Global telecoms giant BT is saving on average £57m sterling a year by enabling 10pc of its 100,000-strong workforce to work flexibly or remotely, its chief sustainability officer Chris Tuppen told delegates at a Business & Leadership briefing on the Green Economy.
Chris Tuppen, who was speaking at the conference on Friday, was recently named ‘one of the 50 people who could save the planet from climatic disaster’ by a special Guardian newspaper panel.
Tuppen said that when it came to ICT – responsible for 2pc of worldwide carbon emissions – there are two sides to the coin: "There’s the energy being consumed by ICT communications infrastructure and the energy that can be saved through the application of that infrastructure.
"If you look at through the use of ICT how we could enable energy reduction and emission savings in other industry sectors through the application of ICT, it is five times the direct footprint of the ICT sector itself – not many sectors have that potential capacity."
BT, he said, has reacted to the man-made climate challenge by trying to do everything online and is targeting a 2pc reduction in energy consumption this year. "If you think about it in terms of energy consumption per gigabit of data, we’re down 2.2pc in two years.
"The lessons we’ve learned internally are that boardroom leadership is critical. Comprehensive measurement is absolutely the first stage, knowing where you’re starting from. Our target is to reduce energy intensity by 80pc by 2020.
"What we buy into the company is critical to driving down carbon footprint – our suppliers know that if they want to supply to us quality, price and energy efficiency will decide who wins a contract.
"We make sure that we align targets to cut energy with the cost of energy in the business and embed this into our business processes. It is a requirement that every new product has an energy efficiency assessment that goes with it. It is not just at board level, we are engaging employees across the business. It is our objective that 20pc of employees will be engaged at home and in work in carbon reduction activities."
Tuppen said that out of BT’s 100,000-strong workforce, just under 10pc work from home. "This saves us £57m sterling a year in accommodation and saves 1.4m tonnes of carbon dioxon. It is our view that flexible workers are more productive.
"BT has 70,000 plus people enabled to work from home, 9,500 permanently based at home, 5,000 part-time, and 400 job sharers. In terms of green data centres, we have reduced a 1,500-server data centre down to just over 100 servers, saving £600,000 sterling per year. Energy efficiency has saved us £10m sterling since August 2008: switching off equipment, checking/changing heating/cooling set points, new fans and smart motors."
Tuppen said that the organisation’s building energy management system is in use across 2,000 of the largest buildings in BT and helps manage temperature and air flow using sensors and remote monitoring.
"Teleconferencing has eliminated the annual need for over 607,000 face-to-face meetings, leading to travel savings of £80m sterling and 24,300 tonnes of CO2 a year. Last year over six million conference calls were held in BT, this meant that 10pc of workers avoided travelling. We believe in using our own technologies to drive down our own carbon footprint."
Decarbonising the economy
Looking at the wider global economy, Tuppen agreed with Minister Eamon Ryan’s assertion that decarbonising the agriculture sector will be one of the most difficult challenges, as will aviation and shipping.
He said the role of ICT cannot be underestimated. "While airplanes themselves haven’t really changed in the last 30 or 40 years, the fact that people can book via the internet and get information on their BlackBerry proves ICT has transformed the business model of the aviation industry.
"Looking across the economy and how ICT could help in that transformation, dematerialisation may sound like something out of Star Trek but moving bits of information instead of atoms of material is actually important. If you’ve downloaded a song from the internet you’ve dematerialised the process. In industry, in the power sector, looking at the smart grid, smart buildings and transport – all of these will in the future be connected."
He said that ultimately everything we do in life or in work will need to transform to low carbon footprints, whether its offices, homes, healthcare, retail, transport or renewable energy.
"It will be the power of the internet and connectivity and information flows and remote control that will help deliver that transformation and low-carbon communities in an holistic way.
"This is going to take between 20 and 40 years to achieve that vision. It will be a road map and we need to start on that journey now, piloting advanced technologies, if we want to remain competitive and build up that knowledge and know-how," Tuppen said.
By John Kennedy
Photo: BT’s chief sustainability officer Chris Tuppen
The Green Economy – Conference Highlights
On Friday, 14 May, business leaders in Ireland attended the The Green Economy – A Business & Leadership Briefing to listen to leading experts discuss the green economy’s challenges and opportunities. To read reports and see video highlights from the conference, click here.