Vertical Bridge, the largest privately-owned communications infrastructure company in the U.S., achieved its goal of becoming 100% carbon neutral – the first telecom tower company in the world to do so.
The Boca Raton, Florida-based REIT announced Thursday that it’s officially certified as carbon neutral in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol.
Vertical Bridge Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Operations Bernard Borghei told FierceWireless that the achievement marks the latest step in its ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) program and is an evolution of earlier efforts the company undertook over the last four to five years.
However, heavy calculations of business operations impact on its carbon-neutral goal began in January. Around February Borghei, working with Natural Capital Partners, assessed and calculated the carbon footprint from activities like the number of employee flights taken, miles driven, office energy consumption and emissions from operation and construction of towers, as well as ways to mitigate those.
As part of Vertical Bridge’s carbon-lowering efforts, it's opting for more energy efficient and environmentally safer technologies as it upgrades HVACs, aviation lighting systems and generators. It’s also guided field operations teams to be more efficient with travel route planning by completing multiple visits and inspections in a single trip rather than several, Borghei noted.
Like many in the industry, he said Vertical Bridge went full force on replacing old aviation lighting systems on towers with LEDs to reduce power consumption. It was one of the first to endorse and start deploying bird-friendly lighting systems.
“We really wanted to set the record that you have this corporate citizenship obligation and that as technology improves and you can use it to be a better citizen within our communities [then] we should do that,” Borghei said.
Of course, with the scale of Vertical Bridge’s portfolio (it owns, operates and master leases more than 269,000 tower, rooftop, billboard, utility attachment and other site locations for wireless network deployments), there are some emissions that are just unavoidable at this time. For now, electricity consumption at its sites and offices remain the largest contributor to unavoidable emissions, though as mentioned, Vertical has worked to reduce energy usage.
By way of offsetting those unavoidable CO2 emissions, Vertical Bridge is supporting four projects in North America that reduce and remove greenhouse gases. Support comes in terms of purchasing carbon emission offsetting credits as they relate to each individual project, Borghei explained.
The projects include the Grasslands Portfolio, which preserves grasslands across Colorado and Montana to lock carbon into the soil and avoid emission from conversion to agriculture; Seneca Meadows Landfill Gas, which reduces the environmental impact of landfills; The Mississippi Valley Reforestation, which reforests more than 2.4 million acres of native woodland; and DarkWoods Forest Conservation that protects 156,00 acres of Boreal forests in Canada from subdivision and high-impact logging.
5G deployments good for towers, won’t stop carbon-neutral efforts
With an expected increase in infrastructure deployments needed to support an anticipated ramp in 5G rollouts and continued densification of carriers’ networks, it appears the need for power won’t be slowing down.T-Mobile is upgrading its 5G network with new spectrum and Dish Network is preparing to build a brand new nationwide 5G network.
To that point, Vertical Bridge, along with public tower companies American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA, presented at a recent investor conference, during which the tone included “positive and growing enthusiasm” for tower revenue catalysts, according to a Thursday research note by Wells Fargo analysts. The team, led by senior analyst Jennifer Fritzsche, wrote that fundamental growth drivers for towers are intact medium to long term, given the amount of spectrum that needs to be deployed.
“While the tower cos were light on TMUS ramp and Dish details, their optimism for an activity ramp in 2H20 was high, and all appeared confident that Dish was going to show up in a meaningful way,” wrote Fritzsche.
Even with a 5G ramp though, Borghei said Vertical Bridge feels very comfortable in the ability to maintain its carbon neutral status now that the company knows what of its actions create the most emissions, and how to take action to reduce.
“We’re committed to remaining a certified footprint neutral from today on, until the last day Vertical Bridge is around,” he said.
Main tenants, including major carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, have all made their own commitments to reduce environmental impact and achieve carbon neutrality.
“We’re proud of everything we accomplished and sincerely hope our peers and partners in the sector follow today’s [announcement],” he said. “It would be great for an industry that’s changing and transforming life with the coming of 5G to also set its leadership position with ESG initiatives.”
While limiting its environmental footprint is a worthy cause on its own, it’s brought additional benefits. For example, changing the aviation lights to LED reduced energy usage, which results in cost savings.
“Not only was it the right thing to do, but it lowered our operational expenses,” Borghei said. The tower company also replaced generators, swapping out diesel fuel for propane, and has made access land at its sites available to companies that deploy renewable energy platforms.
Vertical Bridge lowers expenses each time it upgrades to cleaner technologies, but the efforts also brings culture value as well, according to Borghei. “Our employees really appreciate this, when they see continuous commitment to doing what is right as a company, it is a massively motivating factor for people who work for us.”
He added that it’s time for corporations to show that it’s possible to be profitable and grow, without sacrificing social responsibility.
To that end, on Monday, Vertical Bridge announced what Borghei categorized as a “very successful securitization,” where it issued $534 million of Secured Tower Revenue Notes in a private asset-backed securitization (ABS) deal. Borghei said the ABS, which is Vertical Bridge’s fifth successful and largest securitization to-date, was well received and oversubscribed by 10 times.
It was the first non-traditional ABS since the ABS market shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and notes were collateralized by nearly 2,800 tower sites across 49 states and Puerto Rico.
“It showed one more time that the investors and the financial community understand the stability of the continuous growth opportunities within the tower sector,” he added. “It also speaks to the performance and execution of all of us in Vertical Bridge that we’ve managed to put together a massively scaled and successful portfolio that’s always attractive to the investors.”