumer demand for sustainability, and investors putting more pressure on businesses to commit to ESG targets meant tackling humankind’s greatest challenge became more urgent.

With a market value of USD1.75 trillion and customers in every country on every continent, the telecoms industry has a significant role to play.1 Many mobile network operators (MNOs) have committed to achieving net zero emissions, thereby aligning themselves with the Paris Agreement – the legally binding United Nations treaty, signed by nearly 200 countries, that aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Vodafone, which has over 300 million mobile subscribers, unveiled new climate change commitments in December 2020. Its headline announcement was a pledge to reduce total global carbon emissions to net zero by 2040 – 10 years earlier than planned.2

“We are committed to reduce our carbon footprint through improved energy efficiency, renewable energy supply, reducing our network waste, and new environmental criteria when we select suppliers,” said Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read.2

Supply chain challenges

While switching to long-term renewable energy sources is comparatively straightforward, cutting carbon emissions from indirect sources, such as supply chains, is more challenging. MNOs work with a wide range of third parties – from the vendors who provide the radio towers, routers, and mobile devices customers rely on, to the suppliers behind call centers, marketing, and waste removal – over whom they have limited control. Telefónica estimates the number it works with to be 10,000.3

Choosing partners that help rather than hinder the achievement of net zero commitments is therefore key. One of the components that is essential to the functioning of the telecoms industry is the humble SIM card. Whether it’s in a phone, a car, or in one of the growing list of IoT devices, the role that SIM cards play is critical to consumers and businesses.

“We are committed to reduce our carbon footprint through improved energy efficiency, renewable energy supply, reducing our network waste, and new environmental criteria when we select suppliers“
Nick Read
CEO, Vodafone Group (2)

But the SIM and the holder in which it is distributed are made of plastic – a material that contributes directly to carbon emissions. In 2019 alone, the production and incineration of plastic was forecast to add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – equal to the pollution from 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants – threatening the ability of the global community to meet the Paris Agreement targets.4

Design and technology advances

G+D’s half sim card
As part of a wider ecosystem, steps like cutting the amount of plastic in a SIM card by half can make significant, sustainable change

Reducing and eliminating plastic from SIM cards and their holders – 5.5 billion of which were produced in 2019 – is possible thanks to advances in design, manufacturing, and technology.5 Global technology leader G+D, which invented the SIM card in 1991, is one company that offers a range of green SIM card solutions.

At one end of the spectrum, eSIMs eliminate the need for SIM cards entirely. These virtual SIMs can be permanently installed as a chip when the device is manufactured. Personalization is then carried out remotely – by transmitting the network-operator-specific data online, via mobile communications, or via Wi-Fi – so the card does not have to be made entirely from plastic. Logistics are simplified, as only the SIM chips, usually in the form of small electronic components, have to be transported to device manufacturers. Further, eSIMs don’t need to be physically replaced during the life cycle of a device – a remote personalization update is sufficient – which again cuts plastic use.

eSIMs are a small but growing part of the smartphone market currently, accounting for around 5% of devices.6 For the majority, therefore, reducing the amount of plastic that SIM cards and their holders use is the next best option. G+D offers Half and Quad SIM cards, which cut the amount of plastic used by 50% and 75% respectively compared with a standard card format (ID1). Deutsche Telekom began introducing half-size SIMs in 2018. The following year it said their introduction would reduce the amount of plastic it used by 17.5 tons.7

Working together as an ecosystem

Another important consideration is the type of plastic used. Many SIM cards and holders are made out of blended materials containing PVC, which does not degrade and produces harmful gases that need to be filtered out during thermal recycling. G+D’s SIM cards, on the other hand, use ABS – a type of plastic that degrades slowly and burns cleanly when recycled.

As the telecoms industry continues to grow in size and value, it is important that all players in the ecosystem work together to ensure they can achieve their climate change commitments and meet the demands of stakeholders to be more sustainable. Introducing green SIM cards is an important step on this journey.

  1. “Telecom Services Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report,” Grand View Research, 2020

  2. “Vodafone Commits to Net Zero Carbon Emissions By 2040,” Vodafone, 2020

  3. “Supply Chain,” Telefónica, 2020

  4. “Sweeping New Report on Global Environmental Impact of Plastics Reveals Severe Damage to Climate,” CIEL, 2019

  5. “2019 Card Industry Statistics and Trends Highlights,” ICMA, 2019

  6. “eSIM Device Sales Forecast Report 2019–24,” Omdia, 2020

  7. “Less Plastic Waste: Telekom Reduces SIM Card Size,” Telekom, 2019

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