World Environment Day: BT Group and climate action

By Gabrielle Ginér, Head of environmental sustainability, BT Group                                                                    

As head of environmental sustainability at BT for the last 13 years, I’ve been lucky enough to represent the company on the world stage. As we look ahead to World Environment Day on Sunday, I’m reminded of two things; the need to talk about climate change and the need to act.

I attended my first UN climate summit in Paris in 2015. On my return, I realised the importance of setting science-based targets and the need to limit global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees. And in 2017, BT was one of the first companies in the world to set a 1.5 degree target, with approval from the Science Based Targets initiative.

Climate action has been on BTs agenda for thirty years. We set our first carbon reduction target in 1992 and in in 2008, we set our first science-based target to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of our business by 80% by 2020. After meeting that target four years ahead of time, we decided to be even more ambitious.

In September 2021, we announced plans to accelerate our net zero plan, pledging to be net zero for our own operations by 2031, and for our supply chain/customer emissions by 2041. To achieve this, we are focusing on three areas: purchasing renewable electricity, decarbonising our estate, and decarbonising our fleet. Any residual emissions will be covered by investment in high quality carbon offsets.

We’re now using 100% 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 33,000 strong fleet to electric or zero carbon vehicles by 2030.

In December 2021, we launched the BT Group Manifesto – our plan to grow BT in ways that help secure a bright, sustainable future; demonstrate how we connect for good and underpins BT’s leadership as a stakeholder business. 

Today, we publish our BT Group Manifesto Report, which charts our progress over the last 12 months.

Working with others

As with many companies in the telecoms industry, only a small percentage (5%) of BT’s end-to-end carbon emissions come from our own operations. Around 71% comes from our upstream supply chain and 24% from customers using our products and services. It is clear to us that working with suppliers to reduce their own carbon emissions is key if we want to reach our net zero targets.

To achieve supply chain visibility, we have worked with the UK Government, trade associations, NGOs, policy makers and other organisations such as techUK, 1.5°C Supply Chain Leaders and the SME Climate Hub to help drive progress on Scope 3 emissions.

As a business, we are also undertaking three initiatives which focus on reducing our supply chain emissions.

  1. We’re using our purchasing power, with 15% of our adjudication criteria being linked to responsible and sustainable procurement standards. All suppliers undergo assessment with regards to sustainability before they are on-boarded.
  2. We ask suppliers with a contract value over £25m to have a net zero science-based target in place or agree to introduce one within six months, in addition to building a carbon reduction clause into key contracts. We encourage suppliers to switch to 100% renewable electricity, set net zero targets, engage with their suppliers and to disclose to CDP - a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system.
  3. We drive innovation through our Game Changing Challenge competition on innovative solutions to environmental challenges.

Collective climate action has helped us make progress faster and inspire others. That’s why in 2020, we joined forces with Openreach and the Climate Group to launch the UK Electric Fleets Coalition. 30 companies are now part of the coalition, and they’re all advocating for the faster adoption of electric vehicles in the UK and for the kind of supportive policies that will help speed up the transition, such as grants and availability of nationwide charging infrastructure.

Why are net zero targets important?

Customers, policy makers, investors and key stakeholders are increasingly interested in our sustainability credentials. Positive climate action can help companies to win business, attract and retain talent, and offers positive brand and reputational benefits. It’s also good for our bottom-line. 

Targets also drive innovation, both with our suppliers who are incentivised to be more sustainable, and for BT’s product and service innovation. Innovative ICT products and services are key to enabling the low carbon economy. Our solutions help other sectors reduce their carbon emissions, for example by reducing travel and being more efficient through smart solutions. We aim to help our customers avoid 60m tonnes of carbon by 2030.

Through our ‘Smarter Living Challenge’ we showed that technology and small lifestyle changes around the home could save an average household save 1.7 tonnes of CO2e and £938 a year.

What we know

Climate change is real and as a business we have a duty to speak out and to lead.

Actions speak louder than words.

Targets drive performance. Measurement and monitoring are critical to understanding and driving change. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s hard to get there. Companies need to be transparent about their targets, understand how they are going to achieve them and share what progress they are making and the challenges they face along the way. If we don’t share our challenges, we can’t collaborate to overcome them.

So while there is much to be celebrated, there’s so much more to do. The message is clear: it’s time to take action on climate. Not Tomorrow. Today.