Effective sustainability tool for Etisalat Nigeria



The concept of sustainability has become a household concept especially in the business community as there is a growing concern about the increasing deterioration of the human environment and natural resources as businesses strive to ensure economic development (Weybrecht, 2010: 13).

The Nigerian telecommunication industry is classified as the fastest growing market in Africa, relegating South Africa to the second place with a total of 61 million subscribers and a continuous growth is expected over the next five years to trigger the level of competition among the service providers currently operating in the market (Pundit, 2009: 1). In 2008, the Nigerian telecom market grew by 23 percent, generating total revenue of about $8.4 billion (Pundit, 2009: 1). Furthermore, based on the fact that the mobile subscriber penetration is just 42 percent, it is expected that the total revenue from telecommunication will increase from $8.42 billion in 2008 to $11.14 billion in 2013 (Pundit, 2009: 1).

Etisalat Nigeria is a brand name that is used by a UAE-based conglomerate and operates in telecom, satellite communications, cable TV, education, IT and other related communication services and infrastructure operations (Etisalat Nigeria, 2010: 1). It launched its services in the Nigerian telecommunication industry in 2008, making it the third fixed-line and fifth mobile-phone operator. In Its three years of operations, it has been competing for market share with MTN, ZAIN and GLOBACOM who were the first entrant into the market (Okoegwale, 2009: 1).

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In less than two years of its operation in the dynamic and highly competitive nature of the Nigeria telecommunication industry, Etisalat Nigeria has attained a 5 million subscriber base to its network (WAM, 2010: 1). This is attributed to the fact that Etisalat Nigeria has network coverage in all the 36 states in the country as well as the Federal capital territory (WAM, 2010: 1).

However, the increase in the network coverage area for Etisalat Nigeria demanded the installation of telecommunication masts around the country and sustainability issues surrounding the installation of these masts close to residential houses, schools and market places has been a major cause of concern to the people (Opara and Popoola, 2010: 1).

Therefore, this document will outline the sustainability measure that Etisalat Nigeria can adopt in the installation of its telecommunication masts to reduce the effects on the environment and the health of the people as it tries to further increase its subscriber base and coverage area.

Concept of sustainability

The concept of sustainability has over the years become a subject of interest for so many people as a result of the increasing environmental issues arising from human activities in trying to ensure economic development around the world and the need to find solutions to the issues (Hagedorn and Lütteken 2010: 1). Therefore, there is no one definition for sustainability as different people view it in different ways. However, some of the definitions available in literature include;

According to Heintz (2004: 1) "Sustainability is a concept that describes a dynamic condition of complex systems, particularly the biosphere of Earth and the human socio-economic system within it".

Hueting and Reijnders (1998:1) describe sustainability "as the use of the vital functions (possible uses) of our biophysical surroundings in such a way that they remain indefinitely available".

However, the most common definition of sustainability is that of the Brundthland report (1987) cited in (Weybrecht, 2010: 13), it states that "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

MTN Nigeria which is the leading brand in the Nigerian telecommunication industry describes sustainability as "ensuring air and water pollution prevention, land management, management of unique flora, forests, water and wildlife, a clean and healthy environment for all employees, shareholders, customers, contractors, the community and other interested parties, herewith referred to as stakeholders" (MTN, 2010: 1).

TeliaSonia (2010: 1) describes sustainability as "the ability to strive to minimize the environmental impact of our own operations while we can help customers by providing solutions to reduce their environmental impact".

Etisalat Nigeria (2010: 1) describes sustainability as "create value through sustainable products and services, minimize our environmental impact, and contribute to the wellbeing of the overall society, while ensuring that the ability of our stakeholders to meet their needs and aspiration is not compromised".

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The above definition shows that telecommunication service providers also recognise the need for sustainable business practises and they develop the goals and objectives of the company around it to differentiate their products from competitors.

Some of the roles Etisalat Nigeria is playing to ensure sustainable development include;

ECO SIMs: In recent years, Etisalat Nigeria has reduced the amount of plastic used in the manufacturing of its SIM cards by 50% and as such its CO2 emission per card has reduced from 16g to 8g (Etisalat Nigeria, 2010: 1).

