Transforming How the World Connects with Angela Baker of Qualcomm

February 20, 2024

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Angela Baker is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Qualcomm, Inc. and spearheads the company’s Corporate Responsibility efforts focused on driving sustainable innovation in wireless technology to transform how the world connects, computes, and communicates. She oversees Qualcomm’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program; Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™, the company’s tech-for-good initiative; and global STEM Education investments that inspire student inventors. 

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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have with us today Angela Baker. She’s the VP of Corporate Responsibility and the Chief Sustainability Officer at the iconic brand, Qualcomm. Welcome, Angela.

Angela Baker: Thanks, John.

John: Angela, before we get talking about what you and your colleagues are doing in sustainability and impact work at Qualcomm, can we hear a little bit about the Angela Baker story? Where did you grow up and how’d you get on this wonderful journey that you’re on?

Angela: Yeah, it’s a winding route, but I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and I worked in politics for a long time. That’s where I cut my teeth. I have 2 degrees in International Relations. I’m not a climate scientist, and I spent the first part of my career working for the Governor of Michigan, who at the time was Jennifer Granholm. She’s now the Energy Secretary for the US. Big fan of hers. Then I came to D.C. in about 2007.

I worked on Secretary Clinton’s first run at the Presidency. That campaign, it didn’t end the way that we wanted, but we had a wealth of riches and I ended up going into the Obama administration. First at the Labor Department, and then at the U.S. State Department, where I was really focused on Tech For Good. And really it was 2012, so it was a bit of a different time, but it was we were really looking at how we could leverage a lot of these newish social media companies around the world for civil society and how we could help them tell their stories. That soft diplomacy.

I had a really great job. I got to meet people from all of these different technology companies all over the world. We went to places like Vilnius and Israel and Palestine and all of these different places, and brought together civil society organizations and brought together these leading technologists from these companies to help train them on how to leverage these tools. From there, I got to Qualcomm. I’m not an engineer, I’m not a climate person, but I came in that way and I’ve been here about 10 years now. I came in through the Tech For Good program, which is one of the programs under me now. I think we’ll talk about it later, Wireless Reach. But that’s how I made that journey. For the long time, I was very involved in politics and government.

John: When you came into Qualcomm, what was your first role there?

Angela: I was a Senior Manager on the Wireless Reach team, which essentially was a Program Manager. So I was managing programs. Wireless Reach is a granting entity, so we give funds to community-based organizations, usually, around the world that are leveraging Qualcomm technology for impact. I worked on, primarily, I want to say the Middle East and a little bit in the U.S. and then parts of Asia. We would have programs and we would travel out to visit them.

We would work with the communities that were in need, and they would say, “We think we can leverage Qualcomm technology for this solution.” So we didn’t want to force it on anybody. I came in that way, and then after a few years I started running that team. Then in 2018, we put all of the impact programs together under one umbrella, or most of them, and that’s what falls under me. That’s what we call corporate responsibility at Qualcomm.

John: Got it, and that also was the same time where were you the first Chief Sustainability officer?

Angela: I am the first Chief Sustainability Officer. I’ve been doing that since about 2018, but I would say that title probably 2, 3 years old.

John: Right. So, then let’s talk about that because I get to meet so many cool people like you who are doing important work with iconic brands. Obviously, Qualcomm is one of those great iconic brands. But it’s always fun to hear about that proverbial white sheep. You had a blank slate. You came in with a blank slate, pretty much.

People now can read sustainability and ESG and all these alphabet soup of acronyms that surround environmental and social and other good impact policies, but they can read them very narrow or very wide. What informed you and inspired you and directed you when you were creating then what your corporate responsibility, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability program was going to look like at Qualcomm?

Angela: Yeah, absolutely. I want to say people were doing these types of jobs before me, so I don’t want to say I created everything. Certainly, lots of rock stars at the company. You’re formalizing that role of sustainability and social impact. I think up until 2018, Qualcomm, primarily a B2B brand, we’re in a lot of technologies that many of your listeners might not know, but we power your Smartphone, we’re in automotive, we’re in a bunch of IoT solutions.

