BT: Making a Net Zero impact
The clock is ticking. Experts have set a timeline of just 30 years for the world to reach net zero, with large companies coming under increasing pressure to decrease their carbon emissions.
For execs at major tech companies, they have not only their own emissions to consider, but also the emissions of their many customers, and many suppliers, as part of their overall impact.
BT’s Tiffany Chow brings over a decade of experience advising and working in-house for corporations, governments, and regulators on sustainability strategy and innovation, to her role as head of climate change at BT. Speaking at the Tech to Net Zero conference in London, she outlined how a dominant telecoms company like BT is working towards becoming more environmentally friendly.
Chow emphasised that sustainability is not a new conversation for BT, but has been a part of the incumbent telecoms firm’s corporate strategy for years – “our core purpose is to connect for good and we have a goal that by 2030, we want to be the world’s most trusted connector of people, machines, and devices.”
A tall order, Chow says, but one that is supported by one of BT’s three pillars in its responsible business framework and strategy – a bright and sustainable future, looking at how BT can be more responsible in how it procures its materials, considering human rights for example, and looking at being more inclusive and wanting to diversify its talent, such as gender or ethnicity.
“I think it’s really important that sustainability is embedded in corporate strategy,” she added.
BT’s priorities on how it plans to tackle climate change fall into five areas.
Firstly, it wants to become a completely net zero business. Goals include that by 2030, BT’s company’s emissions (also known as scope one and scope two emissions) intensity will have reduced by 87%. It also wants its supply chain and customer emissions to be completely net zero by 2040.
Secondly, BT is prioritising its customer and abatement and emission avoidance targets. What this means is that it is looking at how it can actively prevent and avoid creating new and more carbon emissions through its customers. Chow said that BT definitely sees how “tech enables the climate transition, and that we want to help our customers along on their sustainability journey.”
Thirdly, “we’re looking to promote a circular economy through our products and services,” Chow explained. So aiming to reuse, recycle, and repairing what the company already has, rather than creating more – something Chow says is intertwined with emission reduction.
“In order to enable this to happen, there needs to be big changes in terms of public policy, either at the international level or at the UK level,” she added, outlining how BT’s fourth priority is to involve itself more in public debate and political engagement.
“We’ve been really at the forefront of certain policy debates, such as on electric vehicles, where the majority of our scope one and two emissions are, and is related to converting our commercial fleet vehicles into electric vehicles.”
Finally, BT has “been leading the way to being transparent and encouraging others to be transparent as well,” through reporting it’s emission statistics, and just how it is working on reducing its emissions.
What is BT doing
Chow stressed that this is not something BT “jumped on the bandwagon on. It’s something we’ve been doing for a very long time.”
In 1992, she says that BT set the world’s first corporate carbon reduction target. Since then, late last year, BT raised its ambition even higher by shortening the time to hit net zero from 2045 to 2030.
It then also launched a manifesto at the end of last year, which announced additional targets such as being a fully circular business by 2030, and a target of avoiding 60 million tonnes of emissions by 2030.
So how does BT plan to get there? Chow explained it’s decarbonisation strategy, which is, again, focused on three pillars.
One is switching to renewables, which is a target that the firm has already hit in 2020 by sourcing 100% renewable energy. The challenge now is to keep that consistent, “it’s a target that BT has to carry on hitting each and every year.”
The second pillar is decarbonising its buildings, or ‘estate.’ It plans to do this by upgrading some of its legacy equipment with new tech, which Chow says is more energy efficient.
“Sustainability is embedded in some of the core activities at BT, in terms of how we decarbonise our buildings. One is looking at more intelligent building systems, and looking at how BT can broaden its existing estate more effectively. And secondly, is looking at rationalising its goal to cut carbon emissions and energy use.”
At the moment, BT continues to invest in energy efficiency and downsizing its buildings estate. In the past year, excluding travel and transport, it cut its overall global energy consumption by 2%.
Finally, what Chow says is BT’s most important part of its decarbonisation strategy, is converting its fleet of 33,000 vehicles to either electric vehicles or low-emission vehicle equivalents.
Chow admits this is a big goal to reach and is something that BT is pushing hard with the government on their zero-emissions vehicle mandate. It created a coalition with the Climate Group to try to ensure that it has policies that enable an adequate supply of electric vehicles, commercial vans, and vehicles in general. And, looking at the supply side, BT is trying to signal demand to the manufacturing sector in the UK to create more green vehicles.
The elephant in the room
Scope three emissions are “sort of the elephant in the room,” according to Chow. “I think for the majority of companies, scope three is the majority of their emissions.”
Scope three categories the emissions caused indirectly by a company. So, for BT, this includes purchased goods and services, capital goods, fuel, and use of its sold products.
In the year 2020 to 2021, BT’s scope three emissions constituted to 95% of its end-to-end net carbon footprint, which Chow says BT is tackling in a number of ways.
For purchased goods and services, BT looks at its supplier base and encourages them to set their own sustainability targets and submit them to non-profit organisation CDP, a platform companies and cities use to publicly disclose their environmental impact.
“Because as much direct scope one and two emissions data we can get from our suppliers through CDP, better informs our calculations for our scope three emissions.”
BT is also working with its smaller medium enterprise (SME) sized suppliers, and looking at how it can help them along their sustainability journeys. This is because it’s “recognising the fact that they may not have the same resources as large companies, but can still make quite a material impact on emissions.”
“We’ve partnered with a number of other large companies that are working with the UK small medium enterprise climate hub to try to produce guidance for use case studies to guide the small medium enterprise sector along their own sustainable journey.”
Tech for good
BT’s offering of digital workplace solutions is also a key enabler towards reducing emissions, according to Chow, and has a number of case studies and strategic partnerships that are all within the goal of reaching net zero.
One example is that is has collaborated with a number of strategic partners to look at data centres and how BT can ensure that they are moving towards becoming 100% renewable.
Starting off by asking questions such as “are those data centres circular? Are they looking at ways they can recover? Do they have efficient cooling? Are they using materials effectively?”
“It’s not looking at one single strategic partner to achieve this. But a number, depending on where our customer base is.”
BT is also looking to help customers reduce their emissions through its green tech innovation platform. Which is essentially a platform for identifying start-ups that can help reduce emissions through technology such as 5G, IoT and cloud computing.
One example is that it has partnered with carbon sensor start-up Everimpact, where they have integrated air quality sensors into BT’s ‘street furniture’.
It has also partnered with another sensor company iOpt to help build IoT solutions that will measure energy and water management in smart buildings, and even in social housing and public buildings.
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