Verizon vs. AT&T: Who’s Greener (We Know Who Works Better)

The battle between telecoms Verizon Wireless and AT&T is more heated than ever, especially with the release of the new Verizon iPhone. Everybody is talking about which iPhone is better – and we already know who has wider coverage and more reliable service (Verizon, without question). But which company is delivering knockout punches in the sustainability department?

Here’s how each company stacks up, based on sustainability information found on their websites and in their most recent sustainability reports.

Verizon was the first telecom company to establish efficiency standards in 2008, and in early 2010, the company announced a comprehensive sustainability strategy that includes the addition of 1,600 alternative energy vehicles to its fleet, employee education programs and progress on smart grid deployment.


  • Refurbished phones available directly through the website. Through its HopeLine program, Verizon collected over 1 million phones in 2009 and refurbished 927,000 of them, donating 23,000 to domestic violence organizations. Verizon has collected more than 8 million phones since the program began in 2001. Verizon offers postage-paid labels to easily recycle phones and accessories.
  • Currently offering both the Samsung Intensity II and the Motorola Citrus, two phones with notable green features.

Sustainable operations:

  • Reduced its overall carbon dioxide emissions by more than 793 million pounds and improved its rate of emissions per millions of dollars in revenue to 60.2 metric tons in 2009.
  • Reduced energy consumption in its facilities by 84 million kilowatt hours in 2009 through temperature monitoring and energy-efficient lighting.
  • Named to Newsweek’s Global Green 100 in 2010, ranking at number 45.
  • Reached number 61 in last year’s Maplecroft Climate Innovation Index, which lists the 100 top performing companies in the U.S. for their climate-related innovation and carbon-management programs.
  • Collected 500,000 PCs and other electronics for recycling or resale, and recycled 26 million pounds of material from cable removed from its network in 2009 alone.
  • Donates money to the American Forests’ Global Re-Leaf Program each time a customer opts for paperless billing. The partnership resulted in over 70,000 newly planted trees in 2009.
  • Forty-nine Verizon Wireless stores have been awarded the EPA’s Energy Star for energy efficiency and environmental protection.

Green research & development:

  • Set the global telecom industry’s first energy-efficiency standards in 2008, pushing vendors of its networking equipment to reduce power consumption of these products by 20%.
  • Launched a demonstration facility in Columbia, Maryland in 2009 where it showcases the green features of its passive optical network (PON) technology. This networking technology could support high bandwidth services like 3DTV among as many as 1,000 users per network using 75% less power and 80% less space than ethernet solutions.
  • Received the Groundbreaker Award from the Clean Economy Network Education Fund in 2011 for developing broadband, wireless and global IP network technology that enables more sustainable business practices.
  • Teaming up with Motorola for a trial of eco-friendly set-top boxes for FiOS TV customers, which will use less energy and come in 75% recycled packaging.

AT&T has many green initiatives in the works including big plans to spend $565 million on 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles through 2018, which is expected to cut the company’s greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. Most of these sustainability goals were announced in 2009, with progress updates expected in 2011.


  • Sells refurbished phones directly through the website, and offers postage-paid labels to mail in old phones and accessories for recycling.
  • ZERO Charger, an Energy Star USB wall charger that is compatible with many devices, makes it easy to slay ‘vampire’ energy consumption.
  • Currently offering the Samsung Evergreen, a cell phone made from 70% post-consumer plastic with a box made from 80% recycled paper.

Sustainable operations:

  • Reports a ‘slight decrease’ in 2009 carbon dioxide emissions over 2008 levels based on incomplete data. AT&T does not yet fully disclose its carbon performance figures.
  • Named to Newsweek’s Global Green 100 in 2010, ranking at number 57.
  • Reduced its energy intensity by 23.8 percent over 2008 levels, mostly by analyzing energy performance at its 500 largest energy-consuming facilities.
  • Stepped up use of alternative energy, including the installation of two large-scale solar power plants, powering an Austin facility with 10% wind power and the addition of 3,700 solar panels to a facility in San Ramon, California.
  • Kept 72.1 million pounds of network scrap material out of landfills through reuse, resale and recycling.
  • Announced a new waste-reduction strategy that asks suppliers to provide slimmer packaging that uses fewer materials by the end of 2011

Green research & development:

  • Formed the AT&T Business Sustainability Advisory Council to help businesses make smarter sustainability choices and investments.
  • Established an initiative to analyze the energy consumption of software in its data centers, which may help IT leaders design greener data centers in the future.
  • Developed the Global Media Environmental Module (GMEM), a design that compresses the footprint of Information and Communication Technology equipment, reducing required space by 40 percent and lowering cooling energy needs by 40 percent.
  • Made “Machine Learning” software available at no charge to nonprofit and research organizations that aid in conservation efforts around the world.


This is a close race, with both companies in the midst of big changes that have not yet produced measurable results. But in terms of sustainability facts and figures, AT&T has a lot more “we will” and “we plan” in areas where Verizon can say “we accomplished” – for now.

Image: PopSciBlog

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.