That question has taken on a growing importance in recent years as responsible businesses have committed to corporate social responsibility (CSR) – the governance of a company which covers all aspects of its activities on the environment and in the communities in which it operates.
BT's long-standing reputation as a company with a conscience was highlighted for six students when they were invited by BT Research & Technology to spend some time with the company to help 're-imagine' its consumer products.
During the one week session, taken during a holiday break, the students contributed to a 'live' research project between BT Research and Technology and BT's Retail's consumer project teams. For the students it provided an ideal opportunity to challenge thinking and practices on how to design future generations of sustainable products.
The 'BT internship' for the students was arranged in collaboration between BT and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) – of which BT is a founding member together with Cisco, B&Q, Renault and the National Grid.
The EMF is a charitable organisation which aims to inspire people to rethink, to redesign and to spawn an economy where like minded people have the knowledge and skills to build a sustainable future.
In its thinking on sustainability the EMF is calling on industry tomove towards what it calls the 'Circular Economy' This is a vision where products are made to be made again so that valuable resources are recovered from products and re-made into future products.
Chris Bilton, BT Research & Technology director, said: “This project is a great example of the collaborative nature of research. We are drawing upon input from a leading university, engaging with fresh thinking from tomorrow's generation of designers and end-users, and working closely with colleagues in BT Retail.
“We will need this sort of approach if we are to move towards a 'Circular Economy' which radically re-imagines how products are made, sold and recovered so as to eliminate waste and retain valuable and scarce resources.”
The challenges of moving towards a 'Circular Economy approach also requires a combined approach, and BT Research & Technology is working with leading academics to develop the technical expertise in the areas of materials science.
One example where BT is already adopting ideas from the 'Circular Economy' is its work with ANOVO, who help BT refurbish Home Hubs for further use. The BT internship included a visit to ANOVO where they saw an excellent example of refurbishment processes. This is just one illustration of how sustainability goals and economic value can be aligned.
Teresa Flynn, BT Retail senior product manager, believes that the EMF has provided new thinking in tackling sustainability issues.
“We have already made some great progress in our product design, such as reducing the power consumption of our Home Hubs, refurbishment of hubs and more sustainable packaging for DECT phones, but we need to continue to innovate to make our products more sustainable. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation challenges us to look for further opportunities and see the 'bigger picture' of the Circular Economy,” she says.
Looking to the future BT Retail will look to innovation to enhance the sustainability credentials of its products including the possibility of using novel materials in its products and the use of sustainable packaging options.