Big Ideas

True Calling

At Sprint, sustainability efforts are dialed into the company’s culture.

by Aaron Lazenby

May 2015

More and more business leaders are using information technology to measure, manage, and report on their environmental efforts—helping them protect nonrenewable resources and often drive down their own costs along the way. That’s why Oracle creates solutions across risk and performance, operations, and IT infrastructure to help its 350,000 customers with their own sustainability efforts.

Location: Overland Park, Kansas
Industry: Telecommunications
Employees: 36,000
Revenue: US$35.5 billion in 2013
Oracle products: Oracle Asset Lifecycle Management, Oracle Exadata, Oracle Exalogic, Oracle Exalytics, Oracle Hyperion Financial Management, Oracle Real Application Clusters
Peter Campbell, CIO
Length of tenure: 13 years
Education: BA in liberal arts, Wesleyan University; JD, Western New England University School of Law

To encourage more executives to adopt sustainable solutions, Oracle executives have hosted the Oracle Excellence Awards for Sustainability Innovation for the past seven years at Oracle OpenWorld. These awards recognize the innovative use of Oracle technology to address global sustainability business challenges. One of 2014’s winners was Peter Campbell, CIO at Sprint, who understands how to leverage the latest technology to boost sustainability efforts and the bottom line. His efforts have helped Sprint cut carbon emissions by 20 percent, and will save the company roughly US$80 million in energy costs alone by 2017.


“There’s a high level of awareness and pride around our efforts in the sustainability space as a company,” says Campbell. “The good work we do, managing environmental impact, is something that all of the employees at Sprint are aware of and proud of.”

Here, Campbell talks to Profit about how Sprint became a sustainability leader, his advice for building greener companies, and how engineered systems can reduce emissions—and keep customers happy.

Profit: What are the top sustainability challenges for the telecommunications industry, and how do they intersect with the IT department?

Campbell: In many large companies, the IT department might be the single most significant consumer of energy. But with a wireless network service provider, our network is the key driver of energy demand. So, in our environment, optimizing the network space provides the best opportunity to deal with sustainability.

Additionally, as a device provider, we optimize the environmental impact of the tens of millions of devices we sell by offering a robust recycling program. Sprint was the first major US wireless carrier to buy back phones in our stores, and we reclaimed about 11 million devices in 2012 alone. This allows us to recycle the devices responsibly, but also by offering our customers up to US$300 in credit for their devices, we can move them to new phones with longer battery life and higher performance.

The logistics of gathering those devices, consolidating, shipping, recycling, and returning them back into the market for reuse and resale require effort and support, but there are benefits for the environment, and clearly there’s business value for us, too. From our internal assessment, reuse and recycling has led to more than US$1 billion in cost avoidance at Sprint.

Profit: What other sustainability efforts are you most proud of?

Campbell: Sprint has embraced virtualization, and we are leveraging our Oracle technology to consolidate our footprint in data centers—better utilizing our assets and driving down energy consumption. Over the last seven or eight years, we’ve consolidated significantly the number of data centers that we work with. By being current with our technology, we’re driving down our requirements for power, which has had a beneficial environmental impact.

In 2007, we made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an absolute 20 percent over the next 10 years. We report on our emissions every quarter, just like we talk about our sales and expenses. And through our companywide efforts, we actually met our goal three years ahead of our 2017 objective. That’s a good thing because it helps the world. It also helps us save millions of dollars.

Our progress, in large part, is due to the introduction of more-efficient equipment, an increase in renewable energy purchases, energy efficiency improvements at our data centers, and a shift to more-fuel-efficient fleet vehicles. But we’ve made great strides in other areas as well. For example, composting efforts at Sprint headquarters diverted 54 tons of food waste from landfills in a single year. Also, we promote e-bills and other activities to drive down the use of paper. As a business that supports more than 55 million subscribers worldwide, our drive to eliminate paper billing makes a big impact.

Profit: How do you leverage your supply chain to reach your goals?

Campbell: We have commitments around managing our carbon footprint and around how we use water and energy and paper, and we drive those commitments through the supply chain through our procurement process and with our key vendors—whether that’s around how we package devices or how we source power. Additionally, Sprint has created a supplier guide, which provides information to suppliers on how to meet Sprint’s materiality assessment and greenhouse gas measurement and reporting criteria.

Operational efficiency and effectiveness make us a low-cost, highly reliable, excellent service provider.”

Profit: How has Oracle been a partner in your sustainability efforts?

Campbell: Sprint was one of the beta testers of the Oracle Hardware Takeback Program, System Return for Credit [SRC]—and we’re the program’s top customer today.

When companies consolidate systems, they end up with grandfathered equipment, which can be quite a headache to dispose of appropriately. But we’ve leveraged Oracle’s SRC program to process 1,266 servers. Oracle’s team helps us deinstall our old hardware, remove these servers, and then appropriately manage the retirement of those assets. Altogether, we’ve diverted 175 million pounds of electronic waste from reaching the landfill. This not only serves our sustainability objectives, but has resulted in US$275 million dollars in credit from Oracle, which we use toward buying our new systems and platforms.

Profit: You rely on Oracle engineered systems to help reduce your energy use. What else does this solution do for your company?

Campbell: Oracle is a long-time partner and obviously a strong presence in the telecommunications IT infrastructure area. At Sprint, we’ve leveraged Oracle’s Sun platforms historically, and Oracle engineered systems now support some of our larger, more complex platforms, such as our call detail records [CDRs], and other 50 TB to 100 TB environments.

We process a lot of data: 15 billion transactions a day into a single database. At one point, we had one of the largest single Oracle databases in the United States. Obviously Oracle meets our needs in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, all within our challenging environment, working with a heavy processing load and large volumes of data.

We leverage CDR data for any number of reasons, such as managing network performance, troubleshooting individual customer issues, or billing inquiries. Clearly, managing that large amount of data for individual queries can be a challenge. And moreover, federal requirements for maintaining those records over a period of time means we’re challenged with a very large environment that needs to manage real-time data queries and customer queries with high performance and reliability.

By moving to Oracle engineered systems, including Oracle Exadata, we reduced our footprint by about two-thirds in the data center. Plus, the performance has exceeded expectations: A report that took seven days now takes seven hours. Quick queries allow our representatives to meet our customers’ needs faster and more effectively.

Profit: You spoke at Oracle OpenWorld about what you learned from implementing engineered systems. What was the takeaway?

Campbell: In all operations, people deal with a lot of the same problems—from database tuning to something as perfunctory as backups, recoveries, or our operational environment. Engineered systems provide high-capacity, high-performance, effective, operational reliability. They simplify the overall environment and, as a result, reduce the amount of equipment you need.

Ultimately, as a steward of IT at Sprint, I’m responsible for enabling our business success, and enabling the services required to support our customers. The efficiency and effectiveness of an IT platform are key to the delivery and support of our services—whether we are serving customers directly or supporting the business partners who serve them. In the end, operational efficiency and effectiveness make us a low-cost, highly reliable, excellent service provider.

Profit: What advice would you give executives about creating successful sustainability objectives?

Campbell: If you’re trying to implement a program, start with executive support. Then, use metrics to manage your goals, much like you do for any operational activity. Get the support from the employees, and celebrate each success.

Sprint’s achievements didn’t happen by accident. Our executive team embraced this area of social responsibility; set goals around emissions, water, reduction in paper, and more; and managed those areas like we managed all our operational objectives and activities. We also made sure all our employees understood that our sustainability efforts would allow us not only to reduce our impact on the environment, but also to improve the overall efficiency of our business and enable us to better serve our customers with our products and services.

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