Monday, 18 October 2021

Putting sustainability at the heart of local authority decisions

By Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact and Sustainability Officer at BT
Friday 17 September 21

2021 kicks off what is widely referred to as ‘the climate decade’. A ten-year period where our collective actions will determine the kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit. ‘Collective’ is the critical factor here because no person, business or Government can tackle climate change single-handedly. Sustainability is increasingly topping the agenda of many organisations and rightly so. In the run up to climate talks later this year, we’re starting to see momentum, but much more needs to be done. The UK and the US have both announced ambitious climate change commitments ahead of the COP26 summit in November, and real change is taking place at a local level, with 230 local authorities across England and Wales declaring a climate emergency, with two-thirds of those in England committing to being carbon neutral by 2030.  Among growing calls for the Government to place more power into local hands to help tackle the issue, decisions taken by local authorities will have a significant impact on building a more sustainable future and it goes far beyond adopting greener tech…

2021 kicks off what is widely referred to as ‘the climate decade’. A ten-year period where our collective actions will determine the kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit. ‘Collective’ is the critical factor here because no person, business or Government can tackle climate change single-handedly.

Sustainability is increasingly topping the agenda of many organisations and rightly so. In the run up to climate talks later this year, we’re starting to see momentum, but much more needs to be done.

The UK and the US have both announced ambitious climate change commitments ahead of the COP26 summit in November, and real change is taking place at a local level, with 230 local authorities across England and Wales declaring a climate emergency, with two-thirds of those in England committing to being carbon neutral by 2030. 

Among growing calls for the Government to place more power into local hands to help tackle the issue, decisions taken by local authorities will have a significant impact on building a more sustainable future and it goes far beyond adopting greener tech. The links between climate change and the future of people’s work, health, and wellbeing must be widely understood – and citizens guided to recognise the importance of climate change and the role they can play.

How BT is helping

As part of plans to become a net zero carbon emissions business by 2045, BT is using 100% renewable electricity worldwide, meaning that consumers who buy mobile or broadband from EE, BT or Plusnet are already supplied by networks that are powered by 100% clean energy. 

We’ve outlined plans to electrify up to 28,000 of our 33,000 vehicles by 2030 and have teamed up with The Climate Group and 29 other organisations to form The UK Electric Fleets Coalition. Together we’ve helped to shape the UK Government’s announcement ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and we continue to call for the right policies to support the mass adoption of electric vehicles.

With a customer base of 30 million households, BT is well placed to help households cut their carbon footprint, and has recently partnered with environmental charity Hubbub to carry out a three-month ‘Smarter Living Challenge’ looking at the ways technology can help cut household emissions.

We’re also working with Small Business Britain and the UK Government to help SMEs overcome some of those barriers. As founding members of the supply chain leaders initiative, we helped to launch the SME climate hub in 2020 and recently backed the UK Government’s SME climate hub.

The future of work

The past 18 months have enabled organisations across all sectors to experiment with remote working, with the country experiencing how productive the working model can be. 

The likelihood is that hybrid working is here to stay. For local authorities, that means servicing citizens who are no longer commuting into urban areas every day, while also building on the opportunity to create a more sustainable community. 

Not commuting to work every day will help to reduce congestion, result in better air quality and provide an opportunity for local authorities to talk to residents about sustainable living. From the technology they rely on to more efficient use of utilities, the remote working revolution can be a foundation for real sustainability progress.

At BT, we’re committed to building a future-proof infrastructure, good jobs and a digital fabric on which to build smart climate solutions. That’s why we’re investing around £15 billion to build full fibre broadband for 25 million premises right across the UK by December 2026 alongside continued investment in 5G mobile.

Our mobile and fixed networks will shape the way we all live, work and move – supporting everything from home-working through to the development of smart cities and enabling the Internet of things. 

Supporting a green recovery through innovation 

Working with the University of Stirling, we’ve helped to launch a “living laboratory”: a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system designed to help businesses in central Scotland make more intelligent, data-driven, and – importantly – sustainable business decisions. Using sensors, satellite data, and AI, the laboratory will capture, process, and share data from across the Forth Valley using BT’s EE 5G network. This will provide vital information to inform decisions that could help deliver major economic and sustainability benefits in the area. 

Initially, the platform will monitor water quality in reservoirs, deliver near-real time forecasts of bathing water quality, provide early warning and monitoring of floods, and demonstrate environmental compliance in the brewing and distilling sector. In the future, the technology could be applied across a range of sectors, including agriculture, biodiversity and conservation, oil and gas, and renewables and low carbon, ultimately playing a fundamental role in the region’s broader environmental efforts. 

We’ve also partnered with the University of Hertfordshire to transform Hatfield Business Park into an innovation centre for smart technology. The county council’s Hertfordshire Living Lab project is designed to facilitate experimental services and explore how future communities can use digital technologies such as driverless cars, drones, and robots to enhance and deliver a more sustainable way of life. A change in culture is needed to amend how things have always been done, so smaller steps taken at innovation hubs provide a look into the future. 

In 2020, we teamed up with US-based tech company Plug and Play to launch our Green Tech Innovation Platform. The aim of the platform is to uncover new green technology solutions to help our business and public sector customers reach net zero carbon emissions. 

To date, the focus of the platform has been on three areas for new and emerging technologies that have a real potential to transform the environment of local communities – smart streets, smart buildings, and remote working. These technologies include environmental monitoring and traffic optimisation sensors that can be easily embedded in street furniture, IoT-capable solutions that support energy and water management in social housing and other council-owned properties, and the use of 5G to support innovative products and solutions such as video or virtual reality, that will reduce the need to travel.  

A partner with the same agenda 

Local authorities have an important role to play in encouraging and supporting citizens as they look to reduce their carbon footprint, and take small individual actions that, collectively, will help minimise the harm done to the planet. 

It’s a daunting prospect, so partnering with organisations who share sustainability ambitions, and have the necessary networks, technologies, and infrastructure to support, is imperative if local authorities are to achieve their aims. All organisations, large and small, have an important role to play in reducing worldwide carbon emissions, so we’re urging every organisation to do their bit to achieve the Government’s 2050 zero emissions target for the economy. 

Public or private, sustainability should be at the top of every organisation’s agenda, but there’s no quick-fix. Small incremental steps across all aspects of life is what’s required. So, local authorities should partner with brands that share such goals and have the breadth of expertise to make a wide-reaching difference. 

Want to find out more about how can we help public sector organisations achieve their green goals? Click here 

 

To hear more from the BT leadership team, join us at Connected Britain 2021, 21-22 September at the Business Design Centre, London. Check out the agenda here and book your ticket now!

 

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