As many nations carried out stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of Covid-19, the supposed environmental benefits of less travel and fewer greenhouse gas emissions became somewhat of a consolation to some. ‘Well,’ the common line of thinking went, ‘at least the environment is benefitting.’
And indeed it did, at first. According to an article in the journal, Nature Climate Change, world wide greenhouse gas emissions fell roughly 10% to 30% in April 2020. Unfortunately, they rose again after that.
Scientists, who used the movement of people through anonymised cell phone mobility data to determine the drop in climate-warming gasses, say that those massive drops will have no long-term benefits, unless countries implement climate-friendly economic recovery plans.
Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer of Vodacom Corporate Affairs, agrees that lockdown had a temporary positive effect on the environment but adds that ‘while office energy consumption decreased, Vodacom noticed a 40% upsurge in data traffic and thus also an increase in network-related energy consumption.’
During lockdown, people became more dependent on digital technologies, software, platforms, and media and social networks for interaction and connectedness. ‘With restricted movement, online meeting platforms became our boardrooms,’ explains Netshitenzhe.
‘For example, before lockdown our education platform, Vodacom e-school, had 900 000 registered learners. Today, we have about 1.2 million. The zero-rated platform presents the government school curriculum from Grade R to Grade 12. Pre-recorded lessons, homework assignments and many other resources can be accessed through this platform, which makes it easy for parents to monitor their children’s educational progress at home.’
Online learning, it seems, may be here to stay, for many. And certainly, where learners are still travelling to get to re-opened schools, the online platform gives them invaluable backup, supplementing what they may not be receiving in full during class time.
Vodacom is going full-steam ahead with its online programmes, expanding them to include live teaching.
‘We are now ready to offer a virtual classroom platform in partnership with Microsoft. This will mean that teachers and learners will be able to come together for lessons in the comfort of their own homes.
They’re also extending online benefits to other services.
‘In partnership with Discovery Health, Vodacom even made it possible for citizens to virtually see a doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this platform, up to 100 000 consultations can done online for free.
‘We also saw a steep increase in requests for fibre services in the first two months or so of lockdown, in order to help people work from home.’
Netshitenzhe believes that in a post-Covid world, more and more people will spend much of their working life at home and online.
‘However, more time online, if not managed in a sustainable manner, may indeed spell bad news for the environment,’ says Netshitenzhe.
To overcome this downside while supporting South Africa’s growing digitised society, Vodacom is committed to connecting their customers in a sustainable manner – one that benefits both the customer and the environment. ‘We are investing in renewable energy sources to decrease the company’s carbon footprint, while also improving the resilience of our network,’ says Netshitenzhe.
Vodacom has always viewed sustainability thinking and practice as an integral part of their business journey. In 2019, Vodacom reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 135 510tCO2e (metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) by investing in energy reduction and mitigation practices.
Since 2018, they have managed to bring down their office paper consumption by 11%, and to reduce employees’ business travel in rental cars by 24% and business flights by 34%.
Finding smarter ways to work, using technological interfaces to meet and share documents, is clearly the way to go.
‘We believe that investing in renewable energy sources to produce energy in a sustainable manner will contribute to a more sustainable future. We’re even investing in the internet of things for energy efficiency and wind turbine technology to power our network,’ says Netshitenzhe.