AS businesses across the globe drive forward plans to fight climate change, ambition pays off – with BT reaching its previous carbon reduction target four years early. In 2008 it planned to achieve an 80% reduction of carbon emissions intensity by 2020, and instead managed it by 2016.
The stage was set to ‘aim higher and lead the way’ but as many countries and companies announce targets for cutting carbon, BT says these will only be met if everyone – governments, individuals and businesses – take ‘real action’ and make real change.
Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact and Sustainability Officer at BT, said: “In the run up to the COP26 climate talks, we want to show people that it’s not just politicians and corporations who can make a difference in the fight against climate change, everyone has a part to play.
“At BT, our technology, networks and products will underpin many of the solutions needed to become a net zero carbon economy and will act as a catalyst for a smarter, greener future.
“That’s why we would encourage all of our customers, colleagues and communities to make their own ‘climate resolutions’ because we know when small sustainable steps are supported by technology, they can make a huge impact.”
BT has been a leader on climate and sustainability action for almost 30 years, setting one of the world’s first carbon reduction targets in 1992. It plans to cut its carbon emissions by 87% by March 2031 and has pledged to become a net zero emissions business.
It is now working to reduce its supply chain emissions by 42% by 2030. Key
to its pledge is its switch to renewable energy.
Last year, BT completed the transition to 100% renewable electricity worldwide, which means citizens who buy mobile or broadband from EE, BT or Plusnet are now supplied by networks which are powered by 100% ‘clean’ power.
To support the shift, in 2017, BT signed an agreement worth £185m over 15 years with a Scottish wind farm to further support the provision of new renewable energy in the UK.
Thirteen wind turbines at Stroupster, in the far north of Scotland, now provide the company with 100 Gigawatt (GW) hours per year. In fact, BT has agreements with four windfarms in the UK, including Fallago Rig in the Scottish Borders, helping to power the country’s demand for digital services.
The firm is also tackling its network of bases, reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency across its buildings estate of more than 6000 sites. For example, its Doncaster contact centre is now 100% renewable after having a low carbon makeover this year with conventional chillers and gas-fired boilers replaced by electric cooling and heating systems
BT is planning to switch the majority of its fleet over to electric or zero emissions vehicles by 2030.
“We have outlined plans to electrify up to 28,000 of our 33,000 vehicles by 2030 and have teamed up with The Climate Group and 29 other organisations to form The UK Electric Fleets Coalition,” he said.
“Together we have helped to shape the UK Government’s announcement ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and we continue to call for the right policies to support the mass adoption of electric vehicles.”
The company is also testing new smart and remote technology solutions with a range of customers. It believes telemedicine, for example, offers big benefits for patients, medical staff and the climate as remote consultations save time and emissions from travel.
BT is testing solutions with University Hospitals Birmingham, the UK’s biggest NHS Trust, where doctors trialled the company’s remote diagnostic station technology using digital stethoscopes and heart monitors over a converged 4G/5G and wi-fi network. The Trust is now considering the technology for GP surgeries, care homes and community clinics.
A partnership approach is also essential, explains Mr Wales.
“Hundreds of local councils and NHS Trusts already use our services, and we are always looking for new ways to support their journey to net zero through our green tech innovation platform,”
“We’ve teamed up with Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play to find businesses with breakthrough carbon-reducing solutions and in January 2021, we announced our first two scale-up partners – iOpt and Everimpact.”
iOpt uses sensors connected by the Internet of Things to provide remote, real-time information and alerts on things like energy use and moisture levels in buildings.
“Their technology can help councils take steps to improve energy efficiency, cut maintenance costs and eliminate damp or mould. This in turn makes homes healthier and helps to prevent fuel poverty by reducing energy costs for tenants.
Everimpact uses a combination of on-the-ground sensors, satellite data and artificial intelligence to monitor air quality and carbon emissions.
Mr Wales explains: “The results, transmitted via a smart city dashboard, enable local councils to target measures effectively to reduce air pollution and climate impacts. We’ll help both businesses grow and expand positive impacts by offering their services to interested customers.”
Innovation signals boost for economy
IN recent years, BT has been at the forefront of tackling climate change through tech and innovation.
The company teamed up with other stakeholders in Scotland on a new report looking at how digital technology can help in the global fight against climate change.
The report – published in partnership with the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, The Royal Society of Edinburgh and ScotlandIS – focused on how Scotland can develop and harness technologies such as 5G, AI, data analytics and IoT to help deliver on its net-zero carbon emissions target.
Working with the University of Stirling, BT has also helped to launch a “living laboratory” – a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system designed to help businesses in central Scotland make more intelligent, data-driven, and sustainable business decisions.
Using sensors, satellite data and AI, the laboratory will capture, process and share data from across the Forth Valley using BT’s EE 5G network. This will provide vital information to inform decisions that could help deliver major economic and sustainability benefits in the area.
Mr Wales added: “A change in culture is needed to amend how things have always been done, so smaller steps taken at innovation hubs provide a look into the future. And just last year, we teamed up with US-based tech company Plug and Play to launch our Green Tech Innovation Platform. The aim of the platform is to uncover new green technology solutions to help our business and public sector customers reach net zero carbon emissions.”
Mr Wales believes the public sector has an important role to play. “It’s essential, to encourage and support citizens as they look to reduce their carbon footprint, and take small individual actions that, collectively, will help minimise the harm done to the planet,” he said.
“It’s a daunting prospect, so partnering with organisations who share sustainability ambitions, and have the necessary networks, technologies, and infrastructure to support, is imperative.
“All organisations, large and small, have an important role to play.”
Net zero begins at home
IN THE fight to stop climate change, ‘smart tech’ in the home has an important role to play.
Research by the environmental charity Hubbub found that two-thirds of UK households do not use any smart tech, such as lighting and thermostats, to help manage their homes – with around four in ten (43%) believing it would be too expensive.
To ‘bust the myth’, BT launched a pioneering experiment with Hubbub to show how smart tech and savings can go hand in hand.
The company asked 61 households to experiment with digital technology to see which gadgets work best for them to reduce their energy use and bills from heating, hot water and lighting.
Each household received a £50 voucher to spend on products like smart thermostats, lights or plugs.
Fifty five households completed the challenge and based on the participants’ progress, seven high-impact actions were identified, including switching to a renewable energy provider/ tariff, turning thermostats down one degree, turning appliances from ‘standby’ to ‘off’, cycling or walking for shorter journeys, reducing food waste, repairing old tech items and having shorter showers.
The research found that if these seven actions were adopted on a sustained basis, an average household could save £9381 on their bills and up to 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per year.
As part of its efforts, BT is helping to equip the public with the digital skills needed to be more sustainable at home.
The company is working to provide households with the knowledge and motivation needed to make small but sustainable lifestyle changes and is highlighting the important role technology has in making the household shift to sustainable living easier. Mr Wales said: “The Smarter Living Challenge has shown that UK households have an important part to play in fighting climate change, and when combined, small sustainable lifestyle changes can make a big difference.”
“Over the coming months we’ll be stepping up our efforts to help support, educate and empower our customers to take action.”