Environmental footprint

We are working to reduce the environmental impacts of our operations, focusing on cutting our carbon footprint and managing electronic waste

Environmental footprint – Our approach

We aim to minimise the environmental footprint of our operations to enable us to do more with less: less energy, less carbon, less waste and less use of resources. We focus on improving the energy efficiency of our network, using renewable energy where viable and developing innovative solutions that enable our enterprise customers to significantly reduce their own carbon footprints.

Our main focus is on using energy more efficiently in our networks, data centres and operations. This is where we can make the biggest difference to our environmental footprint – by tackling related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – and where we can make the strongest business case by saving energy costs.

We have environmental management systems in place to manage our energy use and carbon emissions as well as a range of other environmental impacts, such as electronic waste from our network equipment, office waste, emissions of ozone-depleting substances and water use.

Read on to find out more about our approach. Or go to Performance to read about our progress in 2013/14.

Minimising our carbon footprint

We are committed to minimising our carbon footprint as our business grows. Our priority is to manage CO2 emissions from our networks and our data centres, which together account for more than 85% of our footprint. We are doing this by investing in more efficient technologies and exploring innovative solutions that cut CO2 emissions by reducing energy consumption or using renewable energy.

As we grow our business, we are also enabling more businesses and organisations to reduce their carbon emissions using our mobile services (see Low carbon solutions).

See Performance to find out about our progress in 2013/14.

Network efficiency

We are working with suppliers to develop and install more efficient components across our entire network – including our base stations, mobile telephone exchange centres, data centres and fixed line facilities.

Across our markets, we are rolling out technology such as single RAN base stations (which combine 2G, 3G and 4G technologies), more efficient power amplifiers, free cooling – using fresh air to cool network equipment to reduce the need for energy-intensive air conditioning – and high capacity voice and data switching nodes.

Our hybrid power systems, which combine diesel generators with batteries for greater fuel efficiency, use smart controls to cut diesel use by up to 70% at sites that depend on diesel generators for primary or back-up power in areas with limited access to reliable grid electricity. For sites with higher power requirements, batteries can be supplemented with solar and wind power (see below).

The Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre in South Africa provides a base for our network innovation teams to collaborate with external partners and suppliers to develop and test new technologies that will help us reduce our energy use and carbon footprint.

Sharing network equipment with other operators can also deliver energy savings (see Network deployment).

Renewable energy

Our main focus is on using less energy, however in some markets we also switch to renewable energy sources to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and cut related carbon emissions. A small but growing number of our base stations use renewable energy, mostly solar and wind power. Renewable energy sources are most economically viable for sites in emerging markets, where they help us reduce the need for diesel generators as we expand our reach to remote areas where grid supplies may be unavailable or unreliable.

As we roll out more on-site renewable power, we are also exploring the use of our network to provide not just telecommunications services but clean energy to remote communities. This brings climate benefits, by replacing carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and provides an opportunity for us to contribute to development by extending access to energy (see Low carbon solutions).

In addition to using small-scale renewable energy to power parts of our network, we purchase some electricity from the grid that is generated from renewable sources (green tariff electricity). To address the risk of double counting emission reductions due to uncertainties surrounding the carbon accounting of green tariff electricity in some European countries, we report both a gross and net total for our CO2 emissions (see Data). We continue to monitor regulations around this issue, such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Scope 2 Guidance published in March 2014. While we buy green tariff energy in some markets, at a Group level we prioritise improving the energy efficiency of our networks and working to help our enterprise customers reduce their CO2 emissions (see Low carbon solutions).

Data centre efficiency

Our data centres – which account for around 10% of our total CO2 emissions – must become more efficient to reduce energy use and handle increasing traffic as cloud data services, mobile internet and other data applications become more popular.

Three data centres located in Germany, Ireland and Turkey have third-party certifications for energy efficiency. We are implementing efficiency measures at these and our other data centres including:

  • Installing more efficient hardware and innovative technology, such as dry coolers, which optimise energy efficiency
  • Reducing the number of physical servers needed to store the same or more data by increasing the amount of virtual servers used
  • Cutting energy needed for air-conditioning by increasing our use of free air cooling, and upgrading equipment with new, more energy efficient models.

Business travel

Our employees often need to meet with colleagues from other countries. We are working to reduce the need for business travel – and associated greenhouse gas emissions – by equipping our offices with state-of-the-art technology to enable our people to communicate and work together. Our unified communications system combines internal voice, data and video applications into one online experience so employees can contact colleagues through voice, video, instant messaging or web-based conferencing programmes.

Managing electronic waste produced by our networks

Replacing network equipment as technology advances helps us provide the best service for our customers as well as giving us the opportunity to install new, more energy-efficient equipment to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations. However, upgrading our network also generates electronic waste (e-waste), some of which is potentially hazardous and must be disposed of responsibly.

We recycle the majority of our network waste. In our mature markets, we often have a choice of expert e-waste recycling contractors that comply with international regulations on e-waste. However, this is more challenging in emerging markets with limited facilities to recycle and manage electronic waste. Finding the most sustainable solution in these markets is not always easy. For example, we may have to choose between:

  • Allowing e-waste to be processed within the emerging market despite a lack of suitable facilities, and helping to build recycling capacity for the future, or
  • Transporting e-waste back to mature markets for processing, which enables the use of high-quality facilities but increases carbon emissions from transport and does not help to build capacity in emerging markets.

See Performance to find out about our progress in 2013/14.

Managing our environmental impacts

Accountability for environmental performance rests with the senior management of our local markets and Vodafone Group functions, including the Technology and Supply Chain teams. Ultimate accountability rests with local market Chief Executives and the Group Executive Committee.

The issues most relevant to our business are identified through our materiality process (see Material issues). Our environmental management systems provide a framework for managing these issues and reducing our impacts across the Group. This includes monitoring risks, setting targets, reviewing progress and reporting performance.

Our local markets’ environmental management systems in the Czech Republic, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain and the UK are certified to international standard ISO 14001. In 2013/14, the certification for Vodafone UK was extended to cover the integrated activities of the Cable & Wireless Worldwide business, which was acquired by Vodafone in 2012/13.

In addition to our focus on managing our carbon footprint and network e-waste (see above), we also manage a range of other issues. These include:

Office waste

We are committed to reduce, reuse and recycle the waste we produce where possible. The main waste produced by our offices, call centres and shops is paper, printer toner cartridges, packaging material and IT equipment. We provide recycling points in offices to encourage employees to recycle, and promote double-sided printing to save paper. See Performance for information on our Less Paper Office project.

Water

Our operations use relatively little water compared with other industries and we do not consider this one of our key environmental impacts. However, we recognise that water is becoming an increasingly important issue, particularly in water-stressed regions of the world. We monitor and aim to reduce water use locally by, for example, installing low-flow toilets in offices. See Data for our performance in water use.

Ozone depletion

Some of our network cooling systems and air conditioning systems in our offices and shops use refrigerants. We have phased out the use of CFCs and are working to phase out the use of HCFCs in accordance with the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement on the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances. See Data for our performance in reducing ozone-depleting substances.

Complying with environmental regulations

We have taken steps to assist the local markets in complying with applicable legislation on electronic waste. These include national legislation in each market and European regulations such as:

  • The EU’s Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) Directive
  • The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive in EU countries, which requires companies to take back and recycle used electrical and electronic equipment at the end of their useful life
  • The EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Directive which restricts the use of certain substances of high concern in any of the products we sell.

See Data for our performance in environmental compliance.