Enhancing Connectivity through ESG with T-Mobile’s Brigitta Witt

April 25, 2023

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Brigitta Witt serves as vice president, social impact and sustainability at T-Mobile. In her role Brigitta is responsible for leading and communicating the company’s overall corporate responsibility strategy encompassing community engagement, philanthropic giving, environmental stewardship and governance. She oversees ESG strategy and reporting, program development and execution, stakeholder management, employee engagement initiatives and is the executive director of the T-Mobile Foundation. Brigitta joined T-Mobile in October of 2018.

John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a rockstar impact podcast guest, go to impactpodcast.com and just click be a guest to recommend someone today. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. And is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices. Please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the impact podcast is brought to you by Closed-loop Partners. Closed-loop Partners is a leading circular economy, investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and Impact partners. The Closed Loops platform spans the arc of capital from Venture Capital to Private Equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed-loop partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. This is a really special edition. I’m John should guarantee we have it with us today Brigitta Witt. She’s the vice president of the social impact and sustainability of T-Mobile. Welcome to the Impact Podcast Brigitta.

Brigitta Witt: Thank you, John. Very happy to be here.

John: Hey, before we get talking about all the important and impactful work that you and your colleagues are doing at T-Mobile in ESG and sustainability. Can you please share a little bit about your background? How you even got interested in the environment, and sustainability? Where you grew up, and who were some of your inspirations?

Brigitta: Yeah. I think the answer to how I ended up in this work is a little bit of a combination of youthful naivete and midlife crisis. I was working for a large global company and at one point just sort of stopped what I was doing and thought this is… Am I enjoying the work that I’m doing here? Am I enjoying the work that I do day in and day out? And the answer really was not particular. And so this is where the youthful naivete comes in. I thought, well, what else could I do? And what am I really passionate about? And sustainability just kept coming to the forefront for me. And so then I quit that job as one does when you think these kinds of things are easy and started to think about how do I get into a job in sustainability? And I’d been in consulting before for Accenture. I didn’t want to do that. The nonprofit world didn’t move quickly enough for me. So I knew I didn’t want to do that. And so I ended up at a startup that had a strong sustainability focus that was consumer-oriented. And so that’s how I got my start. And about a year after that, I got a call from Hyatt Hotels. I’d worked there before. And the person that was moving into their marketing role needed somebody that understood the company that had a strong track record in building programs in companies or launching companies. I’d done a lot of work in startups before and needed somebody that could communicate and do change management. So that’s how I ended up getting the Hyatt job and kind of really launching, I think my career.

John: Was that job taken before or were you the first person to be the global head of corporate responsibility there?

Brigitta: I was the first person.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: So I like to consider myself maybe a little bit of a glutton for punishment, cause literally everything I’ve ever done in a job is either work for a startup or start new things in companies, so.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: Yeah.

John: So I assume it’s both very exciting and also very daunting to walk in with the[inaudible], the proverbial clean sheet of paper.

Brigitta: It is. But if there’s nothing if you’re kind of building from nothing, then anything you build is usually pretty good.

John: That’s a good point.

Brigitta: It was an interesting time cause it was right when the right app… right before the big recession hit in 2008 that I started there. And so I think we really had to change our adapter approach because the industries were so deeply impacted. But really I think one of our biggest focuses at Hyatt was to engage the 80,000 people that were at Hyatt at the time, globally around sustainability. And so while it ended up being a tough economic situation for the majority of the world it did allow us to really focus inwardly on the work we were doing, which was really, I think a critical place to start when you’re looking at a global company with really complex sustainability footprint.

John: So then in 2018 or so, you made the big jump from Hyatt over to T-Mobile?

Brigitta: That’s right. I took a year off in between.

John: And did you do anything fun or was there anything like… did you have a bucket list that you went and attacked?

Brigitta: You know, I got to be a Mom. Like full-time. And that was on my bucket list.

John: That’s great.

Brigitta: I have a nine-year-old son. And then we spent two and a half months in Italy, which was really nice over the summer.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: You don’t really get a chance to do that. And just not to relax a little bit and spend some time with the family.

John: So good for you. Good for you. And then, did you know where you were going to go before you took that little break or that was an unknown?

Brigitta: That was an unknown. As you can see, I tend to jump into the unknown a lot cause I left that one job without anything else lined up.

John: Right.

