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How mobile connectivity can power a radical green recovery

"O2 will help customers make greener choices, using technology to live more sustainable lives" | Credit: O2

Mark Evans | CEO of O2

Mark Evans | CEO of O2

4 min read Partner content

With millions of connections across our networks, the mobile industry can play a key role in reaching net zero – helping businesses and consumers cut emissions with flexible working technology, smart meters, and a host of 5G-enabled solutions

Although the vaccination programme has brought hope that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, its impact will affect our future, as it has our past. Having caused the twelve-month postponement of COP26 from November 2020, the re-scheduled event – still six months away – is reportedly at risk of disruption, as infection rates increase in many of the 200 countries due to attend COP26 in Glasgow.

This uncertainty makes it even more important for governments and businesses to lock-in carbon reduction targets. The planet can’t wait.

It is encouraging, therefore, that the UK Government published its Green Industrial Plan in November last year, followed a month later by a commitment to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by at least 68% by 2030, on the way to achieving net zero by 2050. Momentum was continued last month when the Government published its Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy – the first such strategy published by a major economy.  

Over the last decade our O2 Recycle programme has saved over 3 million devices from landfill

All of this reflects leadership and ambition, but much of it cannot be delivered without businesses taking substantive steps to prioritise climate action. It is positive to see that thirty of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies have now committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but ambitious targets should be the norm and must be met if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided.

At O2 our future ambitions are based on a history of commitment to sustainability. We have been procuring renewable energy since 2008, ensuring that wherever we directly control the bill, every office, store and phone mast is powered by renewable electricity.

Over the last decade our O2 Recycle programme has saved over three million devices from landfill, giving devices a new lease of life (and handing back £250 million to customers). Our Ecorating scheme – the UK’s first sustainable rating system for mobile phones – has encouraged manufacturers to improve their environmental performance and enabled customers to make more sustainable purchasing decisions. We were the first mobile network operator in the world to be awarded the Carbon Trust Triple Standard for carbon, water and waste and the first to achieve the Trust’s highest supply chain standard. 

Building on this track record in sustainability, we are the only mobile network operator committed to becoming a net zero business by 2025 and to reducing supply chains emissions by 30% within the same time scale.

Our net zero plans not only set the bar within our sector, but are among the most ambitious in corporate Britain.

Since 2015 we have reduced carbon emissions in our operation by 29% and improved our energy efficiency by 85%, thanks to innovations like our smart network that powers down at times when demand on our network is low. We have also been driving environmental progress in our supply chain, using our procurement spend to positively influence our suppliers – with contractually agreed carbon reduction programmes in place for those receiving a major award and access to O2’s own negotiated renewable electricity tariff to power their operations.

The coronavirus pandemic will pass, but climate change will not unless all sectors work together to take action to reverse it. What puts the mobile industry in a position of such responsibility and opportunity is that we can reduce our own carbon emissions and at the same time help our customers reduce their emissions too with flexible working technology, smart meters and 5G enabled business solutions. With over 35 million connections to our network, O2’s connectivity can play a key role in helping other sectors to decarbonise at scale.

The coronavirus pandemic will pass, but climate change will not unless all sectors work together to take action to reverse it

In 2020 our products and services helped customers save over 1.4m tonnes of carbon. Our Green Savings Calculator helps businesses identify the savings in carbon, cost and time that working more flexibly can deliver. A decarbonised economy is a digital economy, where connectivity drives innovation and productivity.

That is why we are issuing a rally cry: O2 vs CO2, inviting others to join us in going further and faster to build a greener future. We will help our customers make greener choices, using technology to live more sustainable lives – with O2 Recycle, Eco-rating, refurbished devices, green deals for customers and new partnerships to support other businesses on the journey to net zero.

As we emerge from the pandemic and move towards COP26, we should acknowledge that a return to ‘business as usual’ will simply sustain the inequalities exposed by coronavirus and accelerate climate change. At O2 we are ready to play our part in supporting a radical green recovery for businesses and communities across the UK.

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