We are a large brand that a lot of people have never heard of. I think that’s changing now. Our branding and marketing team’s been doing a ton of work on that. But up until 2018, we really were doing what we needed to do. We had been collecting data from our supply chain. We had been publishing an annual report for a number of years. We had been looking at these social impact programs, but we hadn’t, I think, been proactive because there hadn’t really been a need to. In 2018, 2019, that’s when Larry Fink issued his first letter from BlackRock, which I think was a real catalyst.

I think when the investor community started to pay attention, it made CFOs and other executives pay attention. Really, I think it was a big catalyst for us at Qualcomm, and also just, I hate to use this expression, but the wind beneath our wings to get us to create a program around supply chain management and around environmental initiatives and around the S, what does that look like? Certainly, there are a number of people at the company that are working on that. We work very closely with human resources and supply chain and procurement. We are primarily fabulous, but we do have 3 manufacturing sites that we got from a joint venture that close, so we work with them. And really looking with the team at what mattered to us as a company and to our stakeholders?

I think that’s why it’s really important to do things like materiality assessments and things like that. There’s lots of issues we could work on. We’re an innovation company. We create solutions. We have some of the best minds in the world on the engineering side, and we create solutions that are fundamentally engineering human progress, and really I think driving a better quality of life. Not to overstate it, but connecting your phone, connecting you to healthcare [crosstalk] and those types of things.

John: I agree.

Angela: So, what were the things that mattered to us and to our stakeholders, which is our employees, our investors, our customers, and our suppliers? We really did that mapping exercise, and we’ve done that every few years. As the business continues to diversify and change, we have to reevaluate and pivot some of those things. So that’s why we look at how can our technology be leveraged for impact? That’s our Wireless Reach program. We look at how can we build a diverse talent pipeline? Because we know we’ll do better when we have really a lot of different opinions coming to the table. We have a really robust STEM education program. Then what can we do from an environmental social governance perspective to be a responsible corporate citizen and really drive some of those environmental and social targets.

John: I should have asked this earlier, because you brought up a great point for our listeners and viewers. Given that I’ve spent a good amount of time down in San Diego over the last 25 years, I got to know Qualcomm because of the San Diego presence. But how big is Qualcomm, obviously, and like you said, it powers so many of the great technologies that we all enjoy that make our lives more fun, more interesting, and better overall. But talk a little bit about size. How big is Qualcomm and how many employees, and where is your footprint? Because that’s also very interesting when we try to understand how you got your arms around both corporate responsibility and sustainability as well.

Angela: Yeah, so we’re a Fortune 100 company where I don’t have the latest numbers, but somewhere around 45,000 people, globally. We have offices all over the world. San Diego is our headquarters, but we do have 3 manufacturing sites in Germany, in China, and in Singapore. We have a really robust supply chain. When you think of semiconductors have been in the news a lot lately, so we work with Samsung and TSMC. We work with all of the brands that you know.

We’re powering most of the mobile phones. We were really important in the technology of the development of CDMA 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G. We’ve been working on all of those technologies and we spend a ton of money on research and development because we know we need to be ahead of the curve to create those technologies. We’ve already got people working on 6G. 5G is still rolling out across the world. So, we are powering all of those solutions, and it’s my job and the job of my team, I think, to look at how those solutions can be used for that human impact.

But, certainly, there’s a number of engineers that are looking at what are those use cases? How can this technology be leveraged? How can we build chips that are able to process a lot of information and a lot of data, but be more power efficient so we’re not driving up energy, those types of things. That’s, I think, how we approach it.

John: Do the issues of both procurement and diversion roll up underneath you as well in terms of supply chain issues with regards to how you buy, how you also divert waste? You got the factories, you also have a lot of people and a lot of different places around the world. Is that issues that roll up underneath you as well?

