Successful business growth needs
a sustainability strategy

Summary: Sustainability practices support the ecological, human and economic health of your business. A sustainability strategy is central to your business model and should form part of every single decision made.

Sheila Kavanagh, network director for Vodafone Ireland

This article originally appeared in the Irish Times on October 6, 2023.

In a climate-conscious world having a joined-up approach to sustainability is now a fundamental aspect of doing business.

Vodafone Ireland is one organisation that has looked at its internal and external activities to effect change across its entire operations. Part of that commitment is to help Irish businesses navigate the same transition, says Sheila Kavanagh, network director for Vodafone Ireland.

“We take sustainability very seriously,” says Kavanagh. “As a digital telecoms company, how we shape the next generation of businesses requires us to have a very clear and sustainable climate action plan, a responsibility that is purpose-driven.”

She says this is being achieved through a number of initiatives across the business. “We want to make our own operations greener but also ensure we are delivering greener products and services to our customers and the communities we serve,” she explains.

Sheila Kavanagh in conversation with colleagues at Vodafone Ireland's head office in Leopardstown

Ambitions realised and yet to realise

“Our overall ambition is that, by 2040, Vodafone will be a carbon neutral business, not just in Ireland but across its entire global footprint. We have very specific, science-based targets and customer-centric initiatives around that.”

Shorter-term goals have already been achieved, she says proudly. “One of our key objectives is to ensure that 100 per cent of our network waste is either reused, resold, or recycled and we have already achieved that,” she says. “We developed an online database that stores all of our network inventory in terms of hardware and we partnered with companies that do responsible certified recycling to ensure it is reutilised or recycled.”

A smart and sustainable network

Vodafone has used its own technologies to address its energy consumption. “A lot of network sites were always-on so we developed some very smart machine learning language models that pre-empt usage by tracking traffic patterns and determining how much we need to power on and off in a sustainable and efficient way to better serve our customers. There is a 15 per cent saving on energy when we implement the intelligent management system, so it is a considerable saving,” she says. This solution is fully automated and uses an intelligent iterative algorithm to achieve the most efficient settings and automatically adjusts to ensure all changes bring an improvement.

“With all the additional technologies and capability across our network, large energy consumption would be expected, but with this saving initiative, we are able to manage our consumption in a positive way, while protecting the network. This particular solution was developed last year and first piloted in Ireland. Vodafone was later shortlisted as a finalist in the PwC Sustainability Awards for the initiative.”

In managing its energy consumption, the organisation has also embarked on a number of solar power and wind energy trials, she explains. These initiatives also benefit customers who choose Vodafone as it enables them to partner with a greener provider who is striving to make impactful change.

Large TV screen featuring Vodafone logo with text Home of trade in

Vodafone retail stores leading by example

Vodafone’s retail operations have also been transformed. There has been a big move towards the specific treatment of electronic waste or e-waste. A new trade-in initiative has launched in retail stores whereupon customers can offset their worth towards the purchase of a new device. “We ensure the old device is recycled or reused in a sustainable way. This initiative is now gathering a lot of momentum, both online and in store, she says. In 2023 we have seen an increase of over 150 per cent far compared to the entirety of the year 2022. Vodafone has also recycled just under 4000 Devices so far this year, with many more currently being processed.”

“In stores, where possible, phones and smart devices sold by Vodafone now have an eco-rating so that customers can make an informed decision around purchasing a more sustainable device.” This initiative gives our customers a clear path to recycle their devices and thus contribute to their sustainable activities.

Vodafone has managed to cut down on its use of unnecessary plastics too. By offering eSIM solutions it eliminates the need to use a plastic SIM card. It is the first telco operator in Ireland to do so, Kavanagh says.

Electric commercial fleet

In the transport sector Vodafone’s goal is to have an electric-only fleet. Historically Vodafone’s commercial fleet was fuelled by petrol or diesel. “This was a big contributor in terms of our carbon emissions. By going electric we will save on the annual purchase of 92,000 litres of fuel,” Kavanagh explains. “We also need to have sufficient charging points to serve that fleet and have been investing in that infrastructure.”

Sheila recognises that achieving meaningful reductions outside of Vodafone’s own supply chain is difficult and is a challenge many businesses now face, but is committed to collaborative action to making this happen. Kavanagh says. “Our planet strategy is to lead and innovate but also to educate and partner with vendors taking sustainability seriously.”

Enabling business sustainability through IoT-enabled solutions

Continued advancements in technology such as 5G Networks and Internet of things (IoT) is also aiding the shift towards sustainability and energy efficiency helping to address many business and societal challenges. For example, Vodafone Ireland has recently launched an IoT pilot initiative with the aim of lowering energy costs for Irish SMEs. This monitors electricity consumption through sensors installed around the customer premises, such as air-con, lights, heating, power and helps drive changes in behaviour, by alerting when energy usage threshold values are exceeded.

Connecting cities and towns through 5G networks and IoT can help regions with not only economic development and efficiency but also sustainability and better citizen engagement for large-scale urban change. “It can generate the data needed to measure, implement and optimise operations - whether that’s measuring air quality, traffic flow, planning health services, waste collection, public transport or energy and food waste” says Kavanagh.

Additionally, through its V-Hub platform Vodafone is sharing free digital advice and articles for Irish businesses. “It functions as a knowledge centre, so we are sharing expertise with smaller businesses on a range of topics including sustainability who may not have the resources to hire consultants in these fields,” she explains.

“We are really trying to make this happen,” she says. “It is a conscious effort across the entire organisation and everyone is on board.”

2023, "Successful business growth needs a sustainability strategy", Irish Times, October 6. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/sponsored/2023/10/06/successful-business-growth-needs-a-sustainability-strategy/

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