Ronan Dunne, CEO of Telefonica UK (O2), announced the next phase of the Think Big Blueprint on the second day of this year's RBSEU
O2 unveiled the next phase of its ambitious Think Big Blueprint at Ethical Corporation’s 15th Annual Responsible Business Summit yesterday, setting out a new strategy to help 20 million more people to live more sustainably with technology by 2020, with a big focus on recruiting young “digital natives” to drive the UK’s digital economy.
Ronan Dunne, Telefonica UK (O2), told 361 delegates on the second day of the event at Hilton Tower Bridge in London: “We don’t have a sustainability strategy. We have a strategy that has sustainability at its core.” He said the UK’s largest mobile network takes seriously its responsibility to address the environmental and social impacts of the rapid rise in mobile usage, and to help the UK economy capitalise on the opportunities afforded by the digital revolution.
“Mobile phones have become the remote control of people’s lives,” Dunne said. “More people in the world have access to mobile phones than to clean water or toothbrushes. That’s a big opportunity - and also a big challenge.”
He said one strand of O2’s Think Big Blueprint, which was created in 2012 and has reached 12 million people, is about reducing the company’s own carbon footprint and enabling its 24m customers to opt for planet-smart choices, with refined logistics technology, working with the government on its smart meter roll-out, Sim-only contracts and Europe’s biggest phone recycling programme to reduce electronic waste. He said the company had achieved a carbon-positive position that was 7.5 times its network’s impact – though this was somewhat below its goal of achieving a factor of 10.
The other major strand, he said, “is about delivering the nation’s digital confidence”, including empowering parents to bridge the digital divide and help their children navigate the online world safely, work it is doing in partnership with the NSPCC.
Dunne spoke as Telefónica published what it said was the first index to comprehensively measure digital development across the globe, Index on Digital Life. The index, which assesses digital progress in 34 countries, shows that while the UK is leading the global race for digital development, it performs less strongly on two fundamental metrics: digital confidence and innovation and entrepreneurship.
Dunne said the UK is only on the cusp of truly making the transition from BC to AD – “from before connectivity to after digital”. “What we’re seeing is the front of the fundamental behavioural change that will be driven by [digital technology]. … We’ve seen the technology, but not the change.”
During a lively roundtable discussion that included CBI president Paul Drechsler, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye and Baroness Neville-Rolfe of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, Dunne likened digital’s stage of development to the early days of television, which was treated like radio, except performed in front of a camera. Most companies, he said, are at a similar stage, having digitised an analogue activity. “If you are behaving in an analogue way while pretending you’ve adopted digital” companies are opening themselves to business risk, he said. Companies are also open to risk if they don’t have a digital strategy that is mobile-led.
One of the problems for UK companies is a serious shortage of digital skills because of the large number of young “digital natives” who are unable to get jobs.
He illustrated his point with a stark statistic: “There is higher digital intelligence among the unemployed than there are in the employed population in the UK.”
This is something O2 is trying to address with its Think Big Blueprint. Since 2012 O2 has supported and inspired more than 1 million young people through programmes such as GoThinkBig, a work experience and career advice platform run with over 40 partners, and the Think Big youth initiative, which provides grants to young people to launch and lead their own social action projects.
Dunne, who said he spends 20% of his time on youth matters, questioned why only half of companies offer a school-level entry programme. “I started working straight from school yet I run the biggest telecommunications company in Britain. I wouldn’t be able to get a job today.”
The generation that has grown up with the internet, he said, “are uniquely placed to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the digital economy. I believe that young people hold the skills and ideas to help create a prosperous future for everyone.”
Crucially, that includes O2, Dunne said: “This approach allows us to attract and retain the best talent.”
He added that it was one example of how sustainability is the “new normal” for companies. “If you align [your business] to purpose you have the key ingredients for a successful business.”