BT Group looks to circular networks in sustainability drive
By Matt Manning, Head of Circular Economy, BT Group
We’ve been a leader on climate and sustainability action for over 30 years and set one of the world’s first science-based targets in 2008. In FY22, we accelerated our net zero plan by pledging to be a net zero emissions business by the end of March 2031 for our own operations, and by the end of March 2041 for our supply chain and customer emissions.
We’re already using 100%1 renewable electricity worldwide; we’re transforming our workplaces with a move to fewer, more sustainable and efficient buildings and we’re aiming to transition the majority of our 34,000 strong fleet to electric or zero carbon emission vehicles by 2030. But there’s more to do.
As part of our Manifesto pledge to build towards a circular BT Group by the end of March 2030 and a circular tech and telco ecosystem by the end of March 2040, we’re taking a number of steps to help reach our goal.
As our mobile network, EE, and our fibre infrastructure division, Openreach, build out new, energy efficient, high-speed mobile and fibre networks, we’re looking at ways to remove, reuse and recycle our old legacy networks, such as the PSTN (public switched telephone network) and 3G, which are some of the larger drivers of energy consumption.
As commented on by Professor Tim Cooper - a leading thinker in sustainable consumption and design at Nottingham Trent University, “the current consumption of electrical goods is unsustainable”, particularly based on how we produce and dispose of them. The consequence is what the United Nations describes as a “tsunami of e-waste rolling across the world”.
E-waste contains toxic components that are dangerous to human health and pollute the environment upon which we rely. The consequences of this can be felt disproportionately in some of the poorer parts of the world.
However, sustainably e-mining and recycling the common metals that are found in e-waste, including iron, copper, tin and aluminium, is a huge environmental and economic opportunity. The recovery of these elements back into the global supply chain through urban mining to support technologies is vital for the green transition.
In an effort to reduce BT Group’s e-waste we’ve created our Exchange Clearance Operation (ECO) programme, which involves recovering, recycling, and reselling equipment from old telephone exchanges, allowing us to close-down those ageing, inefficient networks and to downsize the number of buildings we have.
To do this we have teamed up with N2S2 and TXO3, European leaders in recycling telecoms equipment and enabling re-use. TXO has offered BT Group its invaluable expertise in promoting internal re-use, as well as its ability to resell equipment into the global market, keeping equipment in use. We’re also embracing innovative processes. Working with N2S we are exploring the potential of bioleaching – a process used to extract and recover precious metals from technology equipment, for re-use.
This year alone, the programme will extract over 200 tonnes of copper cable, (equivalent to the weight of over 140 Ford Focus cars), will see over 2,000 tonnes of lead batteries recycled and will generate £4m with these combined activities in addition to recycling & resale of redundant network equipment.
Decommissioning equipment on this scale is a huge task, but as digital leaders like BT Group continue to invest in high quality, reliable connections run over environmentally sustainable technologies, it’s vital that we work with companies such as N2S and TXO to reduce waste and preserve valuable natural resources.
These programmes are a big step in the right direction, but they are just the beginning, and we have much work to do if we’re to achieve our sustainability goals. Nevertheless, we are resolute of purpose, and committed to pushing boundaries to reduce our impact on the planet.
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1. 99.9% of the global electricity BT Group consumes is from renewable sources. The remaining 0.1% is where renewable electricity is not available in the market.