Skip navigation

Embodied carbon in the telecom industry

Upstream Green House Gas (GHG) emissions occurring from raw material acquisition, including extraction, initial processing of materials and the material transports, up to the final product delivery, are the so-called embodied carbon emissions. The current state of assessing the different embodied GHG emissions across the value chain presents a significant challenge to transparent measurable industry-wide efforts. This paper is intended to support the telecom industry in its transformation towards Net Zero. On this journey, it is important to harmonize the ways of calculating embodied GHG emissions from producing telecom products. Our proposed methodology balances accuracy and complexity in the embodied carbon emissions calculation.

Industry transformation towards Net Zero

The telecom sector has made ambitious voluntary commitments to reducing its GHG emissions. In addition, both vendors and service providers are subject to legal requirements making them obliged to report and disclose information on their GHG emissions and reduction plans.

Companies require data from their value chain to be able to report the GHG emissions within their annual Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility statements. This reporting has evolved into a key performance indicator (KPI) for investors evaluating the sustainability performance of companies. For companies with substantial upstream emissions, the embodied GHG emissions is a key metric for the category of capital goods under Scope 3 in the GHG protocol.

Assessing the environmental impact of products

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the preferred methodology to determine the full environmental impact of products, including telecommunication networks. In 1994, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created today’s LCA standards, including guidelines and the principles and framework. LCAs involve many modeling choices and include large datasets across the life cycle of a product. For telecommunication network products, this is extremely complex, and the data collection is challenging, both due to the complexity and nature of the products and the limited data maturity in some segments of the supply chain. LCA results are always model-based representations of the real environmental impact, which can only be understood in relation to the limitations, boundaries and conditions set in the modeling.

How to streamline the assessment of embodied emissions

Telecommunication network products generally comprise thousands of components, from small resistors to large heatsinks. The current LCA method requires having environmental impact data on all the thousands of individual components and all the processes across the entire supply chain involved in manufacturing the product. This would require a paramount effort to develop, maintain and secure quality across all these data points, with limited contribution at the product level. Having more streamlined methods allowing scalability to large portfolios of products is needed.

Figure 1: Different components comprising product embodied emissions

Figure 1: Different components comprising product embodied emissions

To avoid the unnecessary complex task of making full LCAs for all products in a broad product portfolio with data points across the supply chain, our proposal is to develop a streamlined parameterized methodology.

Figure 2: Streamlined Parameterized Embodied Emission Methodology – process flow

Figure 2: Streamlined Parameterized Embodied Emission Methodology – process flow


We are keen to support the telecom industry in its transformation towards Net Zero. On this journey, it is important to harmonize the ways of calculating embodied GHG emissions from producing telecom products. Our three key recommendations on this topic:

1. There is a need for a streamlined embodied methodology that balances accuracy and complexity. GHG emissions from operating a telecommunication network depend, to a large degree, on emissions from the energy used, and the upstream product emissions depend on the emissions from the supply chain. Therefore, it makes sense to assess these emissions separately. Such a methodology must align with the “cradle-to-gate” scope of a complete carbon footprint calculation, meaning it should include all emissions from material acquisition through to last-mile delivery to customers, as well as overhead activities associated with the product. A streamlined calculation should facilitate the transition from “too-vague data” to more valuable data points on products, and strike a balance between accuracy and scaling.

2. The streamlined and scalable method described in this paper can be useful for the whole industry. We believe that the method described in this paper is useful for the whole industry as it’s streamlined and scalable and can be used for assessing the upstream product emissions. The method is less complex and time consuming than a full LCA but provides better quality in GHG emission values compared to only spend-based methods that may result in misleading conclusions. It is also generic enough to be utilized by all complex products and the product values can easily be summed up to portfolio level.

3. ICT industry alignment is essential to have harmonized metrics that can create the transparency we all need in our upcoming Net Zero transition plans. Embodied carbon footprints are typically associated with large uncertainties and comparisons of different studies from different sources, even for very similar products, cannot be made with enough accuracy to support business decisions today. The lack of a standardized methodology hinders transparency and alignment, and as an industry, we need to harmonize the assessment methodology. We welcome an industry-wide conversation on this method and invite collaboration to pursue and improve it.



Jenny Sandahl

Jenny Sandahl is the Sustainability Director for Design and Materials at Ericsson, working with supply chain climate action and the circular economy. She has 20 years of experience in the environmental area, with a demonstrated history of working with sustainable development in the information technology industry. Jenny has a Master of Science in Chemical and Environmental Engineering from KTH.

Kristian Lindskog

With around 30 years at Ericsson, currently an Expert Radio Realization and Modularity, Kristian Lindskog brings a wealth of expertise to product realization. He excels at integrating diverse technologies seamlessly into compelling products, with a key focus on minimizing their environmental impact. His passion lies in learning new things, which includes understanding the carbon footprint of materials and processes to inspire the development of innovative and sustainable design solutions.

Nina Lövehagen

Nina Lövehagen is a Master Researcher at Ericsson Research. She joined Ericsson Research in 2000 and, in recent years, has focused on the climate impacts of ICT. Her main focus has been on methodology development for assessing the enablement effect of ICT in other sectors, as well as simplified methodologies for understanding the full environmental footprint of ICT.