Partnering to build a green Europe faster


Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Dorothée D’Herde
Dorothée D’Herde

Head of Sustainable Business at Vodafone Group

The strategic goals and plans to build back better and create a world where there is enough for all, forever, are in place. The Green Deal sets out how to make the European Union’s economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities, while the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a new model for growth and a moral compass.

We know what needs doing, we have agreed on how to do it, and we’ve started to do it – now it is time to accelerate the speed and scale. This is the decade of delivery and of transforming people’s lives – and the world we live in – for the better. What will it take?

For too long, citizens, and especially youth, have been left out of the equation.

How might citizens be willing to change their behaviour to live more sustainably? Where do they draw their red lines? What sort of policies might they be willing to support? Those were the questions debated at the Green Europe citizen focus groups, hosted as part of the Connected Europe initiative, with over 100 citizens from across the EU.

Let’s make them count to build a greener and better Europe

Fairness was very central to the discussions, especially in terms of where the burden lies. It is not ‘fair’ to place the burden of change too much on individuals, who often already feel a sense of exhaustion, guilt and sacrifice – and sometimes with biblical proportions, with one participant ‘confessing’ to the ‘sin’ of owning a car. Convenience and simplicity are key too, if we are to close the trust deficit, as has been called out by the Edelman Trust barometer year after year. In 2021, the barometer also included a new mandate for business to play a key role in restoring trust and responding to social challenges, which should be taken very seriously.

The eco-anxiety of young people is particularly striking. The connection between climate change and the mental health of children and youth is not usually central in debates about environmental policy, but it is very real. Whilst school strikes may look like a sign of empowered youth or youth with agency, it is anger at the inaction and a profound sense of powerlessness that lies behind them. It is time to not only acknowledge youth’s protests, but give them a seat at the decision-making table, so they can be optimistic about the future again, without having to miss school to hold older generations to account.

The European Climate Pact, the Conference on the Future of Europe and the youth pre-COP in Milan are opportunities to involve citizens directly, especially youth: let’s make them count to build a greener and better Europe.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We are shaping the world we want to live in. A world where we use digital solutions to build a healthier, greener society.”

Digital technology can enable speed and scale in delivering the green transition

At Vodafone, we believe in the power of technology along with the power of the human spirit to build a more sustainable and inclusive society. Digital technology can enable speed and scale in delivering the green transition. But it requires partnership and collaboration, across sectors.

That is one of the things the European Green Digital Coalition, launched in March 2021, aims to achieve. 26 CEOs committed to setting a common language and targets, and working with the sectors where digital solutions can have a major impact on decarbonisation and circularity. Three examples in agriculture, cities and smart forests bring these goals to life.

Through Vodafone’s Sensing4Farming solution, Emilio Moro, a Spanish wine producer, is saving money and protecting the environment. Moro has a network of sensors in his vineyards which, combined with high-resolution satellite images obtained in real time, enable him to measure key environmental factors such as humidity, temperature, soil conductivity, water absorption and the health of the grapevines. This data is sent to the winery oenologists and technicians to help them identify the ideal quantity of irrigation and fertiliser needed by the vines, as well as the best windows for pruning and harvesting.

Interact City from Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, is an end-to-end street lighting management system that allows municipalities to measure, manage and monitor all connected street lighting. The Interact City system employs Vodafone’s IoT technology to control each light point remotely, so local councils can dim lights where they’re not as needed while increasing brightness in areas such as junctions and pedestrian crossings to improve safety. Remote monitoring also makes it easier to identify faults and to improve the efficiency of repair and maintenance programmes. Guadalajara, Spain installed 13,500 connected LED light points managed with the integrated Interact City and Vodafone IoT solution. As a result, energy consumption was reduced by 68%.

The Green Deal for Europe can be strengthened by an equally powerful agenda in Africa

Romania is the host of the first ‘smart forest’, an example of how digital innovation can help protect biodiversity. The country faced illegal deforestation, and a challenge to identify where deforestation was happening and intervening before it was too late. Vodafone created an IoT system with devices called ‘guardians’, which are equipped with acoustic sensors. These sensors ‘listen’ to the sounds from the forest and send the captured data to a cloud platform, where the specific sounds of logging are recognised. The system then sends real-time alerts with geolocation to an app installed on forest administrators’ or rangers’ phones, so they can intervene immediately. The solution works over Vodafone Romania’s Supernet network.

The European Green Digital Coalition is strengthened by the commitments that member states have made to the twin digital and green transition, as well as the allocation of the recovery funds. The Green Deal for Europe can be strengthened by an equally powerful agenda in Africa. Initiatives such as the African Alliance for the Circular Economy and the African Green Stimulus Programme are already driving policies in that direction, but more can be done for Europe and Africa to work together and transition to a green economy.

Alongside the right investments, technologies and collaborations, we need the right measurements and accountability to track progress and to rebuild trust with citizens.

Recent Deloitte and Vodafone research confirmed a potential trillion euro GDP dividend of digital and green investments – let’s go after it. Including “green” in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) framework would not only act as an incentive for the digital sector to improve its own environmental credentials, but also boost the enabling power of digital solutions for other sectors of the economy and feed into ongoing work on sustainable investments under the EU Taxonomy Regulation.

To accelerate the pace of change, let’s truly come together and hold ourselves to account to power a green digital transformation and boost prosperity and fairness.

This article is part of the Connected Europe initiative, launched by a partnership between Friends of Europe and Vodafone, to foster a successful, green and resilient digital transformation in Europe. If developed properly and fairly, connectivity can boost and transform lives, create a sense of community and enable Europe to live up to its values.

There are three clusters of activity within the Connected Europe initiative:

  • Successful Europe
  • Green Europe
  • Resilient Europe

Presenting the results of the year-long pan-European study, the “Connected Europe: A digital brand for a just transition” report shows how Europe can achieve a successful, green and resilient digital transformation through collaboration and with citizens at the heart of the debate.

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