Angela: I would say the issues roll up, but we have a whole procurement team, and that’s headed by our SVP of Procurement. We have our quality team and we have folks that work directly with the supply chain, with a Chief Supply Chain Officer. I think we work really closely with our facilities team because they’re the ones who are responsible for all of the energy we’re procuring. But we’re helping to work with them to drive the procurement of renewables.

I would say we work very cross-functionally. We work very closely with the human resources team, diversity, and all of those types of initiatives. But human resources needs to drive that because they’re the ones that are in charge of recruiting and those types of things. But we work very closely. We’re looking at all this regulation that’s coming and all of those types of things to help inform where the company goes as well.

John: Yeah, that’s a fascinating point you bring about regulation. Given the diversity of Qualcomm, but the fact that you’re a Fortune 100 company with 45,000 or so employees all around the world, including manufacturing facilities, as you point out, what about regulation now coming? The SEC is coming out with their regs, the EU, Asia’s coming out with their own set of specs and regs. Is there a need for, and are people like you working on the harmonization of these regulations to create more consistency and more predictability with regards to how sustainability and ESG is going to be graded and marked?

Angela: So the short answer is yes. I think this is probably what most ESG teams are spending their time on right now. If you pulled a hundred sustainability officers, I bet they would say, “Yeah, that’s what we spend most of my time on right now.” I think that there is a place for regulation. I think that there is a need because they need companies to put data out. I don’t know that there’ll be harmonization, because in the US, the SEC, that’ll go on our financial filing in the US. In Europe, some of it will go in the financial filing in Europe, some of it will go in just publicly disclosed.

And Europe is much broader. The regulation that’s coming out of there is much broader than just environment. They’re looking at all ESG. They’re looking at governance and social and all of those things. As you said, Asia and there’s countries in South America that are looking at it as well. I think it’s important for companies too. What it’s doing is forcing companies to build really robust processes around these types of reports that they put out this type of data. There’s also this voluntary disclosures that companies have been doing. Who knows what happens with that now with all these regulations that are coming our way. I do spend a bulk of my time on it, and I think it’s going to be informing. It’s going to force companies, I think, to really focus on the issues that really matter to them, because there’s no way to do everything. It’s just it will be impossible.

John: It’s absolutely true. For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Angela Baker with us today. She’s the VP of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Qualcomm. To find Angela and all her colleagues working on sustainability and corporate responsibility, please go to Angela, talk a little bit about digital transformation as a tool for sustainable outcomes.

Angela: I think technology really can be a game changer. If you look at the ICT industry globally, we’re about 2% of global emissions. So there’s lots of other industries that are much higher emitters. But we have the ability through our technologies to reduce by about 15%. That’s what’s projected. That’s through things like AI or 5G or whatever connecting. Building things on top of these foundational technologies. I think it’s really important for technology companies or companies that have tools that can be leveraged by others to achieve their net zero targets or to connect people for that S piece. To work together and to help build those cross collaborations or those partnerships.

If we think about things like the sustainable development goals and all of those 17 goals that roll up through there. We are looking at a lot of things at Qualcomm. We commissioned a report about a year and a half ago around just 5G, for example, and what we think that will do in terms of reducing emissions. You can think of having smart water meters in your house just to optimize water usage. Maybe you’re showering too long, maybe you have a leak somewhere that’s causing over water use. You can think of smart agriculture and things like drones and machine learning so that you can say not for large farmers or small farmers can, “Not over water,” or they can use fewer pesticides. Because they’d be able to monitor and they’ll have much more data coming their way. I think there’s a lot of solutions like that out there, and there’s a lot of folks that are working on it. Again, Qualcomm’s building those foundational technologies, but other people build on top of those.

John: Understood.