Brigitta: No, I took a break and thought, whatever happens, I’ll probably be the better for it.

John: Good for you.

Brigitta: It’s a little bit of mental clarity and some an opportunity to kind of reflect a little bit.

John: Good for you. So now you joined T-Mobile and you’ve been driving that program as the Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability since 2018, and for our listeners and viewers who want to find you, Brigitta, and your colleagues in all the important work you’re doing in sustainability, you could go to www.t-mobile.com. T-mobile.com. So how’s this ride been? How has this been as it compared to your last journey at Hyatt? How’s it been different and how has it been as a whole new venture?

Brigitta: It’s been great. Absolutely great. The reason I joined T-Mobile as I was sort of thinking about what’s my next step I was really intrigued by the company because of its culture, right? It has such a vibrant, passionate culture. I really loved the brand and what it stood for, and I think T-Mobile is uniquely positioned as a company to really authentically come out in front of the issues that we’re tackling. And so for me, it was a really interesting opportunity to get into a totally different field, but for a company, and I think that had the right level of credibility and the right level of passion that they brought to the work. And there was also enough of building their right to engage me. I like to do this type of work. I like to build, I like to grow things. And so the combination for me was perfect. And I think it’s been a great ride because I’ve experienced things. I think very few people in their careers get to experience this. We went through the largest merger in telecom history in the middle of a global pandemic. Right. We closed the deal right as the world was shutting down. And so I mean, that was a ride that was for sure a hard one, but, man, did we… I think we all learn a lot.

John: Brigitta, with ESG now it’s the word sustainability. Things have changed and evolved and there are so many areas where I get to interview and I have the honor to interview great people like you who are doing such important work, you could start almost anywhere and make as you said, a difference and be and build on that. How did you choose the ESG opportunities, let’s say, or trends that you wanted to tackle at T-Mobile?

Brigitta: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s pretty easy, right? You start to focus on those areas that are most relevant to the company and to the business. And the intersection of that to the kind of the world and the problems, the societal problems that you’re trying to solve. And for us, it was a pretty easy thing. It was really focusing on the accessibility and affordability issue around connectivity, and then also focusing on sustainability. Because our network is the single largest contributor of emissions within our company. And so we really looked at those two things as being the predominant issue we have. And at the time that I joined, also had a very, very strong DENI component to this culture, a very just inherent to the company, focus on DENI and so that part of it was already stood up and is alive and well at T-Mobile, but it was really around the societal impact and sustainability.

John: How many offices and employees and regions do you get to oversee? How big is T-Mobile for our listeners and viewers who don’t understand clearly the size and scope of your wonderful enterprise?

Brigitta: Yeah. So we are US based company. So we have about 70,000 roughly employees around the country.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: And in Puerto Rico, that’s our footprint. Right. And I always like to say that we’re probably… this is probably the most passionate group of employees in the most passionate company that I’ve ever worked for. It’s pretty amazing.

John: That’s great. And how many offices are there, or how real pieces of real estate are part of that roll up underneath you in terms of ESG and sustainability and impact?

Brigitta: Yeah, so they actually, they don’t technically roll up to me. We’ve got facilities teams that manage that I work with very closely. Right. So I’m kind of the center if you will. The hub of a spoke. And I work with all of our other teams across the enterprise, be it HR, be it our procurement teams, facility teams, or marketing teams to further the commitments that we’ve made as a company.

John: Got it. And so now you’re in an industry that’s different. I mean, the size is similar to Hyatt, but now you’re in an industry that’s different from the telecom industry. How do you benchmark yourself against your competitors? And where are you in the great ESG sustainability impact race right now versus your other competitors?

Brigitta: Well, [inaudible]. That answer, but no, it’s true. I think we were the first company to put forth science-based targets to commit to being powered by hundred percent renewable electricity. We achieved both of those goals end of last year or the middle of last year rather.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: Sorry. And then we were also the first company to commit to being net zero, and we announced that end of last year. Net zero across all three scopes. So that is for sure industry leading. And it’s a commitment that we’re very proud of. And I think on the societal side of the S of the ESG, again, we’re a connectivity provider. Our focus is to connect people through their devices. And for us, the fact that there are so many people in this country who either don’t have access because of affordability issues or accessibility issues is a huge concern, right? The UN a few years back, considered connectivity a human right because it plays such an essential role in everybody’s lives. And unless you make the conscious decision not to be connected, which very few people do, you’re pretty much at a significant disadvantage. And so as a company, we’ve really put our foot forward in a big way there. So to give you an example, we have Project 10 Million, which has as its goal to connect 10 million families with school-aged kids who don’t have reliable or any internet access at home to connect them so that they’re at parody with their connected peers, right? Because so much of school and then especially during a pandemic, but just even before that takes place so much of learning takes place at home.

