A question of balance

Chris Earnshaw, managing director, Networks and Systems, BT, explains the company's philosophy on environmental management and why its approach goes beyond so-called 'green issues'.

Taking a responsible position on the environment involves much more than pollution control, waste minimization and careful use of raw materials.

Chris Earnshaw – sustainability not as straightforward as we would like

At BT our commitment to the environment is made in its very widest sense. We have been looking at the ways in which our activities and those of the telecommunications industry in general, affect the progress towards the creation of a society which is sustainable – economically, environmentally and socially.

One of the most important lessons has been the realization that sustainability is not as straightforward as we would like. A product which has a positive impact in one area may at the same time have a detrimental effect in another. Like many other companies looking at this most elusive of concepts, we recognise that finding the most sustainable path requires a delicate mix of compromise, trade-off and imagination. In fact it’s a question of balance.

BT has furthered its understanding of sustainable development by examining the concept from a number of perspectives relevant to our own core business – including work, travel, information and learning and healthcare. Let me give you a few examples:

We recognise how we work and when we work is changing. For example we are currently working on the software and broadband transmission technology that will revolutionise the way people work together. Specialists with different skills, who may be hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, will be able to join together in a 3D environment to visualise and progress designs of everything from pharmaceuticals to household goods, cars and buildings. The implications for sustainable development include the potential to reduce commuting stress and travel impacts.

A computer programme has been created by BT to compare telecommunications as an alternative to travel. A person can put information into the programme on the business trips they make, including the percentage of travel by car, train or aircraft. The programme then shows telecommunications options as alternatives and indicates the cumulative energy and financial savings.

SuperJANET is an advanced high-speed optical fibre network being implemented by BT, other telecommunications companies and Higher Education Funding Councils. It links together the UK’s further education institutions, laboratories and research centres enabling a rapid meeting of minds without a physical meeting of people.

Social, environmental and ethical issues will increasingly be seen as part of the ‘business of business’ and companies will find themselves under increasing pressure to account for the social and environmental impacts of their business activities. BT recognises that it has a ‘social footprint’ and that it has a responsibility to monitor its performance in this critical area.

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