Dialogue with Birgit Klesper, Senior VP of GCR at Deutsche Telekom

We had a chance to catch up with Birgit Klesper, Senior Vice President of Group Corporate Responsibility in Deutsche Telekom after their major announcement, that Deutsche Telekom will source 100% renewable electricity already by 2021.

Published on: Jun 29, 2019 | Written by: Aymori Duncan

We had a chance to catch up with Birgit Klesper, Senior Vice President of Group Corporate Responsibility in Deutsche Telekom after their major announcement, that Deutsche Telekom will source 100% renewable electricity already by 2021.We asked her about her opinions on the biggest challenges in the field of Corporate Responsibility and ICT, what steps other organizations can take to tackle climate change and what further efforts Deutsche Telekom is undertaking to work towards a sustainable world. Here is what she had to say.

You started you career in Deutsche Telekom in the communication sector. What inspired you to take on the challenges of corporate responsibility, a department that is so wide and overreaching?
As you said, I started in the communications sector. So, “wide and overreaching” was already part of my daily routine. In this job, you’ve got to get to the core of an issue very quickly and that’s a competency also needed in a field as wide and complex as Corporate Responsibility. However, after years in communications, I longed to implement changes myself and really tackle some of the challenges we face – such as climate change. Since I had had touch points with CR topics in previous jobs and all along during my time in communications, taking on this new role was kind of a natural step forward.

Deutsche Telekom has been at the forefront of climate protection long before the Paris Agreement, partly due to your leadership. What steps, small or big can other organizations take to reduce their carbon footprints?
First of all, you need good and solid measuring methods and KPIs to find the “big levers” in your organization. You can only make a significant improvement if you know exactly where your pressure points are. Afterwards, you have to look at the core processes and challenge the status quo: “Why are we doing things like that? Is there a smarter way to achieve the same or even better results?”. And this is not only the job of CSR, this has to happen in the whole value chain.

ICT offers immense possibilities in digitizing and virtualizing processes and help save emissions. To give you an example: one of DT’s “big levers” is of course the electricity needed for our networks and datacenters. By sourcing 100% renewable energy from 2021 onwards, we’ll tackle nearly 90% of our emissions. In addition to our own carbon footprint, we also calculate the positive CO2 effects facilitated for our customers through using our products and solutions. The ratio between these two figures – the “enablement factor” – allows us to assess our overall performance when it comes to climate protection. In 2018, the positive CO2 effects facilitated for our customers in Germany were 85 percent higher than our own CO2 emissions (an enablement factor of 1.85 : 1). Our products and solutions generated positive CO2 effects for our customers amounting to 12.1 million metric tons.

Deutsche Telekom is one of the founding members of GeSI. How did your involvement with GeSI aide Deutsche Telekom in being at the forefront of climate protection and obtaining other Corporate Sustainable Development targets; on both corporate and retail levels?
Climate protection was a core issue at GeSI very early on. The scientific studies “Smart2020”, “Smarter2020” and lately Smarter2030” gave us a head start at looking at the “Scope 4” emissions, as we call them: the opportunities to help our customers improve and reduce their CO2-footprint via our products and services. As well, working together on topics like ICT contribution to the SDGs (#SystemTransformation ) or discussing the potential of ICT in supporting the work of human rights defenders (#EnablingRights ) gives us valuable insights for our work.

We might be a big player on the market, but a common standpoint of the ICT member companies gives a momentum to change that no company could have achieved of its own. Of course, the good cooperation and experience exchange among the member companies is a valuable asset as well.

Deutsche Telekom have just announced that they will aim to achieve 100 percent use of electricity form renewable sources by 2021, which is an amazing accomplishment. What advice would you give organizations who believe that renewable energy sources are not fully reliable or stable currently?
Of course, this is an argument we had to face ourselves when discussing this huge step with our Board of Management. After all, network reliability and a smooth customer experience have highest priority. At Deutsche Telekom, we plan a mix of different measures. Producing our own electricity e.g. via photovoltaic systems where it is possible and viable will be combined with direct sourcing of green electricity by acquiring corresponding guarantees of origin or concluding power purchase agreements (PPAs). By this, we can guarantee a smooth performance on a green level. However, our commitment goes beyond this as we have stated in our new climate targets: by 2030, we want to reduce our CO2 emissions by 90% compared with 2017 (scope 1&2) and lower the emissions from the production and utilization phases of its products and customer solutions by 25% (scope 3). The Science Based Targets initiative officially recognized our targets as science-based and as contributing toward the target of limiting global warming to 2° C.

Many people believe that Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development Goals only involve climate change. However, Deutsche Telekom have been involved with GeSI in Enabling Human Rights Defenders in the supply chains and your organization has many independent initiatives that e.g. strive to develop media competency for everyone or tackle the rising question on Corporate Digital Responsibility. Can you elaborate on some of Deutsche Telekom’s current projects that are helping to obtain Sustainable Development Goals throughout the world?
As you said at the beginning: the field of Corporate Responsibility is wide and overarching. To make a significant difference, it’s always valuable to focus on the topics where you can use your core competencies to boost improvements. For Deutsche Telekom, “Connect the Unconnected” and ensuring everybody has the opportunity and skills to use the possibilities of modern ICT is a key component for SDG 4, “Quality eduction”. With our initiative “Media, sure. But secure” we offer easy and fun to use lessons and materials for different age groups, helping them to use e.g. social media in a confident way and navigate even complex topics such as “opinion making on the internet”.

The climate targets I mentioned above pay directly into SDG 13. In our annual report as well as in the Corporate Responsibility report, we highlight very clearly how we as Deutsche Telekom contribute to reach the different SDGs, for example SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) or SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).  

ICT can make a huge positive impact, but we have to be aware of possible risks as well and discuss and handle critical points in an open-minded way, e.g. the ethics of ArtificiaI Intelligence, data privacy, freedom of speech or end-of-life-management for ever-more connected products. This is a journey that we have to undertake together as society to find answers based on science as well as common values.

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