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Climate action: The journey to net zero by 2025

Tracey Herald, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at O2, leads our social impact programmes and has been working on developing O2’s climate action strategy.

Listen to the Blue Door Podcast, episode 10: ‘Climate action: The journey to net zero by 2025’

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It’s clear that the next decade is going to be critical for action on climate – in fact, climate change is now the defining crisis of our time. That’s why, back in March 2020, O2 announced two significant climate action targets: the first was to become a net zero carbon business in our own operations by 2025, and the second was to reduce supply chain emissions by 30% over the same time frame. I’m proud to say that these targets remain the fastest and furthest reaching of any UK mobile network.

Our goals are built on over a decade of robust environmental management. We began investing in renewable electricity to power our network back in 2008, and since then, we’ve continued to build on our commitment to minimise our environmental impact – in our own operation, with our suppliers, and of course by supporting our customers to reduce their impacts through mobile technology. We’ve been supported on our journey by the Carbon Trust, a critical friend that has supported our efforts as well as independently verifying our progress.

Beyond reducing all possible carbon in our operations and supply chain, the other major opportunity for us is through the deployment of our connectivity, products and services, to help customers improve efficiency and productivity while reducing carbon. We’re in a unique position, where our core technology can deliver environmental benefits for society that outweigh our own impacts. In 2020 alone, our products and services have helped customers to save over 1.4m tonnes of CO2 – and with the growth of 5G, cloud and IoT solutions, we’re confident that we can play a key part in supporting the green recovery. A decarbonised world is a digital world – we know that digital connectivity can drive innovation, increase productivity and deliver carbon savings across society.

Where to start?

It’s important to start with understanding and mapping your environmental impact – and where the bulk of your emissions come from. At O2, we followed established climate methodology, by classifying carbon emissions into three categories or scopes.

The first relates to all direct emissions from the activities of our business – those directly under our control, including elements like heating, cooling and lighting our buildings. The second relates to our indirect emissions created during the production of energy that’s used by our business – it won’t surprise you that one of the biggest sources of O2’s emissions relates directly to the energy consumption that powers our network. Finally, the third covers all other indirect emissions, from sources that we don’t own or control directly.

Our supply chain is a significant contributor to this third category or scope. So our target is focussed on becoming net zero in our own operations, which covers the first two scopes, but also on doing all that we can to influence reduction in the emissions across scope 3.

What have we learnt so far?

I’d start by highlighting the importance of executive sponsorship. Our own Chief Executive, Mark Evans, is a driving force behind our net zero vision. He’s passionate about the role that digital connectivity can play in creating a greener economy and society and committed to helping drive sustainable growth, for O2 and for our customers.

Collaboration is also really key. We know that so many businesses and public sector organisations across the UK are setting ambitious carbon reduction targets. So we really need to work together and recognise that we’re part of a much bigger ecosystem that’s helping to secure a low carbon future for everyone.

The pandemic has created the conditions to demonstrate the importance of connectivity. How ever we choose to work as individuals or as businesses in the future, fast and accessible connectivity will play its part to reduce wastage and unnecessary travel for meetings, client and site visits. Harnessing these more digital and flexible ways of working can also have a positive impact on our carbon footprint – so there’s much we can learn from as we recover from the pandemic, which can in turn support a more resilient economy and society.

A fews days ago I met up online with my colleague Danny Hicks, to discuss climate action for episode 10 of the Blue Door Podcast. As well as O2’s own net zero targets, our conversation covered a wide range of issues, including COP 26, the impact of recycling, the social impact of carbon reduction, the implications for SMEs, how technology can help and what organisations of any size can do next.

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