John: Right.

Brigitta: We’ve connected over 5.3 million kids so far and families through this program.

John: That’s tremendous. That’s tremendous. ESG can mean a lot of things to a lot of companies, all for the good, but as you’ve seen your sustainability impact OG, that’s the way I look at you Brigitta because you’ve been around and doing this a long time, but ESG has just been recently had taken over in the vernacular. It used to be 20 years ago all about sustainability and mostly outside of the United States and now ESG and the ship from the linear to a circular economy had really worked their way into our lexicon and vernacular. When you look at E S G benchmarks, what are besides connectivity, what are the other benchmarks that you get excited about in your driving change?

Brigitta: Yeah. I mean I think the connectivity piece obviously in digital equity is huge, right?

John: Sure.

Brigitta: And when you think about how that carries forth, we’re not just investing in the connectivity piece, but we’re also really putting some investments in the digital literacy side and into training for the digital economy because if you can’t use your device at the end of the day, it doesn’t really get you far.

John: Well, you’re really setting us up for the future of America by democratizing education opportunities.

Brigitta: Right. That’s exactly right.

John: Yeah.

Brigitta: And so the impact of what we do ripples across a lot of different…

John: Understood.

Brigitta: … of society. On the sustainability front, we’re really looking at circularity right now. We collect and recycle and use over 10 million devices every single year.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: And so we’re really looking at how can we close the other loops that we have.

John: Let’s talk about that. So we all have these wonderful phones and devices that we have. 10 million devices. Given my experience and also knowing where you sit. This is something that most people don’t understand that devices are a hundred percent recyclable when done the right way.

Brigitta: They’re one we’ve done the right way. Yes.

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John; They’re one of the great circular economy stories out there that’s sort of untold. So I don’t want to just glance over the fact that you’re promoting and actually leveraging your network to recycle 10 million of these a year cause why should they get end up in landfills? There’s no darn reason that they shouldn’t.

Brigitta: Right. Or drawers, right? A lot of people…

John: Or drawer. It’s right.

Brigitta: … collect their phones and they end up in a bedside graveyard, so to speak.

John: Right. So how do you encourage that recycling? Does that go back to your stores or how does that work with your client?

Brigitta: Yeah, it goes back to the stores. We either reuse the phone or use a responsible recycling company where we know we’re exactly where it ends up. And the same ends up with our e-waste too. As part of our merger, we are decommissioning a lot of cell sites, so we take all of that e-waste and as much as possible can recycle it.

John: Yeah. There’s a lot of value in that, right? There’s a value of… I mean, you know this, right? Good. Yeah.

Brigitta: You’re in this business.

John: Yeah.

Brigitta: There’s a ton of value in either the components or the whole product.

John: That’s so fascinating. It’s just so funny how the important role that you hold has merged with not only sustainability and circular economy but ESG inclusivity, diversity, and social equity. I mean, it’s fascinating. It’s a much bigger, much bigger role than you know than was ever I could have ever imagined 20 years ago but the importance of it. How many people do you have on your team or how many ambassadors messaging in a group of 70,000 people who are, as you say, very committed and excited about what you’re doing? How do you continue to share the messaging and get more and more people involved and bought into all the great work you’re doing at T-Mobile?

Brigitta: I think there’s so much hunger for it right now because we’re coming out of this pandemic where people couldn’t engage on these topics in a meaningful way other than maybe to read it about them. And so one example of how we’re engaging our workforce across the entire country. In April we’re doing a global month of giving where companies can show up, and give back to their communities. We have a matching gift program that’s matching any… that’s double matching any volunteer hours. We’re doing a lot of information sessions for employees and putting on a lot of great volunteer events for them personally within our building. So that’s one way that we’re really starting to engage our employee population to say when you work at T-Mobile, you have the opportunity to engage and the things that we care about. Sustainability is going to become another one of those topics, right, that we really start to lean into and have our employees be a part of our solution, if you will, right? The more people understand and know about the work that we’re doing and how they themselves can make a difference either in their communities or at home then we’re just really having a multiplier effect.

