Sustainability in a Time of Crisis: Vodafone’s Green Focus to Continue Despite COVID-19

by Editor, Camy Sandford

The negative economic impact of COVID-19 is a topic of ever-increasing discussion within the CleanTech community. Alongside more general administrative concerns, there is growing uncertainty regarding the continuation of Carbon Net Zero policies, with many fearing green initiatives will end up falling to the bottom of the heap. 

However, in the case of UK telecommunications giant Vodafone, these worries seem largely unfounded. In a webinar held on April 20th addressing ‘Sustainability in a Time of Crisis’, members of the Vodafone sustainability team (in conjunction with Carbon Intelligence) addressed industry concerns regarding their policies during the pandemic, and their attitudes were encouraging indeed. 

Overarching Policy Framework

As emphasised by Head of Sustainable Business Dorothee D’herde, before Vodafone’s current position can be understood it must be situated within their wider policy framework. 

At the core of Vodafone’s operations are three goals – digital society, inclusion for all, and the planet – all tied into the provision of effective communication technologies. 

Within these overarching goals, as part of the GSMA (a prominent mobile industry association) they aim to galvanise climate action by “embedding sustainable leadership into [their] corporate strategy”. Focusing specifically on efficiency, renewable energy supply and reducing network waste, their policies ultimately aim ultimately towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, hoping to build a more sustainable future.

In terms of progress, Vodafone has taken significant steps towards reaching their goals, with 2018 marking a clear point of acceleration. As detailed by Energy Engagement and Insights Manager Sophie Mason, Vodafone have now pledged to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, on track to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% ahead of schedule in 2020. Within the next five years, they also aim to purchase electricity from 100% renewable sources, and reuse, resell or recycle 100% of their redundant network equipment.

Alongside broader initiatives such as #RedLovesGreen, additional focus has also been placed on harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT) as a means of ensuring sustainable industry practice, says D’herde. Increasing both efficiency and connectivity, the most interesting developments in IoT technology have undoubtedly been in renewable energy, with wind and solar farms now able to monitor operations digitally, reducing emissions while increasing output.  

Current Development

Focusing now on the situation at present, although Vodafone’s sustainable foundation remains strong, in light of the current pandemic their strategies have been forced to evolve. 

Vodafone CEO Nick Jeffrey made clear in a press release early last month that the company expected to play a “an instrumental role in this crisis”. With a core focus on keeping their clients connected, alongside strengthening networks Vodafone now provides free access to NHS sites, and has lifted caps on data usage.  

Additional measures have also been put in place to support smaller corporations, including renewable energy providers, who as D’herde details are now paid within 15 days to help stabilise income. Aiming to make a tangible positive impact on both their users, and suppliers, D’herde summarises their current attitude as “How can we help?”, encompassing both environmental and socio-economic concerns. 

Although sustainability does not feature explicitly in Vodafone’s Five Point Plan for COVID-19,  D’herde reassures the continuance of their initiatives. She explains although they might appear prominently in press exposure (at present taking a backseat to socio-economic concerns), they continue to operate in practice, maintaining momentum despite decreased bandwidth. With their Steering Committee gathering only last week, D’herde maintains there was “no need to make the case for continued effort” as previously feared, with sustainability remaining a priority for the vast majority of members. 

Emerging from last week’s meeting is a new triple-aspect plan for the progression of green initiatives, revolving around responsible business practice, resilience and shaping the future. 

Within this framework, most innovative strategies to emerge arguably revolve around plans to escalate the provision of IoT technology. The smart management capabilities of this new digital infrastructure will make corporations better able to cope with the crisis through remote control, hoping to sustain output despite operational constraints. Meanwhile, these efforts hope to reduce emissions through increasing transport and operation efficiency, currently saving three tons of carbon for every one ton used in Vodafone’s operations. 

Additionally, Vodafone’s targets for renewable energy and emission reductions remain in place, with D’herde framing this crisis as a time to “recalibrate our relationship with the planet and with each other”. Positioning economic growth hand in hand with sustainability, it reaffirms the sentiments of Associate Director of Carbon Intelligence Kirsty McKell within the webinar that ultimately “businesses are at the heart of a net zero world”. 

With their services more crucial than ever with the rise of remote working within self-isolation, it is encouraging to see the telecommunications sector rise to the occasion, pioneering sustainable initiatives within this time of crisis. To conclude with an insight articulated by D’herde – these times of crisis don’t as much change the sustainability agenda but reveal its current state, and Vodafone’s seems to be holding strong. 

Camy Sandford

Camy Sandford is an Editor and Senior Writer for CleanTech News. Camy’s focus for sustainable development is longstanding, growing stronger as the realities of the global climate crisis have become more apparent. With a diverse background in the field, she remains most passionate about driving carbon reductions through behavioural change. Firm in her belief that small-scale collective change can have a huge impact, her focus at CleanTech News will centre around finance. Keeping readers up to date on cutting edge innovation, she aims to encourage and support global corporations to bring sustainability to the forefront of their agendas, shining a light on successful current initiatives.