In conversation with O2’s Bill Eyres

From rolling out smart meters across the UK to developing technology that changes consumer behaviour, O2 is looking to push sustainability out to the masses. edie talks to head of sustainability, Bill Eyres.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

Our major focus is on developing products and services that enable our personal and corporate customers to reduce their carbon impact. Our recent smart meter win is one example of how we have the opportunity to be an enabler for a more sustainable society.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

4G is bringing significant changes as it creates a whole level of connectivity. At the same time the Internet of Things means increasingly we will be able to create smarter systems for energy, transport and food. In many ways we have the technology to effect huge behaviour change – but the speed of adoption and culture change are critical. Technology + people is a powerful force for change.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

It is ensuring that we respond to the challenges of today whilst building a business that is ready to embrace the opportunities of the future. The social and ecological crisis is not going to go away, and focusing your business on being part of the solution not the problem means keeping your eyes firmly fixed on your medium-to-long-term strategy.

What motivates you?

Building a better business that enables our customers and society to do more with the amazing technology we have. This also means breaking down barriers to a sustainable society and for our young people who have been badly affected by the youth crisis. As digital natives they have a huge amount to offer UK businesses, and harnessing their digital skills will open up huge opportunities.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Seeing the real difference we can make to our customers, our people and our other stakeholders. Whether on the environmental front through Eco-rating or our youth programme we have shown that we can bring fresh thinking to social and environmental challenges

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

Smart meters and the opportunity to revolutionise the way we use energy and other services in our homes will have a significant impact.

What’s the big focus over the next 12 months for the environment?

Getting faster take up of sustainable products and services that enable our customers to see that reducing carbon is a win-win.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

Build sustainability into the heart of business and embrace the commercial opportunities – it should not be stuck in a silo called the CSR department.
What do you like most about your job?

The dynamic nature of our industry – technology is changing our societies at a rapid pace and we are at the cutting edge.

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

Seeing young people’s talent being wasted, with 1 million young people unemployed. It’s in every business’s interest to support young people into work or to start their own business. That’s why we launched GoThinkBig an online platform which democratises work experience, with Bauer media.

What do you think the next 12 months has in store for the green economy?

I think as the economy improves sustainability will again rise up the political and commercial agenda – there are big decisions to take.

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

Strangely 1940 London, as I am fascinated by the second world war. It shows that societies can survive and transform after enormous shocks.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Think Big – we’ve helped thousands of young people make a difference – and through eco-rating we have created a new level of transparency.

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

Robert Owen, the founder of the co-operative movement.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Anita Roddick said to me, don’t stay at the Body Shop, drive change in a bigger company. Anita never believed you should stay in an “ethical niche”; she always said the big opportunity was turning business into a force for change.

Worst advice?


What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Research what your people want and test your ideas with them. Co-creation will create a shared mission. Empower your staff at the grassroots to make a difference.

What state do you see the planet in 30 years?

I hope that there will be many positive signs as the threat of climate change will have galvanised people to create more sustainable societies.

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

The benefits of a sustainable economy are clear, so join the movement for change.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

Our smart meter win. We were selected as the preferred communications service provider for two out of three lots in the UK’s smart meter tender. It’s a major national infrastructure project that will involve the roll out of 53 million gas and electricity meters across the UK by 2020, helping consumers to better understand and control their energy usage.

Books or kindle?

Books and book shop – nothing beats the pleasure of a well-curated bookshop!

Edie also caught up with O2’s head of environmental sustainability, Gareth Rice to find out more on O2’s sustainability initiatives – read ‘O2 charging its way to sustainability’ here

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