Angela: I think the potential is vast. I think we just need to look at what can have the most impact and build those partnerships together for what it could be. It could be something like fixed wireless access, which is going to help reach, it’s going to help bring connectivity to either super dense urban areas or that last mile remote areas where people don’t have connectivity. Because I think there’s something like still 37% of the people in the world don’t have access to connectivity and millions more don’t have reliable connectivity.

If you think about the way you or I use our phone, or I have a connected thermostat in my house, I’m assuming, you have pretty reliable internet where you live. I have very reliable internet. So, we’re building technologies that can help other people in other parts of the world also have that same access. Then from there, they can build those types of solutions, whether it’s education, being able to work from home, access to your health data, access to your banking data, or building solutions that will be more sustainable in the long run. I think there’s so many opportunities.

John: Stuff that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis here in the United States.

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Angela: Absolutely, and in many parts of the world.

John: In many parts of the world. But then leading into that, talk a little bit about how Qualcomm empowers underserved communities with your Wireless Reach program then?

Angela: Yeah, so I think we are, as I said a little bit in the beginning, looking at how these technologies that we’re building can really be leveraged for social and economic impact globally. We are very targeted in the way that we’re approaching these grants. We don’t want to just send a bunch of technology to people and have them say like, “Well thanks, but we’re not going to use it.” We really want to work with partners on what makes sense for their solutions? For example, we have a number of projects that are around virtual reality for teacher training or virtual reality for students.

We’ve got programs with fishermen and fisherwomen and helping use things like GPS, make sure they’re not crossing into international waters, or make sure they’re not overfishing in certain areas. We have programs for women entrepreneurs to get to expand their markets, and to help whether it’s using their phone or using other technologies to help grow their markets, connect them with other entrepreneurs who can help them on their journey.

Qualcomm’s got a lot of technologies like connected vehicle to everything, which is having your phone talk to pedestrians, having your car talk to pedestrians, your car talk to traffic lights, your car talk to other cars. We’re working on a pilot in California with that right now for emergency vehicles, and so we can help reduce accidents and it can help make you’re driving the best logistical route. So you’re getting to whomever you’re trying to save more quickly and more efficiently. Looking at all of those types of technologies, and we work with local entities, usually, and we fund, we give grants.

So the Qualcomm funds, and then we also lend project expertise, engineering expertise where needed. Figuring out what technological solution is the best, and then working with them over the course of usually several years to help grow these programs, with the ultimate goal of making the program sustainable. Because we don’t want to be in the business of funding it forever. Obviously, we’re a corporation, we’re not a nonprofit, so we work with them to help them get sustainable. But, again, these organizations, like they have the expertise, they’ve been doing the work. They’re on the ground, they’re local, they know what the community needs are. We’re just trying to help with dollars and technology.

John: You’ve been doing this for 5 years or so, does Qualcomm produce a sustainability or an impact report every year?

Angela: We do. I think for 16 years we published a report. We call it the Corporate Responsibility Report. It’s undergone a few names, and our next one is expected to publish in February. We’re working on it right now.

John: That lives in perpetuity on your site?

Angela: It does. You can find all of our previous reports. There’s a bunch of documents because there’s all of these acronyms, as you said, the TCFD filing, our Carbon Disclosure Project, CDP filing, all of those types of things. Yeah, they live on the website.

John: That’s great. Talk a little bit about the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab program.

Angela: Yeah, so this is a homegrown program that started, I want to say, 2014 with the ultimate goal of reaching diverse or traditionally underserved kids in STEM. So it started in San Diego. We actually had it in our headquarters in San Diego, and the goal was to bring all 7th graders in San Diego to Qualcomm’s campus so they could experience Qualcomm, and they could see how the engineering design process works. And they could look at these things called strengths, interest, and values. What are your strengths, what are your interests, and what are your values? And what kind of engineering or STEM career could you get with that? Because I think, traditionally, people think like, “I could be an engineer and I could do this one type of work.” But as you and I know, there’s a ton of things you could do with a STEM career.

