Technology change and climate change are two of the biggest driving forces in the world today. We’re seeing an unparalleled amount of change to adapt to over the next few decades, and nothing is as important as the huge task of limiting global warming to 1.5C. The business community will be key to achieving that change, but it will need a different kind of capitalism. Climate leadership is a fundamental part of the responsible capitalism that’s needed.
Last year’s UN report brought the dangers into sharp focus: we have eleven years to keep temperatures to only a 1.5°C rise by the end of the century. If we don’t, the consequences will be disastrous. Scientist predict our coral reefs will be completely wiped out. We’ll have many more days of heatwaves, causing heat-related deaths and more forest fires. 10m more people will be affected by rising sea levels by 2100 at 2°C of warming than 1.5°C.
The extremes of weather last year showed just how quickly our climate is already changing: we had incredible temperatures of more than 30°C in the Arctic Circle. There were wildfires burning across Scandinavia, and Africa experienced its hottest ever recorded temperature of 51°C in Algeria. We can expect these records to continue to be broken if we don’t take action.
So what does it mean to be a leader on climate action? Put simply, it means aligning your business model to a 1.5°C world. This means having a relentless focus on carbon emissions reduction. For us at BT, we calculated we would need to reduce our carbon emissions by 87% by 2030 and by 100% by 2045. This puts us on track to be a Net Zero business well before 2050, which scientists advise is the only way to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
This is where technology plays a surprisingly pivotal role – we can harness the technological change we are seeing to support our climate action goals. The ICT sector is unlike other sectors in two key ways. Firstly, it is reducing its carbon impact year on year. The world’s leading technology and communications companies such a Google, Apple, Amazon and here at BT, have committed to 100% renewable electricity by 2020. BT is already 100% in the UK, and this includes EE with its 30m mobile phone customers.
The results can be seen: the digital sector’s combined emissions declined about 15% between 2010 and 2015. And the projection is that emissions will be less than 2% of global carbon emissions by 2030. This is good for the bottom line – a combination of switching to renewables and energy efficiency measures has saved us £250m at BT over the last decade.
The second key difference, and this is probably more important, is that the digital sector helps other sectors be more sustainable. Take renewables for example. With intermittent supply, we need a smart grid to balance that supply with the demand for energy. Connected technologies make this all work.
The same with the transport sector. Matching travellers with the quickest modes of transport at the right time can help avoid gridlock in cities. Recent research shows connected technologies could take 20m cars off the road by 2025. Technology will make electric and autonomous vehicles the norm, reducing air pollution, making our streets safer, and saving lives.
A recent study by GeSI, a global NGO focussed on sustainability in the technology sector, showed the extent of what technology could achieve. For every tonne of carbon emitted by the technology sector, up to ten tonnes could be saved in other sectors in the economy.
As WWF recently reported: ‘The biggest role that the digital sector can play is in contributing effective solutions to other sectors, influencing consumer and producer behaviour and leading the transformation of our energy systems.’ Technology has the power to help us innovate our way to a sustainable economy.
This isn’t just technology use within your own business. Most businesses could do more with their supply chain. Speaking with suppliers about your sustainability goals can help to speed up the transformation needed. Every year at BT we invite our key suppliers to a competition we call ‘Designing our Tomorrow’. This encourages them to innovate to make our products more sustainable. If our peers are asking for the same changes, then it sends signals to suppliers to invest in new solutions, creating new sustainable markets. The recent focus on plastics and alternatives is a perfect example.
As 2020 draws closer, and the time we have to act starts to dwindle, responsible capitalism will be shown by the businesses that adapt. They’ll need to adapt to the new technologies that are being innovated and use technology to adapt their business models to a sustainable future. Those that work in collaboration with others, such as their suppliers, will find that adaptation much quicker, easier and more fruitful for their business.
Chief Digital Impact & Sustainability Officer, BT