As global temperatures rise, climate disasters like wildfires, ice storms and floods are becoming more frequent and their destruction more widespread. The devastating wildfires in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Northwest Territories this summer, recent floods in Halifax, as well as countless crises around the world, serve as a stark and ongoing reminder that climate change impacts us all. It is crucial for us to come together and find solutions.
Telecommunications are central to the climate-change discussion. It’s why companies like TELUS sit at the emergency operations strategy table during increasingly severe weather events. The global technology company has been building specialized expertise to ensure vital lines of communication remain open so that impacted residents and emergency providers are connected to reliable networks when and where they are needed most.
Keeping the lines of communication open
When disasters strike, telecommunications can be impeded due to loss of power or damage to infrastructure caused by environmental conditions, making it challenging for communities and emergency services to keep in touch. Without phone and internet services, people cannot be notified about safety procedures, contact loved ones or even use their credit cards to pay for vital supplies like food, water and gas. Reliable connectivity is essential for emergency crews to coordinate logistics, firefighting and rescue operations. Working with government and public health officials, innovative technologies like TELUS’ Cells on Wheels (COWs) and its smaller counterpart, CALFs, provide portable and rapidly deployable network coverage that can mean all the difference in life-threatening situations.
“Technicians brave catastrophe,” explains Nazim Benhadid, Senior Vice-President of Networks at TELUS. His team is responsible for all wireless and wireline infrastructure across the country, delivering faster builds with shorter repair times and enhancing connectivity for mobile, home phone and internet services in urban and rural areas, including Indigenous communities.
“We work on the frontlines to maintain network infrastructure, run emergency generators at cell sites and deploy technologies such as portable Smart Hubs for reliable Wi-Fi at evacuation centers.”
Part of his team’s ethos is to learn from every climatic event. “We do readiness drills, investing in our people and technology to ensure we are always prepared for the next event and can more quickly determine how best to help communities mitigate, recover and rebuild.”
Thanks to the tireless work of TELUS’ team of technologists, engineers and innovators, there is a vast network of backup systems and redundant communications lines to help ensure uninterrupted connectivity during events like the 2021 atmospheric river in British Columbia and the 2022 ice storms in Quebec.
As a leader in social capitalism, TELUS is also looking to the future. Research shows that access to broadband networks and adoption of technologies like 5G is critical in the fight against climate change. In fact, digital solutions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 per cent by, for example, decreasing the need to travel for work and social activities, reducing levels of energy consumption and changing the way in which public services are accessed and delivered.
“In business, taking action to prepare and support climate disasters is not an option, it’s a necessity,” says Benhadid. “Done right, the network plays a vital role in responding to, preparing for and mitigating the damaging effects of global warming on our communities and infrastructure – all while building a healthier, more vibrant future for generations to come.”
Collaborating with Indigenous and rural communities
Environmental stewardship extends to the critical importance of keeping underserved communities, many of whom face unique challenges due to their remote location, connected.
“Continuously improving Indigenous and rural connectivity with network resiliency, redundancy and broadband expansion is a top priority,” says Benhadid.
TELUS’ approach begins with relationships. Lead by a commitment to Reconciliation, the company works in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and communities supporting them in the ways they want to be supported. A prime example of this is the recent tailor-made and Indigenous-led solution to bring wireless connectivity to all four Nisg̱a’a Nation villages on Nisg̱a’a lands in northwest B.C.
As part of this nine-million-dollar project, TELUS is constructing cellular towers, that will be owned by the Nation, and providing technical skills training to Nisg̱a’a citizens, to maintain the infrastructure and grow the capacity of Lisims Internet and Technology (LITS), one of the first Indigenous-owned and operated telecommunications networks in Canada. The enhanced connectivity will open new avenues to prosperity in the Nass Valley by expanding access to healthcare and telemedicine while improving public safety, especially in cases of climate disaster.
Net carbon neutral operations
In addition to response efforts, “it is paramount that the growth of our digital footprint does not correspond to the growth of our physical footprint,” explains Benhadid. “Technology allows us to do that.”
Carbon emissions are a critical factor. Aiming to have net carbon neutral operations by 2030 or sooner, TELUS is actively rolling out PureFibre, which uses the most sustainable technology available – up to 85 per cent more energy efficient than traditional copper networks. The company’s long-term copper retirement program takes a community-by-community approach to recycle or repurpose thousands of pounds of copper, offsetting the need to mine new copper sources and further enhancing connectivity.
“These examples work toward positive results that are excellent for both sustainability and business. By embracing the circular economy, we’re working toward becoming a zero-waste company by 2030.”
In addition, TELUS’ circular economy programs have successfully collected over four million mobile devices for recycling or refurbishing with over 750,000 devices diverted from landfill to date.
Fighting climate change with digital policy
Emphasizing the intersection between climate policy and digital policy, TELUS also works with all levels of government, team members, as well as public and private sector partners to create the best outcomes for Canadians in light of climate change. The company provides on-the-ground support during climate crises while advocating for policy change and a net zero future to prevent further deterioration of the environment.
“It is the responsibility of every business leader to lay the groundwork for future generations and other businesses to lead the charge in environmental stewardship,” says Benhadid. “At TELUS, we are fundamentally committed to making a difference in the communities where we live, work and serve our customers, and beyond. This work is good for everyone, on all fronts.”