Delivery package: Etisalat Nigeria has also developed an environmental friendly delivery envelops that is made up of 100% recycled fibers and it's printed with vegetable-based inks (Etisalat Nigeria, 2010: 1).

Partnership: Etisalat Nigeria has also fostered its green initiative and desire for sustainable development by partnering with credible institutions, organizations as well as the government (Etisalat Nigeria, 2010: 1).

Sustainability risk and opportunity for Etisalat Nigeria

As Etisalat Nigeria continues to expand and increase its market share in the highly dynamic and competitive market of the Nigerian telecommunication industry, there are various issues that pose as risks or opportunities that needs to be address in other for it to achieve sustainable development. Some of the risks include;

Mobile device, Masts and health: This is one of the biggest risks that any telecommunication service provider has to deal with as there has been an increasing worry of the health effects mobile device and masts have on their stakeholders (TeliaSonia, 2009: 1).

Environmental impact, climate change: This also pose a challenge to Etisalat Nigeria as its operations requires energy generation which in turn increases it greenhouse gases emission and contribution to climate change (TeliaSonia, 2009: 1).

Hazardous waste: There is also the risk of hazardous waste that is generated from the upgrades of the network and the dismantling of old poles. Other materials from the upgrades that could be classified as hazardous waste are batteries, lamps and cables (TeliaSonia, 2009: 1).

Some of the opportunities include;

Use of renewable energy: The use of renewable energy can serve as one of the important opportunities for Etisalat Nigeria to differentiate its products from other competitors as there is inadequate power supply in the country and the need for companies to develop sustainable means of powering their transmitting plants (TeliaSonia, 2009: 1).

Handling waste: Waste management can also be an opportunity for Etisalat Nigeria as it can develop means of re-using and recycling some of its waste so as to reduce its costs and impact on the environment (TeliaSonia, 2009: 1).

Environmental protection: Etisalat Nigeria can be very instrumental in helping its customers through the provision of effective telecommunication services to increase their productivity and energy efficiency as a result of travel minimization which will also reduce CO2 emission, time savings and cost efficiency (TeliaSonia, 2009: 1).

Sustainability audit for Etisalat Nigeria

One of the activities of Etisalat Nigeria that doesn't adhere completely to the principle of sustainability is the indiscriminate installation of telecommunication service masts around the country to improve its network coverage area. In a recent development, members of a community protested against Etisalat Nigeria and called for them to discontinue the installation of a telecommunication mast because of the close proximity of the mast to their houses and the claim that an Environmental Impact Assessment was not conducted (Point blank news, 2010).

The Nigerian Communication Commission which is the regulatory body of the telecommunication industry has stated that the installation of telecommunication masts should be at least 50m from residential houses, schools and market places to reduce the effects on the people (Agbo and Nnadi, 2010: 1). However, recent research has shown that Etisalat Nigeria and other telecommunication service providers in Nigeria install their masts within 5m to 30m from residential houses, schools and market places and as such exposing the people to serious health risks (Agbo and Nnadi, 2010: 1).

Section 136 (3) (d) of the Nigerian Communication Commission Act of 2003 states that "All licensees shall, in connection with the installation of their respective network facilities, take all reasonable steps to - protect the environment". Therefore by law it is important that Etisalat Nigeria ensures that the installation of it telecommunication masts are done in a manner that recognises the social and environment effects.

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In recent times in Nigeria, both the schooled and unschooled believes that the continuous accumulation of telecommunication masts emissions in the human body for a long period of time can pose a serious health problem to the people that live close to the telecommunication masts (Okonji, 2010: 1). This has made so many people to refuse the installation of telecommunication masts close to their houses because of the increasing level of awareness on their impact on human health.

Furthermore, the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) have been shutting down masts and base stations of telecommunication companies around the country because of their non-compliance with the Environmental Impact Assessment requirement (Opara and Popoola, 2010: 1). In a Value Fronteria Reports (2009), the NESREA stopped Etisalat Nigeria from installing a telecommunication mast in Emekuku, near owerri because the mast was too close to a residential building.