So introducing kids to what are these potential careers that are out there? What kinds of things can they work on? What kinds of skills do you need to get them? Do your strengths match up with those skills? Then really letting them get in and get their hands dirty around the engineering design process and building projects that almost always have a social impact tie. It could be environmental. They’re getting in and they’re using servos, they’re using our Duinos, and they’re building it and then creating a project that is relevant for their life. We do this in a number of sites across the US. Right now, it’s primarily a US program, and obviously, we hire a lot of workers from all around the world and we’re working with the US government as well to build up the US’s talent pool.

The program’s been very successful. Right now we have 2 teachers working for us that are running it. They obviously have the expertise about how to work in the classroom and how to speak to teachers and what those needs are. So, it’s been really great. In the program, we have worked with a number of university partners, Virginia Tech, University of Michigan, and a lot of school districts as well.

John: The race to decarbonization has really accelerated with the Investment Recovery Act and other type of DOE driven grants and loans and things of that such. Where does Qualcomm sit in that in terms of did you create some decarb goals for the company? And how is that working for you as well?

Angela: We do. We have a net zero target by 2040. It just got approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative, which we’re very proud of.

John: Wow, congrats.

Angela: We were one of the first large cap semiconductor companies, actually, to put a net zero target out, and it’s 10 years ahead of Paris. We have interim goals 2030, 50% reduction, Scope 1 and 2 by 2030, and 25% reduction Scope 3. It’s really hard to get your hands around Scope 3, so we are working on it. We are 100% renewable for our purchased electricity for our headquarters in San Diego, and part of our mapping towards of how to get to net zero obviously includes renewable procurement. So we’re looking at our top operational markets, Europe, Singapore, and looking at getting renewables in those markets. Some of them easier than others, obviously. Some of those very expensive and hard to get.

But that’s a huge part of our plan in an effort to get to net zero, and I think we’ll continue to do it where we can. If we have to buy RECs, that’s a second option. We don’t do any offsets, but if we have to buy some renewable energy credits tied to actual projects, we look to do that in the interim until some of these larger projects that we’re going to be funding come online. We can actually get wind, solar electricity that way.

John: Given that sustainability, there’s no real finish line, Angela, and it’s really just a journey. Where do you feel like you are on the journey at Qualcomm now? If this was a baseball game, is it the top of the second? Is it the bottom of the fourth? Where’s the journey lie and what are you most excited about in the coming years ahead?

Angela: I feel like we have been doing this for so long and we are in the first inning. I just think there’s so much work to do, and I think it’s really important for companies to do this. I think customers and consumers are really looking for companies to be responsible corporate citizens. There is so much now that goes under ESG, it’s become this all encompassing thing. We can argue whether or not that’s good or bad, but definitely, it’s got a lot of issues that roll up under it. Even if you look at the EU corporate sustainability reporting directive, there’s like 10 subcategories in there, and they’re all categories that make sense, probably, most of them for every company.

But there’s so much due diligence and reporting that companies are going to have to do in addition to driving programs and driving progress and decarbonizing and looking at diversity within their own workforce and making sure they’re having fair supply chain and doing due diligence for things like human rights risks. And building technologies or building products, whatever the company makes that are sustainable or use recyclable materials or aren’t harming people. All these types of things, those all go under ESG. I really feel like there’s so much work every day. I’m very excited by it.

I would love to have a team like 10 times the size of the team that I have. But I think the team is really committed. That’s the best thing. They’re so good, they’re so passionate all across social impact and the ESG team, and I think there’s a lot of work to be done. But I think people are up for it.

John: Let’s talk about sustainability. As you just said, ESG, I’m a huge fan of Larry Finks, and of course, BlackRock’s. Yes, I agree with you 5000% that that was a clarion call when he wrote his letter about the importance of ESG. But, unfortunately, like so many other things in this great country of ours, it’s become somewhat politicized and polarizing itself in order to de-stigmatize it.

