Inspiration from above

BSkyB has revealed lofty ambitions in its sustainability agenda. And, writes Jamie Curry, the company is taking a broad view of its responsibilities - from its set-top boxes putting themselves to sleep at night to supporting the arts

Of the companies so far profiled in this series looking at the leading sustainable businesses, BSkyB is one of the most visible and customer facing. It plays into an integral part of our leisure time. Whether it’s watching my beloved football team on a Sunday afternoon, catching up on the latest film releases or following exciting American series like Dexter, I love Sky TV for beaming its fantastic sound and vision into my lounge every day.

And I can’t remember a time when it didn’t do that for me. And I’m not alone. One in three homes in the UK and Ireland have a Sky satellite dish strapped to their exterior. Almost nine million people are signed up to one of Sky’s TV packages. This year, the firm reported a turnover of £4.95B and profits of £724M. It’s big business.

Last year, something strange started happening to my Sky TV system. I got in from work one day and switched on my TV ready for The One Show to find that my Sky box wasn’t on. It was in standby mode.

Now, every time I switch my telly on in the evenings, I have to take Sky off standby. You see, in the dead of the night, the people at Sky now automatically switch my set top box into standby mode for me, in case I forget. Marvellous, isn’t it? Apparently, Sky has saved UK households about £16.5M in energy costs by introducing this little measure. The planet has also been spared 75,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering its atmosphere.

As unimaginative as its title is, BSkyB’s The Bigger Picture document provides an interesting overview of the company’s ambitious and forward-thinking sustainability agenda – and it’s not all about energy-saving measures such as the auto-standby device.

“A successful and sustainable business is a responsible business; one that does the right thing, sees the bigger picture and works hard to tackle the issues its people and customers care about,” says Jeremy Darroch, the chief executive. This responsibility not only centres on environmental issues, but also the arts, treating staff properly, and engaging and supporting local community activity.

On the arts, the bigger picture for Sky is making artistic and cultural heritage accessible to more people. “Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy and be enriched by the arts,” so says the company. It does this via its Sky Arts channel, the only television offering in the country dedicated to the subject. The company’s blurb says the channel shows an “eclectic and entertaining mix – from high opera to freestyle music, classic film to modern art”. Add to this Sky’s sponsorship of the English National Ballet’s touring productions, making £20 tickets a reality for those wanting to go to the English National Opera, and the National Trust’s Discovery Programme for school kids to do curriculum-based activities within the arts, it’s clear the firm has high ambitions of making a name for itself within this space. “Their sponsorship has enabled many creative initiatives this year, including ballet for commuters, a posture guide and a programme of workshops for all ages,” says Craig Hassall, managing director of the English National Ballet.

In a completely different sphere, the firm has made a heavy commitment to sport. With the emergence of the Setanta Sports network of channels, plus ITV, Channel Five and Eurosport all reluctant to concede defeat, Sky doesn’t quite have the once-feared monopoly on broadcasting live sporting events. However, its five sports channels provide 400,000 hours of coverage in a year, covering more than 100 different sports.

But the investment it has ploughed into the sector over the years (in rights fees, airtime and promotion) has helped to fund a number of grass roots projects. Sky Sports has invested more than half a billion pounds in cricket alone. According to the former sports minister, Richard Caborn, “cricket wouldn’t have been able to invest in schools and counties cricket and seen that investment pay the dividends that it has” without the cash from Sky. Meanwhile, the Sky Sports Living for Sport programme has been a massive success. Launched five years ago, it runs in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust using sport to help young people aged between 11 and 16 who are at risk of dropping out of school. There’s a free online tool for teachers who can register and gain access to training, project planning resources and case studies on other participating schools.

We discuss responsibility a lot within these pages, but BSkyB’s aforementioned position as a central platform of society’s leisure world elevates the importance of being responsible to another level. Programmes developed by Sky are beamed into our front rooms every minute of every day and watched not just by adults, but children of all ages. It’s something the company takes very seriously indeed, especially when it comes to tackling and educating its audience on, climate change.

Of course, cutting the power in its set-top boxes was a core element to this programme. Since the first box was bought to market, Sky has halved its power consumption.

Then there’s the auto standby initiative, already discussed. Four million boxes now have this function throughout the UK and Ireland and it has saved more CO2 emissions than the whole of Sky’s own in-house carbon footprint.

In 2006, the firm ambitiously promised to inspire one million environmental actions in the next five years. This past year has seen the launch of Green Shoots – a customer competition inviting people to send in short videos to encourage others to tackle global warming. The winning videos were broadcast on Sky Movies. Elsewhere, the Sky News channel has dedicated a number of slots to Green Britain Update, a show reporting on various environmental initiatives happening across the country. And Al Gore was interviewed by Clive Anderson on prime-time Sky Movies, followed by Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

In the next three years, Sky will give £1M to Global Action Plan, an environmental charity that, among other things, helps people cut their energy bills. Appetite for Action and EcoTeams are the focus of the partnership this year; the former plans to get school kids to think about the environmental impact of the food they eat, the latter encourages employees to develop personal action plans to cut their waste, energy, travel and water.

There are also ongoing partnerships with the likes of the the Prince Of Wales Rainforest Trust and BITC’s May Day Climate Change programme, while their own Together campaign continues to offer customers carbon- and money-saving products. But while encouraging customers to do the right thing has been a strong backbone of Sky’s Bigger Picture strategy, it hasn’t forgotten to address its own operations too. However, despite its efforts, it admits it still has a fair way to go.

Sky’s carbon footprint measurement of 53,701 tonnes CO2e takes into account the energy used to power its fleet and offices, the emissions from business air travel and its waste going to landfill. The figure shows a 2% increase in like-for-like emissions compared with last year.

The company’s energy comes from a Climate Change Levy-certificated source and the rest of its footprint is offset, allowing it to bill itself as a carbon-neutral organisation. Offset cash has gone towards a hydro-power project in Guizhou and a wind-power project in Inner Mongolia, both in China, and the Tirunelveli wind-power scheme and the Kotmar waste-heat recovery project, in India.

It’s a carbon-neutral claim it likes to get verified by an independent body (environmental consultancy ERM currently has the job), especially given this year’s challenge from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that Sky’s declaration of neutrality might be a bit suspect. Five complaints were made to the

ASA about the company’s related advertising campaign.

“The ASA’s appointed independent expert found we had proactively gone above and beyond the best-practice minimum in our measurement of emissions and calculation of our carbon footprint,” says The Bigger Picture, rather proudly.

Other impressive initiatives are going on in the areas of transport, recycling, waste minimisation and water consumption. This year, Sky ran the UK’s first commercial trial of the Vauxhall Vivaro B30 biodiesel van. The firm’s 514 trial vans ran on the 30% biodiesel blend of recycled vegetable oil and rapeseed oil, sourced from within the UK. The plan is to extend the trial, especially given the fact that the fuel possesses a carbon intensity of 15-18% less than normal diesel.

In compliance with the WEEE directive, Sky takes back set top boxes. In fact, this year alone 830,409 were sent back freepost to be refurbished and recycled. In the past 12 months, recycling figures across the business are up 14%. The site at Osterley has installed a wormery to deal with the organic waste arising from the staff canteen. And in Scotland, 82% of all waste generated was recycled last year. As for water, 9.53m3 of water was consumed per employee – down from 11.50m3 last year.

These are impressive statistics. But as chief executive Jeremy Darroch says: “There is always more to do.” He’s right and you can’t help feeling confident that Sky will continue to lead the way.

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