Countdown to 2020

March 24, 2012



BT and climate change


BT accounts for around 0.7 per cent of UK electricity consumption so is well-placed to make a significant contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions. It aims to make sure that the positive impacts of ICT outweigh the negative.

BT has been reporting on its environmental performance since 1992 and reduced carbon emissions by almost 60 per cent between 1996 and 2006. It aims to extend its UK reduction to 80 per cent by 2016 and has set a global target to reduce its CO2 intensity by 80 per cent by 2020, against a 1996 baseline.

Its Climate Stabilisation Intensity Target, developed by Dr Chris Tuppen, BT’s chief sustainability officer, and backed by the Carbon Disclosure Project, ensures emission reductions are sufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change and links climate protection to economic growth.

BT strategy is to reduce emissions, influence the supply chain to produce lower carbon-emitting products; influence customers by proposing lower carbon solutions; and engage with its workforce to reduce their personal footprints.

Reducing energy consumption

BT holds one of the world’s biggest green energy contracts for its electricity. Fifty per cent is combined heat & power and 48 per cent renewable (mostly wind, some biomass and wave generated), powering all its buildings and the network. The remaining two per cent is brown, for back-up generators. It is in the process of developing wind turbines on suitable BT sites with the intent of generating up to 25 per cent of its energy needs by 2016.

BT is working with Intel, the world’s biggest computer chipmaker, to reduce power consumption and heat output from IT products, particularly in data centres. Currently, air-conditioning and cooling systems make up 50 per cent of BT’s power use and it is striving to reduce this proportion through better design, more efficient equipment and airflow. Significant progress has already been made in fresh air cooling, reduced electricity conversion, which itself consumes power, and server decommissioning and consolidation.

Notable activities include:

  • Installation of building management systems and optimisers;
  • Dvelopment of ‘fresh air’ only cooling units to remove heat from exchanges;
  • Energy efficient power systems for exchanges;
  • Energy efficient lighting;
  • Data centres and IT efficiency programmes (a full audit of energy usage in BT data centres is being carried out);
  • New metro node data centres for BT’s IP-based network, known as the 21st Century Networks (21CN) programme, consume 40 per cent of the energy of a traditional data centre;
  • Introduction of higher operating temperatures in equipment rooms to avoid the need for cooling;
  • Changing oil-fired heating boilers to gas-fired boilers;
  • Purpose built, energy efficient buildings at Brentwood, Sevenoaks and Edinburgh;
  • Investment in more efficient telecommunications equipment (e.g. 50 per cent reduction in energy use per broadband line);
  • Evaluating bio fuel and hybrids, including electric vans.
  • Training to promote more efficient driving among fleet users.

Waste management

In 2009/10 BT recycled 24,778 tonnes of waste worldwide, which represents 44 per cent of its total waste. All major sites in the UK have dedicated paper recycling facilities. In the last year it recycled 5,811 tonnes of paper and cardboard, 2000 tonnes of batteries and recovered 8,444 km of redundant cable (weighing 76,000 tonnes) from its network. Recycling facilities for plastic cups/bottles, aluminium cans, newspapers, magazines and cardboard coffee cups are now in place at 30 sites.  A review of waste management processes at Telephone Engineering Centres has resulted in a reduction of around 20 per cent of general waste being sent to landfill from those sites.

Influencing the workforce

BT employs some 70,000 flexible workers and around 13,000 work from home saving around £69 million in accommodation costs and overheads each year. The environment benefits from reduced emissions in unnecessary travel, including during peak commute periods.  Research suggests that a home worker’s footprint is around half that of an office worker’s, including travel to work and use of power in the equation.

Conferencing within BT has saved at least 97,000 tonnes of carbon and eliminated 860,000 face to face meetings. It has also helped the bottom line, saving the company an average £300 per person, per trip in travel costs and lost time.

In 2010 BT became the first company to be awarded the WWF One in Five Challenge for successfully having reduced its employee flights by more than 20 per cent in one year.

Its flexible workers take 63 per cent less sick leave than their office based peers and 96 per cent of women return to work after maternity leave, compared to 47 per cent on average nationally. Productivity gains of between 15 and 31 per cent are typical.

Some 80 per cent of BT employees say they have adopted green practices at home.

Internal activities include:

  • Climate change web site, roadshows and clinics;
  • Carbon busters from senior management identified in each line of business to champion internal and external initiatives
  • Network of carbon clubs launched online
  • Resource-efficiency initiatives including Living Lightly Day; Think Before You Print, Big Switch Off (with potential to save to save £0.5m per annum);
  • Eco-friendly employee benefits, offering discount incentives on everything from green energy to recycled trainers.

Car sharing and cycling to work are actively encouraged, as is good travel practice when travel is necessary.

BT employees have created almost 140 carbon clubs since 2007 and have made more than 14,000 pledges to take action to reduce their carbon footprint.

Influencing the supply chain

BT in Scotland has a supply and procurement base of 12,500 people, worth some £112 million annually. Energy consumption and environmental factors are increasingly part of the criteria for procurement, encouraging suppliers to produce products with fewer emissions.

