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No turning back – a digitally powered sustainable recovery of Europe

Building a sustainable and resilient economy

Although still facing COVID-19 challenges and ongoing efforts to restart the EU economy, Europe now has as big an opportunity as it will ever have to shape its sustainable future.

We therefore welcome the European Commission’s proposal of a Next Generation EU, underpinned by the Green Deal, as the backbone of a resilient, green and digital Europe. It is an unprecedented effort that will enable the re-skilling of workers and create economic opportunities for small businesses. At the same time, it is a wake-up call on the importance of working with nature, aiming to accelerate the transition towards climate neutrality and enhancing the role of circular economy.

This will surely help deliver a more green and resilient Europe, but to be able to complete this vision, digital transformation is essential. A GSMA survey revealed that, despite significantly more network traffic during lockdowns, there was only limited increase in the energy consumption and carbon emissions of its largest network operators. Crucially, an increasingly digital, connected society leads to much less travel needs, particularly through means of transport of high carbon impact such as flying, as pointed out by an FT analysis.

These findings reinforce the critical role of digitalisation in reducing our carbon footprint and maintaining the environmental, health and wellbeing benefits of remote working and increased active travel. And we become more aware this can only be done through secure, resilient connectivity.

There needs to be consistent investment in high capacity infrastructure in order to deliver the connectivity that drives digitalisation, allowing us to work, learn and stay in touch wherever we are or live. The connectivity that can help modernise rural areas, towns and cities across the EU. The connectivity that can help better protect land, water, air and ensure nature can safely thrive.

Clearly, Vodafone has a crucial role to play in driving this connectivity – and we are determined to do so while supporting the wellbeing of a healthy and green society. The digital future needs to be inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable too.

One key driver to build this future will be the Internet of Things (IoT). The use of IoT solutions and overall mobile technology has a tenfold positive impact on avoided emissions compared to the global carbon footprint of mobile networks themselves, according to the GSMA & Carbon Trust Report 2019.

We estimate that over 31% of 103 million IoT connections Vodafone operates directly enable our customers to reduce their emissions and we expect this proportion to increase over time. For example, our connectivity has enabled:

  • Smart energy solutions that enable businesses, authorities and households to monitor, manage and reduce their energy use;

  • Smart cities, networked intelligently to improve the efficiency of energy-intensive services such as public transport, public road networks and street lighting;

  • IoT technology, mobile finance and agriculture solutions to help improve the productivity of small scale farmers across the world;

  • IoT solutions for smarter energy distribution and use, helping the expansion of portable solar solutions for off-grid communities;

  • Smart water meters that have the power to help cut water consumption by more than 15 %, preserving natural resources.

We remain committed to tackle climate change through a switch to 100% renewable electricity and reducing our carbon emission by 50% by 2025 from 2017. We continue to address e-waste and support a circular economy through reusing, reselling and recycling 100% of our network equipment. And we are also supporting our customers and suppliers to reduce their impacts as well.

We are confident in the progress we have made so far and we are ready to keep building on it, as so much more is needed.

What’s next?

As a society, we have the chance to collectively reshape a stronger economy that incorporates environmental sustainability at its very heart. Environmentally friendly policies underpinned by an accelerated digitalisation can increase our resilience and these should be at the forefront of national recovery plans. From building in the sustainable connectivity infrastructure and standards to smart cities solutions, intelligent farming support or biodiversity protection packages, it should all align towards the vision for a green, digital and resilient Europe.

And as this crisis taught us that we need to be better prepared, we must draw on our learnings and build back stronger, taking a full ecosystem approach. This is the only way we can drive the far-reaching societal benefits we need for a European restart and propel our economy into a sustainable and resilient 21st century.

Find out more at vodafone.com/whatif

  • Sustainability
  • Planet
  • EU