Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2019: Phoebe Whittome, Virgin Media
This series profiles the members of edie's 30 Under 30 - a nomination-based community of 30 hugely talented young sustainability and energy professionals who have already achieved great things or are showing fantastic promise. Next up: Phoebe Whittome, sustainability manager at Virgin Media.
The future of business leadership starts right here. Earlier this year, edie unveiled the inaugural members of its brand new 30 Under 30 initiative – a group of bright and ambitious rising sustainability and energy stars from across the UK.
After being nominated by their colleagues and impressing judges from Global Action Plan and the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS), this cohort of youthful visionaries now benefit from an unrivalled opportunity to connect with one another and co-develop solutions to some of the most pressing environmental and social challenges of our time.
In this weekly series, we will be sharing their stories and successes beyond the group, giving edie readers insight into the minds of those who will be leading the charge in creating the low-carbon, resource-efficient economies of the future.
This week, it’s the turn of Phoebe Whittome, sustainability manager at telecoms giant Virgin Media.
How I got to where I am now:
“I studied politics and international relations at the University of Bath and it was during that time that the lights ‘switched on’ for me. I became increasingly aware of the importance of social and environmental sustainability and the socio-cultural implications of domestic and international policy design. This recognition was, by all accounts, fairly late compared to the generation coming up behind mine. Nevertheless, this growing awareness of global social inequality guided my increasing focus on social sustainability throughout the rest of my degree.
“My career was kick-started on a placement year with the CR team at Nationwide Building Society. I worked across their core community engagement initiatives and, most formatively, a piece of research and programme design that informed a new social impact strategy. This stint solidified my now firmly-held belief in the power of business to make long-term positive social change.
“After graduating, I spent a short stretch working for brand purpose agency, Given, before joining Virgin Media on the Corporate Affairs graduate scheme. I spent eight months in the press team, where I learnt so much about the business, our customer base and how we operate before moving into the sustainability team.
“When a permanent role in the Sustainability team came up I jumped at the opportunity, I was fortunate enough to be offered the role and came off the graduate scheme early. I’ve now been in the position for almost a year and am responsible for looking after our social programmes, governance, reporting and sustainability communications”
My biggest career achievement to date has been:
“Changing the way people think and act about core societal issues is, and I think always will be, my raison d’être.
“This often involves knocking on doors that look like they’re never going to open, so I’m particularly proud of the shift in responsiveness to our programme championing disability inclusion, in partnership with disability charity Scope.
“In January we launched the #WorkWithMe community, which is underpinned by a pledge taken by businesses committed to thinking and acting differently about disability in their organisations. Ten months on we have more than 50 members, including businesses like Deloitte, Ford, Philips and Centrica, which are all working to improve their inclusion practices for their people and their customers.
“We run a roundtable series, inviting #WorkWithMe members to attend and share learnings, challenges and reflections on their own disability inclusion programmes. Bringing the cohort together to think creatively about a specific topic has brought real value to attendees and us, Virgin Media and Scope. The resources and concepts born out of these conversations are testament to the value of sharing information and working together towards a common outcome. Our work on disability inclusion is the most valuable work I do.”
The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:
“The business case for sustainability – both environmental and social – could not be clearer. But I think shifting this recognition into proactive, overarching business transformation that identifies and addresses social and environmental issues is an ongoing challenge.”
“At Virgin Media, we’re fortunate enough to have strong executive sponsorship for our key programmes but ensuring we operationalise these consistently across the business is a core focus.”
If I had to describe my generation in one word or phrase, I would say:
“Changemakers, because we have to be.”
A successful 2019-20 for me looks like:
“We’re starting work on our next materiality assessment that will inform our strategy from 2020 onwards – so success would be completing the first phase of the research and agreeing on core themes and programmes, putting future targets in place and ensuring we have buy-in from our leaders.
“It feels almost indulgent to be allowed the time to deep dive into what our people, customers and peers think about our current programmes and where we should be focussing our efforts going forward. I’m really excited to see what comes out of it and to have a part in making the results meaningful through programme design and implementation.
“In terms of #WorkWithMe, I have a series of community events to deliver over the next 12 months and it’ll be really interesting to cover a broad range of topics and to continue fostering steady relationships and supportive collaboration of members. The project is entering the bedding-in stage now and I’m excited to continue work on how we evolve the community and where we take it next.”
In five years’ time, I would like to be:
“Continuing to enable and empower business to deliver positive social and environmental impact through their brand, their operations and their people.
“What shape this work will take, I’m not entirely sure. A mentor of mine often says the jobs of the future are yet to be created; I’m excited to see what the sustainability landscape looks like in five years’ time.
Outside of my career, I enjoy:
“Running! Since starting work, I’ve found it’s the best way to keep a clear head and decompress. I enjoy doing races and have been part of various running clubs – running with others makes getting up and out on cold day much easier.
“To fuel my running I also enjoy eating my way around London or any city, and travelling as much as I can.”
My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business is:
“You are in a unique position to set the pace of change and increase standards when it comes to societal challenges. Be bold, take risks and be prepared to fail.
“For my team and the business, confronting challenges or ‘failures’ has meant we’re better equipped, stronger and more educated for the next time around. A lot of our now-established sustainability programmes hit some serious road-bumps in the early days, but their success today is a result of the team’s willingness to fail fast, learn from our decisions and keep the bigger picture in mind.
“I’d also say that ensuring the sustainability team is positioned and performs as a key business function is core to its success. If the team operates as a professional business unit, they’ll have the support they need to deliver a real impact.”
My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my industry today is:
“What you do is important, but how you do it is more important.
“Working in sustainability means you’ll come across people who either don’t value what you do, or are reluctant to take the time to understand and support it. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it means you need to adapt to achieve the outcome you need.
“Harness this disassociation and ensure it’s this perspective you understand and respond when you position and communicate what you do. If you’re doing something great you need to show others its value in a way that is meaningful to them.
“Aside from that, I’d say: remember that data is your friend. I used to hate going anywhere near data, but I soon learnt it’s such a valuable tool. To get any plan in motion, you’ll need to back up your argument and prove its ongoing value.”
The full Class of 2019 series can be viewed here.
To stay in the loop for 2020 nominations for the 30 Under 30, email email@example.com.