BT has introduced three procurement principles to make sure products and services it procures have a lower footprint and is working with suppliers to understand specific needs and help them become more environmentally aware.

Other key areas are:

  • Energy consumption is a contract adjudication criterion;
  • On contract renewal, energy consumption must be lower than predecessor;
  • Reduced packaging;
  • Embedding eco-design and life-cycle thinking into product development;
  • Investigating alternative materials (bio-plastics, elimination of batteries);
  • RFID tagging (which could for instance deliver a new form of waste management by providing disposal info on obsolete computer equipment), product leasing, etc;
  • Networked IT products.

Influencing customers

The Scottish BT customer base of around two million crosses the residential, business, corporate, public and voluntary sectors.

  • Helping customers to understand their footprint and what actions they can take to reduce it, including how ICT can help;
  • Provision of lower carbon solutions;
  • 90 per cent of home phone range more energy efficient.
  • Considering eco-labelling products/adopting an energy-efficiency rating;
  • 1M+ signed up for paper-free bills. An e-billing partnership with leading conservation charity The Woodland Trust launched in 2005 has seen BT purchase more than 500,000 saplings for planting (one tree per customer who has signed up for paperless billing under the initiative).
  • BT customers are saving 60 tonnes of paper each year.

BT Conferencing, which is the world`s largest provider of conferencing services to business, saw a 35 per cent increase in customers` use of audio and video conferencing in the aftermath of the recent volcanic eruption.

BT is Sustainability Partner to the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and the first ever partner to the Games to commit to assessing the impact of the products and services it supplies.

Customers who believe BT takes its responsibility to society seriously are 49 per cent more likely to be ‘very’ or ‘extremely satisfied’ with BT.


  • BT was top of the telecoms industry in the Dow Jones World Sustainability Index for eight consecutive years, from 2001 to 2008, and remains one of the best-performing companies in the sector.
  • It has been awarded two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in Sustainable Development.
  • It was Company of the Year 2007, Impact on Society Award, Business in the Community (BiTC).
  • It is recognised by the United Nations for accountability and transparent reporting in terms of sustainability.

BT Works with Glasgow Firm on Electric Van Trial

Engineers at BT’s Openreach division have begun trialling energy efficient electric vans, as part of the company’s commitment to reduce its global carbon intensity by 80% by 2020.

Openreach – which is responsible for the nationwide local BT network that connects homes and businesses across Britain to communications providers’ networks – has begun testing four electric vans and, if successful, plans to roll them out more widely across its fleet of 23,400 vehicles.

BT’s fleet management division has worked with Glasgow-based Allied Electric and another company, Smith Electric Vehicles, to convert two Peugeot and two Ford zero emission vehicles that will be tested for a number of things, including suitability for engineers’ work patterns, battery life and energy usage. The vans will be tested in Milton Keynes, one of the first cities and towns across the UK piloting charging points for electric vehicles, and Openreach’s Stratford telephone exchange and nearby 2012 Olympic Village.

The vans have a restricted top speed of 70 miles per hour and can cover up to 100 miles between battery charges, considerably more than the average 60 to 65 miles per day covered by an Openreach van on a normal day. The vans offer the same payload capabilities as an equivalent diesel vehicle, but with none of the environmentally harmful tailpipe emissions.

Ian Hill, Chief Sustainability Officer at Openreach, said: “If successful, electric vans provide a great opportunity for Openreach to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of its vehicle fleet. Not only are they environmentally friendly, but the vans could deliver longer term cost benefits and their quietness make them perfect for working in residential areas.”

“Last year BT reduced the amount of CO2 emitted as a result of travel and transport by more than 20 per cent, by reducing the number of journeys made and increasing fuel efficiency. We hope that electric vans can add to our carbon reduction commitment.”

Openreach also believes that electric vans could reduce vehicle fleet maintenance costs, as electric motors only contain a few components, rather than thousands found in a combustion engine – which means the likelihood of them breaking down is far less.

The electric van trial is just one of a number of ways BT plans to reduce its carbon intensity by 80% by 2020, from 1997 levels. For example, in California an array of solar panels is powering BT offices and data centres, whilst in the UK planning permission for the first of BT’s wind farms has been granted, part of the company’s plans for the UK’s biggest corporate wind power project outside the energy sector.

Openreach has also launched a number of other initiatives to cut energy usage and carbon levels in its vehicle fleet, including issuing tyre pressure gauges, speed limiting technology, telematics, route planning and the use of lighter and better designed racking and equipment. Upgrades to the Openreach telephone and broadband network, as well customer service improvement programmes have also led to energy reductions.

For every 150 engineering visits that Openreach avoids through network improvements and fewer failed visits, it estimates that it avoids one tonne of CO2. In 2008/09 the company avoided more than 2,000 tonnes as a result of these initiatives and between 2007 and 2009, BT reduced the distance travelled by its commercial fleets by 9.5%, and its fuel consumption by 10.8%.