By Dieter Holger
AT&T Inc. set out to reach net-zero emissions across its operations and energy purchases by 2035 as it braces its U.S. network for severe weather fueled by climate change.
The Dallas, Texas-based telecommunications giant said Thursday that it would reach its new climate target through more efficient equipment, renewable power, cleaner vehicles and replacing hardware with software. It also didn't rule out carbon offsets, which are often via tree planting and carbon-credit purchases.
"Our employees are responding to wildfires, hurricanes and floods," said Charlene Lake, sustainability chief at AT&T, in an interview. "Climate change is affecting our employees, it's affecting our customers, it's expensing our expenses."
AT&T's pledge comes amid warnings from scientists of climate change spurring more destructive fires, hurricanes and floods that threaten the infrastructure of America's biggest corporations. The company has spent around $1 billion to recover from severe weather events since 2016.
"What is happening to the planet is happening to our business," Ms. Lake said.
The company didn't share a forecast on future spending for the move to net-zero, but Ms. Lake said a green bond to help finance the effort was "something that we're watching." AT&T has yet to issue a green bond, unlike rival Verizon Communications Inc. that has listed two such bonds, including one that raised $1 billion this month and drew high demand from investors.
AT&T, which has tracked its emissions since 2008, placed the new goal on its direct operations and energy purchases, known as scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions, which apply to suppliers and products, aren't included. Though, Ms. Lake said the company has required that half of its suppliers set their own emission targets by 2024.
Ms. Lake declined to share which providers it was working with for upcoming renewable-energy purchase agreements, but AT&T has entered into such deals with Duke Energy Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc. in recent years.
To fortify its network from severe weather to come, AT&T has rolled out what it calls the Climate Change Analysis Tool, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, which gives a 30-year view of what the company can expect in terms of wind and flooding.
"If I know that today and I am building a cell site, I can literally build a pedestal, build the ground up two or three feet to put that cell site on so I can basically plan today for what will be coming tomorrow," said Scott Mair, AT&T's president of network operations, in the interview.
The wildfires raging on the West Coast are also raising concerns at the company. It is working to expand its climate-prediction tool to include droughts and fires in regions like the West Coast.
"Climate change is happening," Mr. Mair said.
Still, Mr. Mair stressed that AT&T can't foresee if its spending on weather-related disaster recovery will grow as climate change worsens. For example, this year has seen a record number of tropical storms in the Atlantic, but which storms make landfall has varied over the years.
"I can't predict the future," Mr. Mair said. "I can respond to what Mother Nature has to say as it happens."
Write to Dieter Holger at firstname.lastname@example.org; @dieterholger