New York Climate Week, which takes place annually parallel to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, starts on 23 September. Five questions to Birgit Klesper, Senior Vice President Group Corporate Responsibility at Deutsche Telekom AG, about the Group's position and activities in the area of climate protection.
At a range of events and actions, politicians, business leaders and representatives of civic society meet to present and discuss various approaches in the struggle against climate change and to underline the enormous importance of the challenge. The Fridays for Future movement has also called for worldwide demonstrations on the Friday before the General Assembly.
Ms Klesper, among the roles of Corporate Responsibility unit is to guide the Group’s stance in the area of climate protection: how is the Group tackling this important subject?
Klesper: The topic of climate protection has played a role in our conduct from a very early stage. We set ourselves our first climate goal back in 1995. On the basis of our decades doing excellent groundwork, in 2019 we became one of the first DAX corporations to succeed in aligning our new climate protection goal to the current state of science on climate change. As a result, our goals are now more ambitious than ever: by 2030 we intend to reduce our emissions by 90 percent as compared to 2017. An important step on this road is represented by the fact that we are set to be using only energy from renewable sources by 2021. On top of those commitments, we are now also taking a deeper look at the emissions produced during the manufacturing and consumption of our products: we intend to reduce those emissions by 25% per customer by the year 2030.
One aspect of this commitment is very important: even if a company is obliged to pursue and monitor its climate protection strategy centrally, making one particular department responsible for that work, it remains the case that the pursuit of climate protection as a whole is a task that requires the involvement of the entire Group. There is no room for delegating any such responsibility away. With this in mind, I am extremely proud to observe precisely this at Deutsche Telekom: while our Board of Management, for example, is speaking out on the topic at our shareholders' meeting and is stepping up the pace in approving ambitious, internal climate protection targets, colleagues at all levels in the Group are working hard on their implementation – all the way from procurement to product development and from technology to marketing and finance.
But is that not all just window dressing: after all the continuing build-out of the Deutsche Telekom network and the ever accelerating digitalization process is massively increasing energy consumption – isn’t the reality that “we’re all sinners” in terms of climate protection”?
Klesper: There are two distinct facets in this question. On the one hand, the German ICT industry alone consumes as much electricity private households in North Rhein-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg combined. As well, it is true that our network build-out and the introduction of the 5G standard will cause our energy consumption to increase. But energy consumption should not be equated directly with emission levels. As we have already set ourselves the goal of generating all our electricity from renewable sources in Germany by as early as 2020 and of meeting that same target all across the entire Group in 2021, our increasing energy consumption will by no means lead to greater emissions – on the contrary. In this field we’re moving very much in the direction of climate-friendly expansion.
A stable climate also has concrete economic relevance for us as a Group.
Add to that what we call the “enablement factor” in our internal discussions: through our efforts to provide intelligent solutions and products, we can help our customers to lead more climate-friendly lifestyles and to save energy. Look at cloud computing, intelligent home automation and traffic routing, for example, or a whole gamut of of other solutions through which the ICT sector is contributing to resource conservation and climate protection in industry and agriculture. In 2018, through the use of our products and solutions, our customers managed to save 85 percent more emissions than we emit.
The call is often made for companies to commit themselves actively to becoming social actors. Does Deutsche Telekom take a position in relation to that demand?
Klesper: The benefits of living in a stable climate has specific economic relevance for us as a Group. Climate change is set to increase the incidence of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms. Extreme weather conditions as a consequence of climate change will have a negative impact on our business processes and will inevitably lead to incidents or even network outages. A very real example of this was Cyclone Friederike, which caused more than 600 cross-connect cabinets and over 200 mobile base stations to go out of action in early 2018. Among the effects of such breakdowns is their massive impact on the management of rescue operations, for example, sometimes even rendering such emergency efforts entirely impossible.
Accordingly, we have been quick to position ourselves as a company committed to climate protection both on a political level and through our membership of trade associations. For example, we are a founder member of “Foundation 2° – German Businesses for Climate Protection”. The latest news from this initiative is that, the GSM Association has announced on Monday that the complete mobile sector should get entirely climate neutral by 2050 at the latest and of course we do support this pledge! This represents an important step, one which – thanks to the joint approach taken by the whole sector – combines real-world efficacy with a clear signaling effect of our intentions.
A few years ago we were exotic with our climate protection topics, today the topic is a matter of course.
• As anyone who follows the public discussion and has heard of initiatives as the “Global Climate Strike” scheduled for September 20 can see, climate protection is very much an ‘in’ topic and, judging by your comments, Deutsche Telekom simply has to be THE green company par excellence. But putting your hand on your heart – are there still areas where serious work needs to be done?
Klesper: Of course there are. And a fair number of them. But the path to sustainability is precisely that: a path. The further you progress along it, the more you learn. When you reach a milestone, you very often find yourself with a very new view of the landscape. Our goal is to take as many people along with us on this journey – both internally in relation to our staff members and externally as regards our customers. That was one of the reasons that we launched our new ”we care” sustainability label at the IFA trade fair in Berlin. The label offers customers with an interest in sustainable products a new point of orientation and a new window of transparency on the topic, while also providing ourselves and our suppliers with a spur to find new answers. We use the “we care” label on the one hand to indicate products, services, projects, actions and initiatives that make a positive contribution to greater climate protection and to responsible use of resources and, on the other, to make a positive contribution to meeting the social challenges now facing us in the digital world. Two small icons with a short explanatory text underneath them provide any interested reader with an overview of why the label has been awarded in each specific case.
As we’ve already said, climate protection is everyone’s concern.
You have been in charge of the Group Corporate Responsibility department for several years now. Have you seen fit to change your own personal behavior over your time there?
Klesper: From very early in my career I was indeed involved in a variety of corporate responsibility issues and of course that contact has had an influence on me personally. If, for example, you have the occasion to visit production facilities in China and have intervened to achieve more humane and environmentally friendly conditions at such plants, it’s the sort of thing that makes you more conscious about your shopping decisions.
But what I find more exciting is to observe the changes happening in society and among my colleagues. Of course, the public discussions you’ve been talking about also touch our company: our staff are not living on an island; they’re part of society. Only a few years ago, we and our talk of climate protection were a distinctly exotic presence at investor meetings. Now our participation is a matter of course.