By Joakim Reiter – Vodafone Group Director of External Affairs
COVID-19, and the lockdown to contain this awful virus, has reminded us of humanity’s incredible ability to adapt. We are able to change in a short period of time, whenever required. Unintentionally, as a side effect, it has also given the natural environment an unexpected period of recovery, allowing us to appreciate the benefits of reduced traffic, lower emissions and cleaner air.
Whilst the economic cost of the lockdown is clearly not sustainable for society, neither was the way that we ran our economic systems pre-crisis from a sustainability perspective. As we look towards returning to a ‘new normal’, we need to move forward in a way that not only restarts economic activity, but that also works for the natural environment that we all depend upon.
Many in the business world, just as in politics, understand that as society rebuilds and recovers from the COVID-19 crisis, citizens and consumers will expect – indeed demand – clearer, stronger social and environmental commitments. We now have a unique opportunity to build a more sustainable future, ensuring that our economic recovery does not come at a cost to the environment, but enhances it.
This is confirmed by our recent Vodafone Business report, which identified a class of ‘Future Ready’ Businesses with shared characteristics that make them best equipped to navigate through the challenges of COVID-19 while building resilience for their future success.
While financial stability, protecting jobs and overall employee health and wellbeing are understandably priorities, a key differentiator of those Future Ready businesses is that they remain fully committed to long-term sustainability, addressing the needs of today while ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.
Vodafone has pledged to improve the lives of a billion people while halving our environmental impact by 2025. As the societies we serve resurface from the devastating wave of the coronavirus, we are more committed than ever to our purpose.
This sense of urgency is reflected in our two bold announcements made today, further emphasising how sustainability is at the core of Vodafone’s purpose.
Firstly, for every one of our European markets, we will power our network by 100% renewable electricity no later than July 2021 - accelerating the timescale we pledged in 2019 by more than three years. Our customers rely on our services like never before, and our Green Gigabit Net will ensure that as their demand for data continues to grow, we will meet that demand in a way that protects the planet: by using energy efficiently and sourcing it from renewable generation.
We remain focussed on driving energy efficiency initiatives across our own operations, increasing the efficiency of our network equipment and installing lower-energy power and cooling technologies. We are also cutting our energy use by decommissioning and replacing legacy equipment. We invested more than €77 million in energy efficiency and renewable projects in the last year alone, saving more than 186 GWh in FY20.
We carry more customer data traffic than ever on our networks, but we have continued to reduce the amount of energy it takes to transmit that data. Last year, Vodafone achieved a 38.5% reduction in the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions per petabyte of mobile data carried, reaching an average of 230 tonnes of CO2e per petabyte of data.
Secondly, whilst we are ensuring better energy efficiency and moving to 100% renewables, we can make an even bigger contribution by helping our customers reduce their carbon emissions. Our digital services – including our global Internet of Things (IoT) platform and, through its application, in everything from smart grids, to smart cities and smart transport systems – play a key role in helping our customers drive efficiency in how they use natural resources.
For every tonne of CO2e that Vodafone’s own operations generated last year, our customers saved four times that amount. In absolute numbers, this means that Vodafone Business customers globally were able to save a total of 6.9 million tonnes of CO2e through our services.
We want to take this positive contribution much further. So today we are also announcing an ambitious new target for our ‘carbon enablement’: we will help our business customers reduce their own carbon emissions by a total of 350 million tonnes cumulatively over the next ten years, starting from 2020. To put this goal in perspective, this is equivalent to the UK’s entire carbon emissions for 2019.
The majority of this saving will come from IoT, where a flourishing ecosystem of connected devices and services are already helping businesses and local authorities achieve reductions in carbon emissions. With our IoT technologies embedded in vehicles, delivery routes can be optimised and driving patterns improved, reducing fuel consumption by up to a third in some cases.
Globally, Vodafone also connects 12 million smart meters so that utilities, agencies and families can monitor and reduce their energy use. And Vodafone’s technology is helping to realise the vision and exciting potential of smart cities – where networks of IoT devices monitor and improve energy consumption across all key resource systems, including public transport, road networks, street lighting and much more.
In emerging markets, a combination of IoT technology, mobile finance and agriculture solutions are improving the productivity of small scale farmers. IoT services are managing smarter energy distribution and use, helping the expansion of portable solar solutions for off-grid communities.
We estimate that over 31% of the 103 million IoT connections Vodafone operates directly enable our customers to reduce their emissions, and we expect this proportion to increase over time. By 2025, global IoT connections are expected to top 25 billion, up from 9 billion in 2018.
Leveraging the power of IoT in delivering the EU Green Deal is essential, and is an opportunity for Europe to be a technology leader. We are committed to make this a reality. But we cannot achieve it by ourselves.
Last year, we published a White Paper with a set of clear recommendations on how this could be achieved. Unfortunately, delivering IoT at scale remains hindered by fragmentation between regulatory frameworks, between countries and between sectors themselves, including voluntary sharing of the valuable data generated by IoT to develop more system solutions.
We have set out our own ambition to help our customers reduce carbon, just as we are decarbonising our own networks. But supported by the right ‘designed-for-IoT’ regulatory framework, we would realise an opportunity to truly unleash the power of digital technology, delivering greater reductions in carbon emissions in parallel with economic recovery.
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