BT: Success and Sustainability
Companies leading on sustainability are finding that being green can have a very positive effect on their bottom line. BT Americas' Michael Boustridge (left) and Kevin Moss (right) tell Jim Banks how they are helping the environment and their business at the same time.
Climate change, carbon emissions and renewable energy are talking points in boardrooms around the world. Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are becoming essential as regulation forces companies to examine these issues.
However, while some merely pay lip service to legislation and define sustainability in narrow terms, others embrace CSR in its widest sense – much to their benefit.
One such company is BT, which has not only recognised the importance of 'going green', but also the wider implications of sustainability.
Michael Boustridge, president of BT Americas, believes: 'Sustainability is not just about the environment or saving money, it is also about creating sustainable societies and economies. The goal is to make it real.'
As one of the world's leading providers of communications solutions and services, BT is a key partner for many organisations, and by embracing sustainability and CSR it has delivered benefits for itself and many of its customers.
THE WIDER PERSPECTIVE
BT's goal is to not only improve in areas such as energy consumption, but also to focus on social investment and economic benefit. It believes sustainability is a key challenge for the 21st century and an opportunity for companies to improve their business models. Profitability, social equity and ecological integrity are all on the bottom line.
The company's progress towards its CSR objectives is impressive. It has, for instance, published data on its carbon footprint since 1992, allowing it to closely monitor its improvements in areas such as energy efficiency.
Kevin Moss, head of CSR for BT Americas, says: 'We were the biggest energy user in our home market of the UK. So, energy efficiency showed up as a material issue for us, both in terms of cost and sustainability.'
BT has, for instance, created green data centres, working with manufacturers to reduce energy used for cooling systems. It has changed to AC current for switching, which requires lower voltage. It is also looking to revise the temperature at which systems operate to reduce demands on air conditioning.
Such initiatives are the first step in a broader energy strategy that begins by looking at ways to reduce the total power demand of a data centre. Next it works to find efficient means of energy production, with the remaining power demands met from renewable sources.
Boustridge adds: 'You also have to consider the ability to virtualise the industry to reduce duplicate networks and data centres. It needs this kind of systemic, end-to-end approach.'
Such systemic thinking has helped BT to become one of the world's top carbon-busting companies, having cut its carbon footprint by 60% since 1996. Importantly, its progress is measured and verified through a process of external, independent assessment.
Many companies might view CSR as a necessary burden. Others embrace it and realise the many potential positives.
Moss says: 'There are commercial benefits. Our business depends on the sustainability of our markets. It also has an impact on our key relationships with partners and customers, and it has a positive effect on our brand.'
Boustridge adds: 'There is competitive advantage in that it is good to be a world leader and an innovator. BT Americas has the ability to be that at the moment.'
For BT, some of the advantages come from focusing on how its specialist knowledge and range of solutions can support its customers' sustainability initiatives. Moss explains: 'We work with our customers to understand how our products can help them reduce their carbon footprint. That takes the concept outside our business and it becomes a competitive differentiator.'
One tactic, for instance, is to show its business customers the carbon savings they can make using key BT services such as teleconferencing to replace travel. That data then becomes part of the customer's CSR report.
Moss continues: 'Communicating data is very important. Last year we saved 97,000t of carbon emissions by using teleconferencing. We challenge our customers to change their behaviour.'
Boustridge explains: 'The way we approach it as a corporation is to help people understand how to engage with the issue of sustainability, how to measure it and how to embed it into their corporate culture. Some individuals say the issue is too big for them to tackle, but a systemic CSR programme shows how all the little things add up. That cultural embedding is critical. Once you have that, you can start convincing people that they don't need to get on a plane.'
TECHNOLOGY AND LEADERSHIP
As well as teleconferencing, BT facilitates telecommuting to create an agile workforce. BT has enabled many of its own staff to work from home, which has reduced the number of days absent through sickness and has helped bring more working mothers back to their jobs after maternity leave – some 98% return, which is twice the UK national average.
Boustridge himself works one or two days a month from home, and up to 15% of BT's UK and US workforce are permanent teleworkers. Half of the remaining staff are flexible workers, splitting their time between home and the office.
Wireless technology also supports sustainability. For instance, a network of BT wireless devices in soft drink vending machines helps one customer identify when the machine is empty, signalling for a refill only when required. The number of refill journeys required has fallen by 10%.
Focusing on how ICT services can reduce customers' carbon footprint ties the drive for sustainability to BT's business proposition. It encompasses issues such as network resilience, security of customer and employee information, plus disaster recovery and business continuity, which affects a company's ability to continue operating in adverse circumstances. In regard to social investment, it also takes in issues such as the digital divide.
Sustainability must, BT believes, address the environment, the organisation and the people within it. To be effective, however, initiatives must focus on targets that are both relevant and attainable.
Moss notes: 'CSR is a very wide area, so an important part of our CSR approach is materiality. It means identifying those issues that are important to our business, including looking ahead at what is coming down the pike so that we can stay ahead of the curve.'
At BT, identifying and taking effective action on relevant issues requires the engagement of senior executives. This top-down approach is evidenced by the fact that BT's managing director heads the Confederation of British Industry's task force on climate change. Similarly, there must be a bottom-up approach, which helps individual employees to make a difference, both in their home and work life.
Moss explains: 'The team handling CSR is sometimes seen as the conscience of the organisation. It is not. Everyone in the organisation makes up its conscience, so we have CSR champions at all levels and in all countries.'
Essentially, success in sustainable initiatives demands that CSR – encompassing the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability – becomes part of corporate culture. This stimulates forward-thinking, not reactive posturing. Furthermore, it makes these issues real for individuals and their businesses.
BT is leading by example and proving what can be done with the right commitment and leadership. Other large companies should take note.