In this blog, Will Ennett, Head of Sustainability talks about the key areas of focus for the telecoms and technology sector in reaching a target of net zero by the 2040s – reflecting on the changes we're making at TalkTalk to ensure innovation is at the heart of solving these difficult environmental problems.
With so many people talking about Net Zero these days it’s important to ask the question ‘how can it actually be achieved?’
This year, with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) upcoming, there’s a focus on the concrete steps that need to be taken by industry.
At TalkTalk, we are proud to have collaborated with the UN and other businesses in the telecoms and technology space across the world, including Ericsson, BT, Orange and Facebook, to create a pioneering pathway document for the sector. The focus of this document? To outline how this industry can get to net zero by the 2040s.
The document covers Information, Communications, Technology and Mobile. Essentially that’s telecoms companies and data centre operators.
For our industry, electricity is the key commodity and the greenhouse gas creator. Other sectors might have other greenhouse gases to contend with, but in ICT this is our biggest focus, and the switch to renewables is a critical solution.
In fact, the UN estimates that 80 percent of carbon reductions can be achieved by operators and their suppliers switching to renewable energy. The good news is that many of the leading businesses in the sector have substantially decarbonised by switching to renewable energy, but there’s definitely more work to be done.
Overall, the report identified 4 key areas of focus:
Operational Efficiency – ICT and mobile and data centre operators consume large amounts of electricity. Continuous improvements are required to boost energy efficiency, and of course to switch over to renewable energy.
At TalkTalk, operational efficiencies have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by about 60%. We’ve reduced the number of offices and data centres, reducing heating and energy use within them. In 2020, we switched to renewables. This means our direct emissions have reduced significantly.
The Supply Chain – the supply chain may be responsible for over half of this sector’s total end-to-end emissions, in large part associated with end-user devices. Working with partners to use renewable energy in their supply chain can help. In the coming years, disclosure will be key. Getting the correct data from the supply chain is complex but crucial, as it can then allow for measurable improvements to be made.
E-Waste – the major innovation and carbon saving opportunity is to move to a circular economy. Extending products’ use phase and developing ways to reuse and recycle products can reduce the footprint associated with creating devices from scratch.
At TalkTalk we send out over a million of these devices every year and considered the above principles when designing our award-winning WIFI Hub – built with refurbishment in mind. When a product is returned to us, it typically only needs a new plastic casing, saving many more materials than producing a whole new router.
The biggest innovation needed here is not technical but behavioural. How do we get customers to return their products? Working with Royal Mail, we’ve developed a service where customers can arrange at-home pick-ups, instead of having to take a package to the post office.
Enablement – ICT can help decarbonize other sectors. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. People relied on broadband to work from home during lockdown, reducing emissions from commuting to and from the office. Interestingly, we found that broadband emissions reduced last year, meaning that travel emissions were not replaced.
From Videoconferencing, Social Media, E-Commerce and the Internet of Things, through to AI, 5G, Blockchain and Digital Twins; ICT is changing the way the economy works. These changes could increasingly drive efficiencies in other sectors, including Energy, Transport, the Built Environment, Health and Agriculture.
In fact, a 2019 study of the mobile industry calculated that a reduction of ten times its own emissions were enabled in other sectors. It’s also worth noting that telecoms companies are a valuable channel for enabling agency in their end-users, who number more than 5 billion.
At TalkTalk, we want to be mindful about the impact of our connectivity on the environment, and harness its potential to solve some of the greatest climate challenges the UK faces. It was a pleasure working with other businesses, learning lots and contributing to a global footprint.
If you’d like to find out more, you can read the full pathway, nestled among other industries, here: https://unfccc.int/climate-action/marrakech-partnership/reporting-tracking/pathways/industry-climate-action-pathway