John: Right. That’s so exciting.

Brigitta: Yeah.

John: So for those listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Brigitta Witt with us. She’s the Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability at T-Mobile. To find Brigitta and her colleagues and their corporate responsibility report, please go to www.t-mobile and mobile spelled with an E at the end, .com. T-mobile.com. Brigitta, you mentioned earlier the net zero announcements you made. What year are you aiming to get net zero by in all three scopes?

Brigitta: 2040. We have an interim 2030 target.

John: Got it. Got it. And you recently signed the climate pledge as well. Talk to us about why is important.

Brigitta: I think Amazon has done such a phenomenal job as a company in really leveraging its size and scale to drive positive change. Right? I mean, it’s like a Walmart or when a Walmart makes a change, it’s the ripple effect. I think Amazon is equal in terms of the many different industries and facets it touches. And so we really like the idea of aligning around climate change with a group of like-minded companies.

John: Right.

Brigitta: All of them either committed to the same level of engagement and leadership as T-Mobile is. And so for us, it gives us I think a valuable network of peers, but also a network of peers that are willing to put their kind of their brand out there and their actions out there to fight for a topic that’s incredibly relevant and important today.

John: I agree with you. You’re in great company. Amazon’s doing great work. Again, I think they’re just wonderful in terms of their sustainability and their impact work and things of that such. And it is a great company to be in. I mentioned a corporate responsibility report a little while back. What month of the year does that come out and what does that publish and what can our listeners and viewers expect to read and see in the upcoming corporate responsibility report?

Brigitta: Yeah, I mean, when you talk about… you asked me before how do you engage with people across the company.

John; Yeah.

Brigitta: But we have over 200 people that contribute in one way or another to the publication of this report.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: It’s a massive, massive commitment that we make. And I think what I’m most proud of about our report is that it is uniquely T-mobile. This one will be uniquely T-Mobile. The past reports have been loud. In terms of the colors world, it’s magenta everywhere. We lead with our people, which is arguably our most important asset. And so I think you can expect a lot more of that. We’ll talk about sustainability. We’re really going to go a lot more into our human capital practices. Talk more about our focus on accessibility and affordability and the great programs that we’re putting in place there. So it’s a lot of fun. It’s a ton of work, but I think I love the unique T-Mobile perspective we bring to our reporting.

John: And what a collaborative approach, 200 people working on it. That’s a, like you say, very serious undertaking.

Brigitta: Yeah.

John: I don’t want to glance over the net zero commitment either. What level of difficulty is in all three scopes to get to net zero? What’s your feeling on the level of difficulty in achieving net zero by 2040?

Brigitta: I think it’s really hard.

John: Yeah.

Brigitta: Especially when you consider that about 70% of our emissions are scope three, right? So we have to work with our whole network predominantly suppliers out there to achieve the goal. But I think we believe that if there’s no word goal worth setting, if it’s not a high one, right? And if it doesn’t set us apart and help us to really define and lead the industry in approach. So we’ve set ourselves a tall order. But we’re really committed to it. The fact that we’re a hundred percent renewable energy already gets us up far in our goal. But the biggest piece is our supply base. And I think the good news is that companies around the world understand the role that they have to play in sustainability. And I think the conversations aren’t going to be what they would’ve been 20 years ago.

John: That’s exciting. That’s really exciting. I also don’t want to glance over the fact that just capital ranked T-Mobile number 20 on his 2023 rankings of America’s most trusted companies, including number one in the telecommunications industry for the environment and ongoing progress for your commitment to driving responsible business practices. Talk a little bit about that kind of award, that kind of recognition, and how proud you are of something like that. What it really means.

Brigitta: Yeah, I think we jumped… I forget now, I want to say 80 spots or something in the rankings. And I think for us it really demonstrates that we’re starting to mature in our programs as a company. And mature I mean that in a good way, right? Where we’re ready to talk about them, where we not only talk about them, but we have proof of the work that we’re doing, and we’ve got a footprint that we can point to and progress that we can point to. And so for us, I think it’s a recognition of that work. But I think equally as important, I think it’s a recognition that what we’re doing is important to us as a brand and that it resonates with our customers, right? I think it really helps to answer that question, well, why are you doing this? Other than the fact that for the right reasons and it’s a good thing to do. It’s really, really important to our brand and to our customers. And I think having that achieving that ranking meant that to us, right? That this doesn’t go unnoticed.

