History was made at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris as world leaders agreed to adopt an “ambitious and balanced” final deal, including a “legally-binding” agreement to keep global warming “well below 2C”.

But with those 2030 goals now some way off, there is a fear that a lack of low-carbon movement in the immediate aftermath of COP21 could see the importance of ‘sustainable business’ decay into myth. Industries, individuals and Governments will need to work more closely together if we are to ignite the green industrial revolution.

Converting the masses

The sustainable business mantra is certainly no new thing for BT. Recently labelled as a ‘game changer’ for its all-encompassing climate change risk assessment and various environmental projects and initiatives, the telecoms giant has been preaching sustainability to its suppliers and customers for years.

For BT’s global environmental sustainability spokesperson Gabrielle Giner, December’s Paris talks were a crucial next step; opening up critical discussions about how the world can reach these now legally-binding emissions reduction targets. And, according to Giner, ICT lies at the heart of the low-carbon transition.

“ICT has an important role in linking sectors and individuals together but it can also link solutions together,” Giner says. “We want to use technology to help people embrace a new transition so that the seriousness of the climate situation can be realised.”

The company is a pioneer of the low-carbon movement, producing a 34% year-on-year cut in its waste-to-landfill; a 12% cut in UK water use and a 4% cut in energy consumption.

Giner is keen to see this proactivity passed onto its consumers and BT’s ‘Net Good Goal’ – which sees the company strive to lower consumer carbon emissions by three times as much as the company itself – has created a real shift in the way board members interact with the topic of global warming.

“The whole ratio journey is trying to get the industry and suppliers and customers to come along with us on this to promote sustainability,” Giner explains. “It’s changed how I’m able to interact with the business.

“CSR was previously known as a compliance function – people thought it was boring. But the 3:1 ambition has turned ‘mundane CSR’ into a growth opportunity. It’s been an extremely positive experience.”

Currently, BT is operating at a 1.5 to 1 ratio, meaning that for every tonne of carbon that the company emits, customers are saving 1.5.

More than 20 innovative solutions have so far been established to reach the 3:1 goal, including a 100% sport initiative which aims to spark a global movement “to make using 100% renewable energy the new norm” among the masses of sports fans.

Supplier engagement

The launch of the ‘BT Home Hub 5’ router is further proof of the company’s continued emissions-busting ethos. As well as running on 30% less energy, the new Home Hub 5 fits into letterbox packaging so it can be delivered to the house saving travel emissions when people have to go and pick up their deliveries. The reduced use of plastic and a returns policy are being mooted for the next development.

With BT taking on such ambitious targets through the 3:1 ratio, Giner is quick to emphasise the importance of low-carbon systems being implemented and transferred through its supply chains. The firm, which doesn’t manufacturer anything in-house, launched the Better Future Supplier forum in 2012 to drive innovation in sustainability in its supply chain.

“The forum is our primary vehicle in engaging with suppliers,” adds Giner. “It covers a range of vehicles but circular economy is a huge part of this and we are constantly looking at ways we can upscale our key suppliers to embed circular economy and sustainability as a key principle for them.”

BT assesses its suppliers against global best practices to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of its supply chain. Any company struggling with certain aspects are then given potential solutions and support from BT to implement changes.

Odd bedfellows

Even in the heavily competitive and fast-growing technology sector, Giner accepts that “there is no one answer” to climate change, but she is a huge believer in the ICT industry’s ability to lower emissions and spark a behavioural revolution. BT is currently working with a number of competitors – such as with AT&T, Ericsson, Samsung and Verizon as part of the GESI initiative, which sees industry leaders collaborate on best practices for sustainability.

While Giner is pleased with this level of collaboration, she believes there is still much to be done on a political level to meet the legally-binding targets set out in Paris.

“We would like to see governments and countries get on board with helping ICT get to the forefront of tackling climate change and to take into account the positive enablement effect of ICT,” she adds. “We have the responsibility to drive action and ICT has the potential to connect anyone to anything in order to push this debate.”

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie