2019’s Largest Non-Tech Sector Energy Buyer: AT&T

A Q&A showcasing AT&T’s renewable energy journey and overall commitment to sustainability featuring Shannon Carroll, AT&T’s Director of Global Environmental Sustainability.

Learn more about 2019’s largest energy buyers through CEBA’s Deal Tracker.

Congratulations on a huge year of announcing renewable energy projects!  How many MW did you announce this year, and can you put it into context of your company’s overall goals?

Thank you, 2019 was indeed a big year. In total, AT&T  announced that our  renewable energy  purchases surpassed 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. These projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to providing electricity for more than 560,000 homes for one year[1] and make us one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy in the United States.

The projects also support AT&T’s broader commitments on climate change, working on adaptation and mitigation. That includes reducing our own emissions as we enable customers to reduce theirs through technology solutions, as part of our 10x Carbon Reduction Goal. Renewable energy is a critical component of how we achieve our goals, and something we continue to focus on as we strive to create a better, more environmentally sustainable world.

What was your biggest challenge in 2019 and how did you overcome it?

While we had strong support from company leadership and relevant business units, one challenge was trying to convey the scale and scope of 1.5 GW in renewable energy capacity. For the average person, it is hard to conceptualize how much energy that is and what it means, but we wanted our stakeholders to understand this was important to us. So we created a social video showcasing the impact – that 1.5 GW is enough to annually power the city of New York for an entire month [2] –  which we released as part of our engagement at Climate Week NYC.

Showcasing the impact to stakeholders is also one of the reasons we are a member of the Clean Energy Buyers Association (CEBA) — so we can speak clearly about the importance of renewable energy to AT&T as well as to learn, listen and engage with other leaders on this issue.

What was the most unexpected moment during procurement?

How truly different each individual deal is. There are, of course, standard issues to be negotiated with any contract. This includes price, location, and timing. And large scale renewable energy deals have some specific issues as well, such as whether to include a floor or ceiling or whether to settle at the hub or busbar, for example. So, it is understandable to think that with a finite set of issues, after a while you are just negotiating around the edges. But we’ve learned that what is important to one developer is not necessarily important to another. The result is that there is no one standard contract and each contract really does take on a life of its own.     

Looking forward, what does the future of clean energy procurement look like for your company?

We are continuing to evaluate new deals and explore additional opportunities to expand our renewable energy capacity so that we can keep scaling the solutions necessary to address climate change. We are a forward-looking company that plans in the long-term, which is one of the reasons we have developed a Climate Change Analysis Tool that will help anticipate potential impacts of climate change on our network infrastructure and business operations 30 years into future.

What advice do you have for other companies who may just be getting started on their clean energy journey?

It is important to make the business case for renewable energy, particularly when you are talking to folks within your company. These kinds of power purchase agreements (vPPAs) are not just good for the environment and critical to supporting America’s transition to a low-carbon economy; they also make good business sense. So, I would say that you should make sure to focus on talking to the right people within your company about how renewable energy can have a positive impact for the company and the environment.

How important is the implementation of renewable energy for your respective industry?

Implementation of renewable energy is important in our industry, particularly thinking about how technology factors in. If you look at a company like AT&T, we enable the technology that connects the world today — from cell phones and televisions to connected devices, including everything from your watch to your home speakers. The energy to propel that connectivity must come from somewhere, which is why large scale renewable energy commitments are important. But it’s also important because we recognize the science that tells us we need to take urgent action if we are to have a chance of limiting global temperatures from rising more than 1.5-2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Is there an overlooked component of sustainability that should be prioritized in the future?

One often overlooked component of sustainability success is the crucial role of collaboration. There might be reluctance to share ideas or key lessons across companies because of the competitive nature within industries. But at AT&T, we have found it incredibly helpful to speak with other businesses and NGOs through organizations such as CEBA, where we can come together for a common purpose.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

There is no dearth of leadership in this space, especially in the private sector and civil society. These days, an additional source of inspiration comes from our employees and investors who are demanding that companies “walk the walk.” To do that, businesses like ours need to set meaningful targets for more sustainable practices as well as measure progress toward those goals. It’s a way to demonstrate that the company is actively involved in this work versus just making broad statements about its commitment to environmental sustainability.

If there were one key sustainability leader you could partner with, who would it be and what would you work on?

At AT&T, we have been fortunate to meet and work with a range of sustainability leaders through forums like CEBA, WWF, BSR and other organizations. What excites us is meeting people who are new to this space and have the potential for great impact. People within our company who might be new to renewable energy but learn quickly and start finding ways to scale the successes we’ve had and enable us to go that much further. It is also inspirational to see the ambitious, game-changing work being done across the economy by companies who are really stepping up to the plate and seeing how they can use their resources to accelerate positive impact on a global challenge.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

[2] Based on estimates from “2018 Power Trends” by The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO).