Interview with Janek Kose, Lead Climate and Environment at Telefónica

Janek Kose is the Lead Climate and Environment at Telefónica. We talked to him about his work, learnings, plans, goals, and what sustainability means to him personally.

“In a nutshell, sustainability isn’t a buzzword; it’s a mindset. It’s a commitment to ensuring our technological advancements leave the world better, not worse, for future generations. It’s about making sure our legacy isn’t just one of innovation but also one of preservation.”

What does sustainability mean for you?

Janek Kose: “Sustainability, to me, means more than just adhering to “green” practices or corporate social responsibility initiatives. It’s about reimagining our approach to technology, fundamentally rethinking how we design, develop, and deploy tech solutions for sustainable transformation.

In the tech world, we fancy ourselves as innovators, relentlessly pursuing the next breakthrough, the next “big thing”. But in our relentless pursuit, we often overlook the profound impacts our creations have on the world. From electronic waste to energy consumption, our innovations come at a high environmental cost.

When I consider the role of sustainability in technology, I envision a shift in perspective. It’s about exploring critical questions like “How can we extend the lifecycle of our products? How can we reduce our tech carbon footprint? How can we create tech products that add value not only to our customers but also to our planet?”

It’s about moving from a mindset of exploitation to regeneration, from short-term profitability to long-term responsibility. It’s about realizing that the true measure of innovation isn’t just the number of products we ship out but the positive impact they have on the world.

In a nutshell, sustainability isn’t a buzzword; it’s a mindset. It’s a commitment to ensuring our technological advancements leave the world better, not worse, for future generations. It’s about making sure our legacy isn’t just one of innovation but also one of preservation.”

 

What motivates you to work in sustainability?

JK: “What motivates me to work in sustainability is a profound belief in our collective responsibility toward the future of our planet and the generations to come. It’s driven by the understanding that the choices we make today, especially in the realm of business and technology, have far-reaching consequences.

Having spent my career in this field, I have witnessed the tangible impact that innovations with sustainability at heart can have. In my roles, I had the opportunity to help businesses in leveraging that influence to not only succeed in the market but also to make a significant contribution to doing their bit to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Ultimately, I am fueled by the challenge. Sustainability is complex, it’s multifaceted, and it requires us to rethink traditional business models, question the status quo, and innovate with both urgency and care. This complexity is not a deterrent but a call to action that motivates me daily.”

 

What would you rate your most successful measure for more sustainability in the last years, and why?

JK: “When I reflect on my roles and my work in driving more sustainability, several key measures emerge. However, the ones I am particularly proud of share a common theme: they intimately link positive climate impact with the core operations of the tech business.

Firstly, we designed a feature at the checkout process that allowed customers to contribute directly to a vetted, high-quality carbon credit portfolio. This measure was successful not only in its tangible climate action but also in the way it empowered our customers. It made sustainability not just a corporate endeavor but a collective one, giving our customers an active role in climate action. It turned an everyday transaction into an opportunity for change.

Secondly, we introduced an internal carbon price. This was more than just a financial mechanism; it was a cultural shift. By attaching a tangible cost to our Scope 1-3 emissions, we created a powerful incentive for reducing emissions and the externalities of our business throughout the company. Every year the funds from this internal pricing were used to support external climate projects, effectively turning our carbon footprint into a stepping stone for building capacity for climate action.

In my mind, both of these measures present a powerful approach to voluntary climate action funding, a particularly relevant strategy for tech companies, where direct emission reduction opportunities might be limited. In essence, tech can turn their technological prowess into a catalyst for climate action.”

 

How did you become a sustainability manager?

JK: “My journey to becoming a Sustainability Manager began as an environmental engineer specializing in renewable energies. In my early career within environmental consultancies, I quickly realized the engineering toolbox was insufficient to drive the large-scale sustainability transformation we aspire to achieve.

The decisions that required making were strategic in nature, demanding an expanded skill set to engage stakeholders and navigate organizational complexities effectively. Consequently, I pursued an MBA in sustainability management to broaden my understanding and approach.

Simultaneously, the rise of tech-driven companies presented an intriguing opportunity. I saw the vast potential these emerging sectors had for driving good, and I wanted to be at the forefront, influencing their path toward sustainable operations.

This led me to pivot my career towards sustainability management within the tech industry, blending my technical knowledge, newfound strategic skills, and passion for positive impact.”

 

What do you do to make your own life more sustainable?

JK: “I try to make sustainable choices every day, but there are two that I’d recommend to anybody:

Switch to a Sustainable Bank: Your choice of bank can have a significant environmental impact. Consider moving to a sustainable bank that invests in projects promoting ecological and social progress.

Adopt 100% Renewable Electricity: Every kilowatt-hour counts! By switching to a renewable energy provider that creates new renewable energy plants, you can directly support clean energy projects and reduce your carbon footprint.

And then, talk about your actions and experiences with as many people as possible. Your conversation may inspire others to make similar changes.”

 

What’s something new you learned in the past year?

JK: “In the past year, my learning journey has taken me to the heart of circularity and its potential to drive decarbonization in digital infrastructure. By engaging closely with suppliers and exploring data-driven solutions, I’ve gained valuable insights into what is achievable today. I’ve learned that circularity isn’t just a theoretical concept but a practical, implementable strategy that can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of digital activities.”

 

What do you think companies lack to become better at sustainability?

JK: “To me, one concept comes to mind: embracing complexity. Too frequently, companies hold on tightly to existing processes and try to oversimplify problems in sustainability. This approach can often lead to stagnation and a loss of momentum in projects.

Sustainability challenges us to tackle complex issues, ones that cannot be neatly simplified or confined within traditional business processes. Therefore, I believe companies need to become better at welcoming this complexity rather than shying away from it.

Further, leveraging technology can be a significant part of the solution because it helps to navigate this complexity, offering innovative solutions and providing the tools necessary to approach sustainability in a holistic, comprehensive manner.”

 

What do you think the world needs most to fight global warming and pollution?

JK: “As someone deeply immersed in the world of sustainability, I find myself genuinely encouraged by the advancements we’ve witnessed in many areas in the last 12 months. The innovation happening in the realm of carbon removal and storage solutions and the escalating investments in clean energy and green infrastructure are just some examples that bring hope.

However, there’s one element that we must underscore: the necessity for more urgent corporate climate action. It’s not just about acknowledging the climate crisis; it’s about actively and urgently allocating resources toward decarbonization efforts and the funding of external climate projects.

The approach is quite straightforward. If your company has a significant Scope 1 and 2 footprint, your resources should be focused on accelerating decarbonization initiatives. If, on the other hand, you’re a tech company with limited direct impact, the way forward should be finding effective ways to fund external climate projects.”

 

If you had one wish from a legislative point of view to make your job easier – what would you wish for?

JK: “Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the pace of legislation is frustratingly inadequate. But one of the most straightforward yet impactful actions we can take in our fight against climate change is eliminating all existing fossil fuel subsidies. These subsidies not only perpetuate our reliance on non-renewable resources but also artificially lower the cost of fossil fuels, hindering the competitiveness of renewable alternatives. By removing these subsidies, we can create a level playing field, allowing clean energy solutions to flourish and thereby accelerating our transition to a sustainable energy future.”

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