Setting an Ambitious Climate Pathway by Intensifying the Incremental Steps Approach

By: Catherine Goyer, P.Eng., Director of Corporate Responsibility and Environment at Bell

Bell Canada’s sustainability leader Catherine Goyer explains Bell’s approach to the rapid decarbonization that resulted in Bell and Catherine winning the Resolute Forest Products Clean50 “GHG Reduction Champion” Award.

At Bell, we are focused on industry-leading environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards that are core to everything we do. We have been managing our impacts on the environment and working to maximize the social benefit of our business for decades. The successful integration of environmental due diligence into our operations was confirmed in 2009 when our environmental management system (EMS) was certified to the ISO 14001 standard. But the threat climate change poses made it clear that even though Bell is a leading corporate citizen, we could not continue to operate as if everything was normal.  

“We will not succeed in adequately addressing climate change each on our own: Connecting, networking, and mutual support […] will be the only way we will overcome the climate crisis.” 

Catherine Goyer

To do our part in addressing the climate crisis, we developed a strategy to rapidly decarbonize our business, while simultaneously enabling Canadians to use our products and services as tools to reduce their own carbon footprints. Our strategy is based on the principal that the climate crisis must be attacked on many fronts simultaneously via a diverse, innovative campaign of continuous improvement. 

This first requires a mechanism to track and achieve energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions—an energy management system (EnMS). In 2020, our EnMS was certified to the ISO 50001 standard, making Bell the first communications company in North America to achieve this, and establishing the primary mechanism for us to achieve our energy and GHG reduction goals. The ISO 50001 standard for energy management systems is an internationally recognized framework based on continual improvement that organizations use to fix targets, use data effectively, measure results, and continually improve outcomes.  

Developing and implementing an ISO-certified EnMS requires company-wide engagement, dedicated resources, and active management. We spent two years developing our system, gaining buy-in, and achieving certification—all under the direction of a team-member dedicated full-time to the task, with the support of the entire Corporate Responsibility and Environment team.

One effective aspect of our EnMS is the requirement for us to identify the core energy consumption centres in the business, and to set continually improving energy-reduction goals for each. This is a powerful tool for establishing accountability throughout the company’s operations, and includes setting senior-leader level objectives for energy reduction and enviro-by-design criteria in their business units. To retain our ISO certification, we are required to show continual improvement in our energy efficiency. 

Rapid decarbonization requires setting ambitious GHG reduction goals. With the enabling mechanism of our EnMS in place, we strengthened our commitment by setting a short-term objective of achieving carbon neutral operations in 2025, and the medium-term goal of achieving Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) approved absolute GHG reductions by 2030.  

While the longer-term benefits of rapid decarbonization seem self-evident, achieving this goal requires a good business case, permitting an organization’s top management to commit to it. Our business case showed that the initial significant investment required to achieve aggressive GHG reduction targets would provide the outcomes desired by all of our stakeholders, from customers and employees to investors: a sustainable business model, cost-reductions, and long-term viability. Bell’s CEO quickly recognized the value in investing now to enable a sustainable future, and his support and commitment has been vital to the progress of meeting our GHG reduction goals. 

Even while acting on our strategy to intensify a diverse range of energy efficiency projects under the enabling structure of our EnMS, we recognized that achieving our ambitious GHG reduction goals was going to require a turbo-boost. To provide that propulsion, we invested in innovation and collaboration.  

Innovating, such as deploying solar energy systems to power remote communication towers, is key to decarbonize our operations 

Bell’s Innovation Working Group, created with the goal of fostering cross-functional innovation in the organization, provides the framework under which internal groups develop business cases that introduce under-explored, innovative ways to reduce our energy consumption. It assesses the business cases, and selects those with the highest energy-reduction prospect to be funded and executed.  

Most of the projects we’ve undertaken address the energy use of our communications networks and related facilities, and our vehicle fleet. An example of an innovative efficiency project is our Solar Cell Sites project, which won a Clean50 project prize for 2023. This project was realized in collaboration with Université de Sherbrooke and Canadian company STACE. The result is a deployable model that enables Bell to provide prime power to remote communications towers via a solar photovoltaic array, reducing by up to 75% the diesel normally used to power these sites.  

Our pilot project resulted in up to 75% reductions in diesel consumption at remote sites 

We also recognized that our corporate purpose–to advance how Canadians connect with each other and the world—provides a powerful opportunity to offer tools for our customers to reduce their carbon footprint. Making this connection between our desire to be a good corporate citizen and our purpose is a vision with which Bell team members engage and identify. It is also helpful in providing the internal cohesion required for the success of our strategy of diverse, incremental measures, executed by many teams in a large organization such as ours.  

Canadians already use our products and services to make their lives better, including via teleworking, teleconferencing, social networking, and virtualization via cloud computing. With these, and the advance of the Internet of Things and similar technologies, we foresee the role for our products and services to continue to increase Canadians’ options to reduce their carbon footprint and help adapt to climate change impacts.  

As customers continue to adopt such tools to achieve their professional and family goals—reducing their high-GHG emission activities such as air and ground travel—our commitment to rapidly decarbonize our operations will only increase the climate benefit of our products and services. This confluence of objectives, from sustainable business practice and climate action to increased customer benefits and more use-cases for our products and services, provides the unifying vision helping keep team members in all parts of the organization engaged and goal-oriented. 

Teleconferencing is one of the products and services Bell provides which help customers to reduce their carbon footprint 

We’ve learned on our journey that without certain essential components, a large organization will likely fail to achieve ambitious objectives. You need a solid framework to guide goal-setting and continual improvement, a reliable commitment from the highest levels of leadership in the organization, receptiveness to—and investment in—innovation, and integration of the objectives into the vision of your organization.  

But even with these components in place, achieving ambitious change can be demanding or unattainable. The difference, I’ve found, has been the support of a capable, engaged, passionate team who all want to play a part in addressing the climate crisis. We will not succeed in adequately addressing climate change each on our own: connecting, networking, and mutual support on the small and larger scales will be the only way we will overcome the climate crisis.