Building a Greener Network
Established in 1996, as a joint venture between Telenor Mobile Communications and Grameen Telecom Corporation, Grameenphone is today the largest mobile operator in Bangladesh. The company has 47.1 million customers and is the largest company in Bangladesh by market capitalisation. Grameenphone has a significant workforce, with over 4,900 direct, full time employees and thousands more employed through its vendor and distribution networks. The company was listed on the Dhaka and Chittagong stock exchanges in 2009 and recently rolled out 3G services for mobile internet, which will increase the quality and speed of internet available through its network.
With a population of over 160 million, 31.5% of which live below the national poverty line, Bangladesh faces numerous economic and development challenges. However, the country has also experienced steady GDP growth of approximately 6% over the past several years, and a marked increase in life expectancy and literacy rates . Like many parts of the developing world, this growth has increased demand for mobile phones, enabling Grameenphone to play an important role in Bangladesh’s economic development. Many Bangladeshis will access internet for the first time via mobile handsets, rather than on computers.
For Grameenphone, capitalising on this growing demand for mobile phone and internet does not mean doing business at any cost. Environmental and social (E&S) management is a core part of the company’s ethos and business strategy. The company has developed an exemplary environmental responsibility programme, as well as a robust system to minimise labour risks within its supply chain. It is also focused on improving access to cellular services in rural Bangladesh to give villagers the opportunity to generate income through self-employment.
Importantly, these initiatives are not only helping tackle environmental and social challenges in Bangladesh today. They are also creating value for Grameenphone and its stakeholders, and are a key part of the company’s competitive advantage.
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Environmental Risks in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, insufficient power supply and outages remain a fact of life, and only 60% of the population has access to electricity. As the mobile operator in Bangladesh with the widest coverage, Grameenphone has to generate its own electricity when it builds mobile phone base stations in areas where commercial power is not available. Using generators that require oil and diesel has significant adverse environmental impacts, as well as exposing the company to unpredictable and potentially escalating operational costs.
A growing population and increased density in urban areas is also putting pressure on the country’s already limited waste management systems.
Notably, Bangladesh remains one of the most vulnerable countries in the world with regards to climate change and the associated extreme weather events, such as cyclones and flooding.
Within this context, Grameenphone believes it is the company’s duty to be a responsible corporate citizen, which led to the development of its environmental and climate change strategy in 2007. Given Grameenphone’s size and profile within Bangladesh, this initiative is now a key part of the company’s value proposition.
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Building a Greener Company
As part of Grameenphone’s environmental and climate change strategy, the “Building a Greener Network” programme is a roadmap that seeks to transform Grameenphone’s network and office building with environmentally friendly solutions and reduce carbon emissions by saving energy and fuel consumption. The company has set a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% by 2015, with 2008 as its baseline.
The benefits of the programme to Grameenphone’s business are notable and extend beyond the positive impact on its reputation and ability to conduct business effectively. Some of the key achievements include:
Health and Safety at Grameenphone
The safety risks for the telecommunications industry are high, as a result of tower installation and assaults related to attempts to steal fuel. Grameenphone has instituted a robust health and safety management system, and the installation of solar towers is also helping to minimise this risk, by reducing the company’s need for fuel.
Bringing employees on board
For environmental responsibility to be deeply embedded in Grameenphone’s strategy and culture, employees need to be just as engaged in the initiative as management.
The company has launched several programmes designed to create awareness among employees and encourage them to become ambassadors for environmentally responsible business behaviour within the company and the broader community. These include celebrating Earth Hour and knowledge sharing at schools.
In addition to supporting Grameenphone’s strategy to be an environmentally responsible company, this approach to employee engagement demonstrates how implementing E&S management into business strategy helps to attract and retain talented employees.
Helping the community
Grameenphone’s commitment to environmentally responsible practices is not limited to its own operations. The company has launched a community power project, in partnership with the University of Oslo, to use renewable energy for rural development.
In Paharpur, a village in northeast Bangladesh that is one of many that is not connected to the national electricity grid, Grameenphone is using one of its solar power plants to power a mini-grid. This grid will provide power to more than 130 households from 5 pm to midnight daily, as well as providing internet services during the day in a community information centre.
The company also launched the Village Phone Program in partnership with Grameen Bank in 1997, to provide rural women with the opportunity to earn income. The Village Phone operators purchase a mobile phone, which they make available to the village for calls, enabling the operator to earn a profit.
Through these projects and programmes, Grameenphone is not only supporting socio-economic development in rural Bangladesh, but also creating revenue from increased use of its services and differentiating itself from its competitors by establishing itself as a leader in social development.