John: Right

Brigitta: Commitments that we’re working.

John: You have five years under your belt now. You’re a young woman still. What gets you out of bed now when your colleague is out of bed in terms of the years ahead on what you’re excited about tackling with regard to your ESG strategy at T-Mobile in the years ahead?

Brigitta: Oh my gosh. Well, we’re not nearly done yet. I mean, there is still so much to do, so much to build. We’re a company that’s three years out of, again, the largest merger in the history of wireless. There’s still a lot to do. So once we bridge the homework gap through Project 10 Million, what comes next? I mean, there are a lot of people that need to be connected. A program that we’re really proud of is called Welcome US too, where we have committed 200,000 lines of free service to any incoming refugee.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: So it’s a program that we’re a part of that our CEO was an inaugural member of the Welcome US CEO coalition. I think I got the wrong way close enough. And so I think there are so many opportunities just like that around the country that we can really connect to.

John: I don’t want to glance over this because it’s fascinating. You took over the role in 2018 and the largest merger ever in American history. What level of difficulty was that, or what challenges had you never seen before?

Obviously, at Hyatt, you hadn’t seen anything like that. What challenges that did that create in terms of merging cultures and getting everybody on the same page?

Brigitta: It was an interesting process in part because it happened during the pandemic.

John: Right.

Brigitta: Literally, the world shut down in April and the merger took place in April.

John: Wow, beat that.

Brigitta: And so I think for me it was a lesson. T-Mobile has such an incredible culture that is so done and win-oriented. We got through that. We got through that together. In many ways, I think the pandemic helped to be a sort of leveler and an equalizer because it wasn’t about what headquarters are you in and where are you located. Everybody was on zero.

John: Right.

Brigitta: Every single person was in the Zoom and so there was none of that, it just sort of everybody came together. And it didn’t matter whether you were Sprint or whether you were T-Mobile.

John: Right.

Brigitta: But it was also interesting because, in both companies, I was part of a lot of the culture work that went into the merger initially.

John: Wow.

Brigitta: Because we put a pause on some of the sustainability work. And what came out of that is that both companies had very similar cultures. Very, very entrepreneurial, very scrappy, sort of that winning spirit for me in both cultures. And so I think we started from an interesting point of equity.

John: Understood. Understood. What advice now could you give? You’ve had two major roles in sustainability in ESG. There are a lot of young viewers that we have around the world we’ve built up an audience over the last 16 years that watch this and look at you and say, I want to be her. I, that’s, that’s where I want to go. What kind of advice, looking backward now, can you share with our young listeners and viewers who want to take on a lifetime commitment to making the world a better place vis-a-vis sustainability and ESG impact?

Brigitta: I get this question a lot, John, actually. And I would say, get your foot in the door. Figure out how to get your foot in the door, and figure out how to the work on your resume one way or another. Whether it’s an internship, whether it’s taking a risk as I did work at a startup that I worked at. I think that’s critical. And I think too don’t take a myopic view of what ESG is because, at the end of the day, there’s so much… I think change management goes into the role, right? It’s less about specificity and more about how to drive change in a company because you can always find a subject matter expert on something, but it’s about the ability to communicate, drive change, and to kind of think broadly and laterally because the work impacts every aspect of a company. And so sort of siloed thinking doesn’t work for a role like this. So I would say take a risk, get your foot in the door. Lots of people want this job. And you’ve got to figure out how to get in.

John: For our listeners and reviewers, we’re all thankful for all the great work that you and your colleagues do at T-Mobile. To find Brigitta and her colleagues, and more importantly, even their new corporate responsibility report that comes out hopefully this June. Please go to www.t-mobile.com. Thank you for joining us on the Impact Podcast today. Thank you for making the world a better and greener place.

Brigitta: Thank you, John. Appreciate it very much.

John: This episode of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by co2.com. Companies today are trying to figure out how to achieve high-quality climate credentials. Co2.com is the easy button for any business to go beyond offsetting and fund truly impactful projects, cross carbon, nature, and community. CO2 provides verified metrics that can be used in reporting and messaging. Have confidence in demonstrating your climate. Go to co2.com to access quality climate credentials you can trust on the road to net zero and Nature Positive.

John: This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform. Revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage as the go-to spot for booking talent for speech, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com.