And also just to go back just to the real true roots of sustainability, talk a little bit about sustainability as a compelling reason to do it for business purposes? Because part of, to me, the classic definition of being sustainable is having a sustainable company because you can’t go make the world a better place unless you’re still around. Sustainability for business, do you have a couple of good examples that you’re excited to talk about that would show why sustainability is compelling just from a true business perspective?

Angela: Yeah, I could probably talk your ear off about it. First of all, this can’t be understated, but I think this is a huge retention tool. I think a lot of people say like, “Yeah, Gen Z really cares about it.” But I really care about it and I’m not in Gen Z and I’m not a Millennial, but I really care about sustainability. I want to work for a company that takes these things seriously, so I think it’s a recruitment and it’s a retention tool. and I think that’s going to be they can’t be understated.

John: Good point.

Angela: Younger people today move around more. They don’t stay at jobs for 20 years. I wouldn’t recommend that they do. So if you’re a young person listening, I wouldn’t recommend that you do that. But I think they want to go somewhere where they can feel good about what the company’s doing and they want to work on those issues. For a company like Qualcomm, we build semiconductors or we design semiconductors, and it is in our interest to build the most power-efficient technologies that we can, because that is a competitive advantage for us against our peers. So that is more sustainable.

If you look at what goes into, let’s say, just a handset or a phone, a lot of those emissions are coming from the build, from the casing, the glass, maybe the battery. It’s not necessarily a ton coming from the semiconductor or the processor, however, it’s still a function of emissions. It still has an emissions footprint. So anything we can do to reduce that also makes us more competitive when companies are deciding what semiconductors to use. That’s, one, it’s a selling point. I think now because of these regulations, a lot of companies are looking down their supply chain, and we are in a lot of companies supply chain. We’re in automotive supply chain, we’re in handset manufacturer supply chain. So we’re going to have to do it because our customers are going to be asking for it. Honestly, if you’re decarbonizing, you’re probably operating more efficiently.

There might be a big CapEx or OpEx purchase upfront, but in the end, you’re probably going to be paying less for energy. I think any CFO is going to say, “Well, we’d like operating more efficiently and paying less.” It makes sense from a business perspective. If you’re doing things in a more efficient way, then it makes sense from a business perspective and you can sell it on the dollar amount. It’s just hard right now with the volatility of energy costs, and of course some of these introduction costs to bring renewable projects online. On our campus, we have 3 co-generators, and we’re phasing those out. So, we have to move to renewable because those are brown energy right now. But in the long run, I don’t think it’s going to break even. It’s not going to matter either way, and it’s better for the earth. It’s like a win-win.

John: Where do you find your inspiration and your benchmarking from outside of your industry, Angela? Where do you get inspired from other brands and other organizations that are doing great work in corporate responsibility and sustainability?

Angela: There’s so many people doing so many things and it’s almost overwhelming because you get inundated by information. I think obviously everybody can point to like the obvious ones, like the Unilevers or the Patagonias or all of those types of things. I think it’s really encouraging, and as we look at our Scope 3 and all of those types of things, just working with our partners to figure out what is the best solution? I don’t have like one company that I could hold up because I think a lot of companies are doing really good things, but nobody has it all figured out. I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. I know you said before that you have a lot of young people that listen and I think the good news is almost every company is looking at ESG, so there’s the ability to get in and make an impact.

John: It’s so true. Well, Angela, I just want to say thank you for sharing your time and your wisdom with us today. It’s so interesting to hear about what Qualcomm’s doing in corporate responsibility and sustainability. As we know, this is just a journey, so I just want to welcome you back on the show anytime you want to share your continued journey in sustainability and corporate responsibility at Qualcomm. For our listeners and viewers, to find Angela and her colleagues on all the great and important work they’re doing at corporate responsibility and sustainability and ESG, please go to Angela, thanks again for your time today, and I just want to say thank you and to Qualcomm for making the world a better place.

Angela: Thanks so much, John. Thanks for giving a platform to these important issues. I really appreciate it.

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