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Towards net zero: Achieving mission possible – your questions answered

At the end of June 2021, we hosted ‘Towards Net Zero: Achieving Mission Possible’ – a webinar that shared O2’s journey towards net zero by 2025, as well as some of the challenges and opportunities we face along the way.

At O2, we’re big believers in sharing and learning from others, so that we can collectively push each other to go further and faster. Will Kirkpatrick, Head of Sustainability and Social Impact, and Vijay Chouhan, Operations Energy and Sustainability manager at O2, explained how we are particularly positive and optimistic about the role of technology and connectivity in driving to a lower carbon net zero future.

So how is O2 progressing towards net zero?

O2 has been purchasing renewable electricity since 2008, and by 2015, we were purchasing 100% renewable electricity wherever we control the bill. That amounts to about 70% of our business and our network. The additional 30% largely comprises network sites where the electricity is controlled by third party landlords – for example, a mast on a farmer’s land, or on the roof of a city building. O2’s focus is now on making our switch to renewable electricity complete and driving increasing energy efficiency.

O2’s own target is to be net zero in our own operation by 2025, the furthest and fastest reaching of any of the mobile network operators. And we’re already working closely with our supply chain to help them with their own net zero ambitions. In fact, we’ve achieved a 35% reduction in emissions in our supply chain since 2016.

How can O2 help to build a greener economy in the future?

We believe there are four areas where O2 can really help. The first is with digital workplace and tools. We’ve seen a big shift recently towards flexible or hybrid working, and O2 supports both through its mobile solutions, and also with B2B solutions that enable businesses to collaborate effectively and to work productively from different locations.

The second is smart metering. O2 has provided the connectivity for millions of smart home hubs across the UK, which enable customers to manage and automate their energy use, a key component of the UK decarbonisation strategy.

The third area is smart cities and vehicles, through data insights provided by O2 Motion. For example, we have a pilot in the Thames Valley area which provides insights on traffic movements and flows through cities to aid planning. This can help to reduce congestion, as well as the resulting emissions and associated air pollution.

Lastly, from the capabilities presented by Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, supercharged by 5G. O2 has a number of use cases, including a 5G enabled ambulance, which helps to deliver direct patient care at the emergency location, reducing journeys and the resulting emissions as a result. We’re even supporting trials for connected smart drones that are delivering medical supplies in a more efficient way.

What are some of the challenges that O2 is currently addressing on its road to net zero?

One of the greatest challenges we all face is to find ways to scale many of the proven opportunities and trials that have taken place. The smart meter example is already embedded, and home energy efficiencies will deliver up to 11% of the UK’s 2050 carbon target, according to Smart Energy GB. There’s a challenge to scale up the potential of connectivity and technology with customers to drive and to support the UK towards net zero.

Another important challenge for all organisations is to make sure that the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) is a success. As Bridget Jackson, the UN’s Business Engagement Lead and Chief Sustainability Officer, said, we need to instil the belief that we can reach net zero. As a legacy of COP, it’s up to us as a sector to show just what we can do and how we can support the UK economy as a whole.

How have organisations in O2’s supply chain responded to the 2025 net zero goal?

The response has been almost universally positive, whether from landlords, franchisees or third-party suppliers. We have been very public about our commitment for several years now, and so many have been alongside us on our journey and have been willing and prompt to switch to renewable energy sources themselves.

Can and will O2 achieve absolute zero emissions, rather than net zero?

The short answer is no, not yet, but we are doing everything in our power to move towards that goal as technology makes it possible.

Why not? Well, right now the technology we need isn’t there yet to deliver absolute zero. We still need to deploy coolants and refrigeration to certain machinery, and whilst we can electrify our vehicle fleet, we still rely on diesel generators to back up our core switch sites. But as technology advances, we move closer, faster. Data centre cooling is a great example: the more data we use, the hotter our centres can become.

Historically networks have relied on air con, but the UK has plenty of fresh, cold air that does the same job – so we’re installing smart cooling tech at our data centres and core network sites and getting rid of old kit, allowing us to use energy in a smarter way. This upgrade is set to deliver energy savings equivalent to one million kilograms of CO2 year on year. Where we do still need to cool equipment we are starting to use less polluting refrigerants that have a lower Global Warming Potential.  So, whilst we can’t be certain about when we might reach ‘absolute zero’ emissions, it might be achievable eventually.

Remember, you can watch the replay of the 45-minute webinar on our YouTube channel here.

  • Ready to kick start your own net zero journey? Read our whitepaper for insights into creating a greener future, and find out:
    • How a five-step process can create a net zero framework for your business
    • How we plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025 at O2
    • What we’ve learnt on our journey so far and the challenges we’ve faced

Download the whitepaper now.

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