Ethical Performance
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O2 commits to 40-point sustainability programme

March 2012

UK telecoms giant O2 has introduced an ambitious three-year strategy for expanding its CSR operations, outlining 40 targets on issues from carbon emissions to flexible working.

O2’s Think Big Blueprint, themed around the three issues of the planet, its 22 million domestic customers and its other stakeholders, is one of the UK’s most comprehensive programmes since Marks & Spencer produced Plan A in 2007. The 40 commitments, devised in consultation with the sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future, include a mixture of concrete, quantifiable targets and more general pledges.

The former include a goal for 100% renewable energy for all sites, a 25% reduction target for water usage and a pledge to halve emissions, relative to data traffic, within the three years.

In addition, there is a youth programme for educating, training and employing young people, and proposals to recycle more phones and chargers, improve supply chain accountability and engage with staff and customers.

The strategy emerges from O2’s first dealings with Forum for the Future in 2008, when the company first, privately, set out its stall to become the UK leader on sustainability by 2012. In the following months, says Bill Eyres, O2’s head of sustainability, the NGO persuaded the company to make its policies public.

Eyres, pictured, told EP: “Beyond the commitments, the big issue for us is accountability. By tying our colours to the mast, we are putting ourselves up there to be discussed and will be able have a debate about our role in sustainability challenges.”

He quotes similarly ambitious CSR initiatives in the UK, such as M&S’s, but the main driver for the policy was an information technology sector report on energy efficiency, Smart2020, which claimed the industry can benefit society five times as much as its own individual impact, just through work with other sectors.

Gareth Rice, O2’s head of environmental sustainability, told EP that although the research had outlined the positive impact information technology could have, it also showed how companies in the industry were failing to approach anything like the potential it outlined. O2, therefore, decided to take the lead in responding to it. 

Stakeholder opinions on O2’s own performance were similar, reported Forum for the Future’s research. Customers especially wanted O2 to do more, particularly on the environment, and would welcome a ‘big, bold and aggressive move’ on sustainability.

The proposals will be monitored by the Sustainability Task Force, a body chaired by O2’s chief executive, that meets every six weeks and intends to use the 40 commitments as key performance indicators.

The company will publish progress within its existing non-financial reporting structures and intends to produce ‘warts and all’ disclosure alongside the obvious emphasis on meeting the goals.

O2 | UK & NI Ireland | Sustainability

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