UK Telecommunication Firms and Net Zero 

As the UK has only 30 years to reach net zero, large companies across the country are feeling the pressure to improve sustainability and lower their carbon footprint. For the UK to achieve its ambitious environmental goals, actors from all sectors and industries need to try to reduce their impact on the environment.  

UK dominant telecoms firms have been taking the lead in doing so which can be proven by the case study of the BT Group plc.  

British Telecommunications (BT) plc is a multinational telecommunications company that is currently one of the world’s leading communications service providers.  

‘BT is one of the world’s leading telecommunications companies. We serve the needs of customers in the UK and in 180 countries worldwide, employing more than 100,000 people 

across 6,000 sites. Our main activities are the provision of fixed-line services, broadband, mobile and TV products and services as well as networked IT services,’ Penelope Guarnay, Carbon Programme Manager at BT Group plc tells EMA.  

Sustainability is a part of BT’s corporate strategy and the company constantly sets new goals designed to reduce its emissions and be greener.  

BT Group’s path to sustainability 

BT pledges to become a net zero emissions business by 2045. Its plan to tackle climate change is divided into five main areas.  

  1. BT Group plc aims to become a completely net zero business. By 2030, BT wants to reduce its emissions by 87%. And, by 2040, it wants its supply chain and customer emissions to be net zero.  
  1. BT Group tries to prevent and avoid creating new carbon emissions through its customers. As well as reducing its own emissions, it strives to help its customers also improve their sustainability.  
  1. BT Group tries to promote a circular economy through its products and services. It aims to reuse and recycle to make the most of materials and reduce emissions.  
  1. BT Group wants to be involved in public debate and wants to engage with political stakeholders. Through that, it aims to play a role in shaping policy at national or even international level. 
  1. BT Group plans to not only reduce its emissions but also focus on reporting emission statistics. 

The BT Group’s path to sustainability did not start recently. Guarnay says that ‘BT has led on climate action for over 28 years and we were one of the first companies in the world to commit to a 1.5°C pathway. BT was able to achieve its 2020 goal of reducing the carbon emissions intensity of its business by 80 per cent four years ahead of schedule.’ 

All the successes motivate BT to introduce new plans to reduce emissions even further. And, BT tries to make sure that it is not only the company but also its customers, partners, and suppliers who are involved in improving sustainability. 

‘we are working with our suppliers to help them reduce their carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2030 and for the first time, progress on carbon reduction and on digital skills training will make up part of the bonus calculation for eligible BT colleagues,’ Guarnay tells EMA.  

BT and renewable electricity 

A clear proof of BT’s commitment to a green recovery is the fact that in November 2020, the company announced that it had switched to 100% renewable electricity worldwide.  

BT sources renewable electricity in 8 countries and collaborates with members of the RE100 initiatives to help them introduce sustainable improvements and meet renewable certification standards.  

BT’s transition to 100% renewable electricity was delivered through the development of local energy markets. Now 16% of the Group’s electricity is supplied through corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and the rest through renewable energy contracts.  

In addition to using only renewable electricity, BT’s energy efficiency programmes have allowed the company to £343m over the last 10 years. BT has been using these savings to upgrade essential equipment and systems.  

BT tells EMA that the transition was ‘only possible because of widespread policy support for the improvement in building efficiency, coupled with senior management support and the recognition that it was the right action to take in regard to mitigating the effects of climate change. 

Future challenges 

While BT has been very successful in implementing its sustainability strategy, the company recognises that there still remain challenges it needs to face going forward. For example, BT aims to switch from energy intensive copper networks to full fibre networks. The process can be complex but full fibre networks use a fraction of the energy that copper networks need. Another goal that BT plans to achieve in the near future is electrifying up to 28,000 of its vehicles by 2030 (out of a total of 34,00 vehicles that BT has on the road).  

And, BT supports actions that focus on the UK’s digital infrastructure: full fibre broadband to 20 million premises across the country and further investment in 5G mobile. Such measures allow for innovation and can facilitate achieving a net zero carbon economy.  

EMA’s paper mentioned the 2019 research by the Centre for Economics & Business Research which revealed that ‘connecting the UK to full fibre broadband by 2025 would deliver a £60 billion boost to the UK.’ The research found that it would also: 

  • Bring half a million people back into the workforce 
  • Allow at least 400,000 more people to work from home 
  • Allow 270,000 people to move out of cities into rural areas 
  • Reduce commuting trips by 300 million annually 

Finally, BT says that all businesses must set their ambitious but realistic net zero targets for 2050 and engage with their supply chains, encouraging them to do the same. If all UK companies do not recognise the urgency of the situation and do not hold themselves and others to account, the net zero transition cannot happen. 

The UK is capable of leading climate action and inspiring other countries to also strive for a faster transition to net zero. But for that, greater investment in infrastructure, more cooperation, and better focus on green technologies are needed. BT knows that it has an important role to play in driving sustainable growth and it hopes that other companies will also join its efforts.  

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