In a recent development, the agency also shut down a telecommunication mast in Abuja belonging to Etisalat Nigeria because it is believed that the service provider did not obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment certificate before installing the mast (Odu, 2010).

Therefore, the main sustainability risk that Etisalat Nigeria needs to tackle in other not to jeopardize its name in the Nigerian telecommunication industry is the indiscriminate installation of telecommunication masts close to residential houses, schools and market places with conducting a proper EIA.


Effects of telecommunication Masts

Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence on the ill effects on the human health from the electromagnetic emissions from telecommunication masts, it is believed that if the radiations are not controlled and limited it can cause environmental pollution and ill health to the people that live around the telecommunication masts (Agbo and Nnadi, 2010: 1).

In a recent study, it shows that in the past two years, 34 people out of the 50 people that live in a small community called Wishaw Warwick have made medical complaints and 5 of the women diagnosed with breast cancer and two with tumor live within one mile from the telecommunication mast (Agbo and Nnadi, 2010: 1). Some medical experts are also of the believe that the exposure to the emission from telecommunication masts can lead to increased risk in illnesses sure as cancer, headaches, dizziness, amnesia, and epilepsy (Opara and Popoola, 2010: 1).

According to a report by Kohli (2010) cited in Agbo and Nnadi, (2010), "The electromagnetic radiations from the towers generate heat and kill micro organisms present in the soil near it. This in turn harms those organisms that feed on them and it disturbs the ecological cycle". According to Telegraph UK (2010) cited in Agbo and Nnadi, (2010) "residents of a Hamlet near a mobile telephone mast have recorded high levels of illness, including seven cases of cancer, raising fresh concerns over the safety of the transmitters".

Furthermore, the indiscriminate installation of the common steel towers/masts by GSM service providers in conservation and scenic areas in Nigeria is detrimental to environmental quality; visual amenities and it also cause disorder on the skyline and aesthetic value (Yusuf, 2009: 1). Also, the sound from the generator sets to power the telecommunication masts because of the inadequate electricity supply in the country pose as a serious noise pollution to neighborhood (Odu, 2010).

Although, the World Health Organization has stated that it has no conclusive proof among the scientists and medical community, it has recommended that a precautionary measure should be taken concerning the health effects of telecommunication masts on the people (Yusuf, 2009: 1). According to the WHO (2009) cited in Yusuf (2009), the precautionary principle is a "risk management policy applied in circumstances with a high degree of scientific uncertainty, reflecting the need to take action for a potentially serious risk without awaiting the results of scientific research".

Therefore, GSM operators must comply with the worldwide precautionary principles as it concerns the installation of telecommunication masts in other to ensure the safety of public health and achieve sustainable development despite the inadequate monitoring by the regulatory agency in Nigeria (Yusuf, 2009: 1).

Sustainability tool for Etisalat Nigeria

The sustainability tool that Etisalat Nigeria can use to control the protest of stakeholders from the installation of their telecommunication masts in their communities, reduce its impact on the environment and to improve on its corporate social responsibility to its stakeholders is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The lack of proper EIA in the installation of its telecommunication masts is the major reason why its masts are usually shut down by the regulatory agency (Odu, 2010).

There is no precise definition for the Environmental Impact Assessment because of the various interpretations different people have about it. However, it has turned out to be an important tool in ensuring sustainability as the level of development is increasing around the world (Weaver, 2005:1).

According to Munn (1979:1) EIA is described "as an activity designed to identify and predict the impact of an action on the bio-geophysical environment and on man's health and well-being, and to interpret and communicate information about the impacts".

Wood (1995:1) defines "Environmental Impact Assessment as the evaluation of the effects likely to arise from major project (or other action) significantly affects the natural and man-made environment".

According to Aucamp (2009:5) Environmental Impact Assessment can be described "as a systematic process to identify alternatives to and the potential positive and negative impacts of both the proposed activity and the feasible alternatives on the environment (biophysical, socio-economic and cultural)".

