Orange and BT turn to start-ups & scale-ups for green inspiration

Yanitsa Boyadzhieva
By Yanitsa Boyadzhieva

Feb 18, 2022

  • Orange and BT hunt for start-ups and scale-ups to develop environmentally sustainable solutions
  • The two operators believe 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) are key to unlocking opportunities for an eco-friendlier way of doing things
  • Both have ambitious net zero carbon emission goals
  • Other telco players also move towards a greener future

Orange and BT have this week both made steps towards supporting start-ups and scale-ups that develop environmentally-beneficial technology, as part of their wider goals to achieve net zero carbon emissions across the industry and the globe.

Orange Silicon Valley, the subsidiary subsidiary that serves as a home to its US start-up accelerator, Orange Fab, announced the launch of a “Deep Tech for Decarbonization Challenge,” which seeks to discover start-ups, corporations and investors that are focused  on creating sustainable solutions using digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G, and which can help measure and control industrial carbon emissions.

Orange’s part in the initiative will involve speeding up the “matchmaking process” between the operator group, start-ups and the broader ecosystem of companies that are seeking sustainable solutions.

The challenge has been launched in partnership with NVIDIA and automotive supplier Delfingen, with investments from power supplier EDF and venture capitalist Clean Energy Ventures. Applicants need to apply by 7 April, 2022.

Orange explained that start-up applicants will be assessed based on “their use of digital technologies and readiness for commercial engagement. They will also be evaluated on their decarbonisation potential, as quantified by a tool developed by Clean Energy Ventures”.

Once accepted, start-ups will gain access to pitch sessions with launch partners and participants, plus follow-on opportunities for formal connections with some of the business units of Orange and its partners.

“Supporting digital innovation to tackle the climate crisis is a key element of the Group’s approach. We are convinced that collaboration with start-ups and with other corporations is critical to deliver impactful solutions for the environment,” said Elizabeth Tchoungui, Executive Director of CSR, Diversity and Philanthropy at Orange.

The operator explained the challenge is aligned with its goal to become net zero by 2040 for the three scopes of emissions as per the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.

Other efforts by the company include using more renewable energy (see Orange switches to solar energy for its main data centre in Africa), driving a push towards circular economy including in its nework infrastructure, and setting aside €50 million in its ‘Nature fund’ for reforestation and ecological restoration projects.

In the UK, BT also unveiled a new step towards its net zero goals.

The operator said it will pursue partnerships with scale-ups to develop digital solutions supporting manufacturers of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) in adopting “more sustainable” production processes.

Together, they will look at ways for technology to improve resource management and decision-making by tracking the flow of products, components and materials used in the production cycle.

The companies will also explore how digital solutions can modify the current manufacturing processes or bring entirely new methods for better energy and resource efficiency. Potential changes could be introduced to reduce waste and harness additional outputs from the shop floor such as water, heat and energy.

BT also aims to create solutions to improve modelling and planning so that it is simpler to redesign producing processes and thus make them more sustainable.

Technologies such as IoT, edge, data, AI and 5G will be put to the test to find out whether they can bring the needed improvements in manufacturing.

The UK operator cited data suggesting the FMCG industry is the largest manufacturing market in the nation, representing 14% of all production of goods. And a report it commissioned (and developed by Accenture) has forecast that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector can bring down manufacturers’ carbon emissions by 13% by 2030, using technology such as 5G.

Within the initiative, the scale-ups that qualify will have the chance to work alongside BT and its customers, with one of the goals being to find “a cheaper, faster initial route to market through to new revenue share models”.

Successful companies will be announced in the coming months and developments of proof of concepts will begin around mid-year.

BT has collaborated with the Manufacturing Technology Centre for the move as part of a new phase of the Green Tech Innovation Platform, which BT launched in 2020 to develop green initiatives.

It has also partnered with Silicon Valley-based innovation platform Plug and Play to select the scale-ups for the new stage of the programme.

In the previous stage of the initiative, it supported scale-up iOpt on using IoT for real-time information on the condition of properties provided by housing associations and councils, and began working with Everimpact to roll out environment monitoring solutions for local authorities.

“Through expanding our innovative approach to green technology we’re accelerating action to address climate change, while supporting start-ups and scale-ups as they look to take their new solutions to market,” MD Corporate and Public Sector at BT, Dean Terry, commented.

BT reaffirmed it aims to push the progress towards “a circular world with net zero emissions” and its goal is to be net zero across its operations, supply chain and customer emissions by 2040.

Other operators also made sustainability moves this week. Telefónica expanded its Eco Rating system for mobile phones to all of its Latin American operations and its digital business unit, Telefónica Tech, created a ‘European Green Passport’ for electronic devices. (Read more in the company’s statement.)

Across the ocean, US operator Verizon issued a $1 billion green bond and proceeds will go to renewable energy purchase agreements (REPAs). With the move, it has now issued green bonds amounting to $3 billion in total: It aims to have net zero emissions by 2035.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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