Placing sustainability at the heart of public sector

By Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact and Sustainability Officer at BT

2021 kicks off what is widely referred to as ‘the climate decade’. A ten-year period where our collective actions will determine the kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit. ‘Collective’ is the critical factor here because no person, business or Government can tackle climate change single-handedly.

Sustainability is increasingly topping the agenda of many organisations and rightly so. The UK and the US have both announced ambitious climate change commitments ahead of the COP26 summit in November, and real change is taking place at a local level, with 230 local authorities across England and Wales declaring a climate emergency, with two-thirds of those in England committing to being carbon neutral by 2030.

Among growing calls for the Government to place more power into local hands to help tackle the issue, decisions taken by local authorities will have a significant impact on building a more sustainable future and it goes far beyond adopting greener tech. The links between climate change and the future of people’s work, health, and wellbeing must be widely understood – and citizens guided to recognise the importance of climate change and the role they can play.

How BT is helping

As part of plans to become a net zero carbon emissions business by 2045, BT is using 100% renewable electricity worldwide, meaning that consumers who buy mobile or broadband from EE, BT or Plusnet are already supplied by networks that are powered by 100% clean energy.

We’ve outlined plans to electrify up to 28,000 of our 33,000 vehicles by 2030 and have teamed up with The Climate Group and 29 other organisations to form The UK Electric Fleets Coalition. Together we’ve helped to shape the UK Government’s announcement ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and we continue to call for the right policies to support the mass adoption of electric vehicles.

We’re also working with Small Business Britain and the UK Government to help SMEs overcome barriers around reducing carbon emissions. As founding members of the supply chain leaders initiative, we helped to launch the SME climate hub in 2020 and recently backed the UK Government’s SME climate hub.

Supporting a green recovery through innovation

Working with the University of Stirling, we’ve helped to launch a “living laboratory”: a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system designed to help businesses in central Scotland make more intelligent, data-driven, and – importantly – sustainable business decisions. Using sensors, satellite data, and AI, the laboratory will capture, process, and share data from across the Forth Valley using BT’s EE 5G network. This will provide vital information to inform decisions that could help deliver major economic and sustainability benefits in the area. You can read more about that here.

We’ve also partnered with the University of Hertfordshire to transform Hatfield Business Park into an innovation centre for smart technology. The county council’s Hertfordshire Living Lab project is designed to facilitate experimental services and explore how future communities can use digital technologies such as driverless cars, drones, and robots to enhance and deliver a more sustainable way of life. A change in culture is needed to amend how things have always been done, so smaller steps taken at innovation hubs provide a look into the future.

And just last year, we teamed up with US-based tech company Plug and Play to launch our Green Tech Innovation Platform. The aim of the platform is to uncover new green technology solutions to help our business and public sector customers reach net zero carbon emissions.

The public sector has an important role to play in encouraging and supporting citizens as they look to reduce their carbon footprint, and take small individual actions that, collectively, will help minimise the harm done to the planet.

It’s a daunting prospect, so partnering with organisations who share sustainability ambitions, and have the necessary networks, technologies, and infrastructure to support, is imperative. All organisations, large and small, have an important role to play in reducing worldwide carbon emissions, so we’re urging every organisation to do their bit to achieve the Government’s 2050 zero emissions target for the economy.