O2 customers will no longer receive a phone charger as standard when they buy a new handset, the mobile operator has announced, as part of a sustainability plan that aims to deliver up to 4 million tonnes of carbon savings over three years.

According to EU figures, discarded phone chargers generate 51,000 tonnes of e-waste a year, and a subsequent 13.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

A separate study by energy company EON published earlier this year also revealed that nine in ten people keep their gadgets on permanent charge, despite the potential damage to the battery life, the environmental impact and the possibility of saving on average £60 a year on their energy bill.

O2's decision not to issue new chargers with every new phone ties in with the European Commission's efforts to establish a “universal charger,” built around micro-USB technology, that can be used to power up multiple handsets from different makers. Manufacturers including Nokia, Research In Motion, Apple, Samsung, Sony and Motorola have all said they will back the initiative.

Rather than getting a vendor-specific charger bundled in with every new phone, O2 customers will be encouraged to buy one of these universal chargers for about £5, or simply use their old one.

This is just one of 40 commitments that make up O2's “Think Big Blueprint”. The blueprint aims to fulfil three principal objectives – delivering carbon reductions, enabling customers to live more sustainably, and helping young people to develop new skills.

As well as reducing the number of redundant chargers, O2 has promised to halve the emissions of its network by 2015, procure renewable energy for all sites where it controls the energy bill and ensure that all major suppliers take measures to reduce their impact on the environment and increase their community contribution.

Under the second category, the company has pledged to save 350,000 UK households over 300,000 tonnes of carbon, and help 125,000 business people work flexibly saving hundreds of UK businesses 160,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. O2 is also working with the NHS to save over a million hours of health-care staff time, equivalent to £50m of savings.

In the final category, O2 is launching a number of local community initiatives to help young people develop new skills, promises to create 4,000 high quality work experience opportunities.

“A truly sustainable future, in an environmental, social and economic sense, requires businesses, like ours, to take bold steps to tackle our shared social and environmental challenges,” said O2’s Chief Executive, Ronan Dunne.

“With in excess of 22 million customers, we are uniquely positioned to use the scale of our business and our understanding of technology, to make sustainable living a reality.”

O2's blueprint has been compiled with help from independent non-profit organisation Forum for the Future, which will continue to work with O2 to monitor, evaluate and report back on progress against each of the 40 commitments contained in the plan.

“Even in such difficult times, with austerity the order of the day, sustainability keeps on delivering real benefits for customers, communities and shareholders – and we very much look forward to pushing on with those initiatives that are already proving themselves to be game-changers,” said Founder director, Jonathon Porritt.