According to Moorman and Ge (2006:4) "EIA is an attempt to improve the quality of human life in a lasting way by examining and documenting the potential environmental impacts of a proposed activity and also consider alternatives that may prevent or mitigate any perceived negative effects, thereby enabling fully informed, environmentally conscious decision-making".

From the above definitions, it is eminent that Etisalat Nigeria requires conducting an EIA to identify the possibility of an effect on the Health of the people and the general environment before the installation of its telecommunication masts close to residential homes, schools and market places (Yusuf, 2009: 1).

It is also a requirement by law that an EIA is needed for any developmental project that might have any environment effect. Section 2 (1) of the Nigerian EIA Act of 1992 states that "The public or private sector of the economy shall not undertake or embark on public or authorize projects or activities without prior consideration, at an early stages, of their environmental effects". Section 2 (2) of the same Act also states that "Where the extent, nature or location of a proposed project or activity is such that is likely to significantly affect the environment, its environmental impact assessment shall be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of this Decree". Therefore, by legislation, an EIA is supposed to be conducted before an activity like the installation of telecommunication masts is carried out.

Implementation strategy of Environmental Impact Assessment for Etisalat Nigeria

The implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment in businesses development project is usually the problem in the process. Despite the fact that it is a legislative requirement, companies try to boycott it even though they know that their activities pose a threat to the environment (Weaver, 2005: 4). It is therefore important to note that EIA is not just a legislative requirement and to ensure donor compliance but to ensure that business activities are in alignment with the principles of sustainable development (Weaver, 2005: 4). Some of the key components that can ensure effective implementation of EIA in Etisalat Nigeria and to avoid the continuous shutting down of it base stations/masts around the country include;

Monitoring: This is one of the most important parts in the EIA process. An effective monitoring will provide Etisalat Nigeria's managers with information that will assist decision makers so that a project (telecommunication masts) will have least impact on the people and the environment (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007). There are 3 types of monitoring for environmental data collections;

Baseline monitoring: This is a pre-audit study that is conducted based on some basic environmental parameters in the area where the project is intended before the commencement. It gives a baseline for monitoring the changes of those parameters over time (UNESCAP, 2003: 1).

Impact monitoring: This requires the measurement during the project construction and the operational phase of the biophysical and socio-economic parameters within the project area to determine if there are changes in the environment as a result of the project implementation (UNESCAP, 2003: 1).

Compliance monitoring: In other for a project to comply with recommended environmental protection standards, there has to be a continuous recording of environmental quality indicators and pollution (UNESCAP, 2003: 1).

Evaluation: It helps to appraise the level of accuracy and authenticity of the predicted environmental consequences of the developmental project and to determine a mitigation measure that will be effective to reduce the adverse effects of the project (installation of telecommunication masts) (Devuyst, 2000: 1). The evaluation process also helps to ensure the conformance to predictions, standards or expectations in the developmental project that will enable its environmental performance (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007).

Management: This is an important stage in the EIA process. It enables management of Etisalat Nigeria to make decisions and take necessary actions from the issues arising in the Monitoring and evaluation process (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007). Management of Etisalat Nigeria can ensure the integration of environmental considerations into the decision making process and to ensure that its installation of telecommunication masts are in relations to sustainable economic development (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007).

Communication: The recent protest by a community in Lagos on the installation of an Etisalat mast was basically because of lack of communication (Point blank news, 2010). This will help the management of Etisalat Nigeria to inform and educate the stakeholders about the result of the EIA process and provide feedbacks of the planned installation of telecommunication mast in the community (Morrison-Saunders et al., 2007). Hence it will help Etisalat Nigeria to develop a relationship and avoid protest by its stakeholders.


It is difficult for businesses to distinguish between environmental and social challenges around sustainability because of the fact that a problem caused by one will lead to the consequence of the other (Weybrecht, 2010: 15). The intermingling nature of the three components of sustainability (Economic, Social and environment) demands that businesses view the world as a system and develop strategies that will help to build the system a lot better instead of damaging it (Weybrecht, 2010: 13). Therefore, Etisalat Nigeria has the choice to build on the name it has developed over time as a reliable service provider or destroy it by engaging in activities that are not sustainable.