EMS certification draws in UK telecoms giant

BT achieves "largest ever" ISO 14001 with innovative operations-based approach

British telecoms operator BT claims to have become the largest organisation in the world to have its environmental management system certified, giving a major boost to efforts to spread sustainability principles throughout the telecoms sector. The certification, to the ISO14001 standard, covers all 8,000-9,000 sites with 120,000 employees making up BT's UK operations, and was completed last week.

BT is only the second European telecoms company, after SwissCom, to get an international seal of approval for its environmental management and, with a market capitalisation of UK£80bn (euros 126.5bn), is much larger. However, 22 other operators have been working on certification since a common European charter was signed in 1997. Together with north American companies, the UN Environment Programme and the International Telecommunications Union, they will meet in Paris next month to formulate a global initiative.

ISO14001 was the "obvious choice" for BT because the comparable EU system EMAS was still exclusively site-based and restricted to manufacturing at the time the group decided to proceed two years ago, according to corporate social and environmental manager Chris Tuppen. "But the other crucial factor is that ISO14001 is better recognised internationally, and we are now a global company".

A unique aspect of the certification, specially developed by BT in conjunction with verifier Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance, was to register operations according to their environmental aspects - such as waste, energy and procurement. Unlike a more conventional approach, based on operating divisions or sites, this would enable the certification to be maintained through any subsequent company restructuring, according to Mr Tuppen.

Supply chain pressure - particularly from a few large corporate clients and government departments - played an important role in persuading BT to seek certification, as did the desirability of building the business's reputation among stakeholders, he added. The exercise had already paid off by strengthening roles and responsibilities around the company.

For telecoms operators such as BT, Mr Tuppen said key issues to be addressed included energy consumption, the running of transport fleets, air-conditioning and refrigeration within exchanges and other buildings, purchasing and waste policies, product stewardship, use of paper and management of site risks, including fuel storage. On the external front, interesting challenges included reduction in travel and the environment impacts of future e-commerce, he added.

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