More than a single moment in time: Virgin Media’s approach to sustainability reporting

EXCLUSIVE: Virgin Media has today (25 May) launched its latest sustainability report, detailing efforts towards a new net-zero target. The company's head of sustainability Katie Buchanan outlines how the standalone report is evolving into an interactive extravaganza.

More than a single moment in time: Virgin Media’s approach to sustainability reporting

The company's latest sustainability report outlines key progress to decarbonise and achieve zero waste

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Virgin Media is widely regarded as an innovator in the world of sustainability reporting, having shifted to a digital-only format in 2010 and subsequently launched the world’s first 360 sustainability video2017 saw the firm publish a string of GIFs, infographics and social media posts in lieu of a hefty PDF and, in 2018, the report was football-themed in a drive to boost engagement against the backdrop of the FIFA World Cup.

But with a net-zero target to work towards as part of a new ‘Meaningful Connections Plan’ the company is looking to engage its workforce and key stakeholders on the journey ahead.

For the company’s head of sustainability, Katie Buchanan, the purpose of a sustainability report is to act as a “springboard for genuine engagement”, which in turn requires breaking the stories and milestones down into engaging and interactive tools for staff and stakeholders to experience.

“At Virgin Media, we talk about our sustainability performance as a period of reporting rather than a standalone report,” Buchanan said. “In doing so, we turn it from being a static look back at the past to something that can be a springboard for genuine engagement with our customers, people and sustainability colleagues about our future.

“To do this effectively we use different platforms and formats to reach each of these key stakeholder groups, presenting our performance information on platforms they’re used to using every day and in the level of detail they’re interested in.”

The company’s latest iteration of its sustainability report outlines some notable milestones and achievements.

Virgin Media has achieved zero waste to landfill operations and has reduced carbon emissions across its operations by 46% since 2014. Earlier this year, the company unveiled new commitments to achieve net-zero operations by the end of 2025 and to transition its entire fleet to electric vehicles by 2030, as part of a sweeping new sustainability strategy.

The sustainability team at Virgin Media is attempting to create long-lasting interaction with the sustainability report by sharing the results and information across different forms of media.

The company has created a virtual presentation, or ‘prezi’, a podcast, and a pop quiz so that its employees can access key findings from the report in an engaging manner. Buchanan hopes it will help employees gain a better understanding of the role they can play in delivering key environmental and social targets.

Virgin Media is well-known for its focus on social sustainability – particularly its work with disability charity Scope, which focussed on equal employment and other opportunities.

The firm is working towards a new five-year strategic partnership with Carers UK, a charity set up to support the UK’s seven million carers. A key focus will be helping unpaid carers combat loneliness and isolation using technology.

The Meaningful Connections Plan, more broadly, includes a commitment to connect 1.5 million people to their communities and each other in a “meaningful” way. One million carers will be supported to access digital services and platforms designed to build friendships and to connect with community groups and local Virgin Media workers.

On the latter, Virgin is giving every full-time member of staff five annual paid volunteering days. This will enable the firm to give 450,000 hours to community causes.

“Our annual report creates a moment to engage our people and customers in all that we are up to,” Buchanan said.

“By taking the content to them in engaging and accessible ways we are helping to reflect with pride on what we achieved together in response to the pandemic while also keeping our longer-term social and environmental impact programmes running. And create a greater understanding of Virgin Media’s new Meaningful Connections Plan and how each and every one of our employees can support our ambitions for the next five years.”

Virgin Media has recently started using Facebook Workplace to act as an employee engagement platform, and Buchanan claims that they can use this to measure engagement with the report and get feedback on any content posted on there.

Both the “anecdotal feedback and the quantitative reach and engagement data” will be used to shape future versions of the report in order to drive better understandings of other topics across the sustainability spectrum.

Shaping the conversation

Against a backdrop of changing environmental science and disclosure legislation, compounded by changing public sentiment, the corporate sustainability conversation is evolving rapidly. After strings of new social and environmental targets were set over the past 12 months, many firms are also evolving ways of reporting progress. In fact, edie recently published an in-depth feature looking at how corporates are embracing new ways of reporting (read the full piece here).

Buchanan advises a “straight up” approach, whereby the report presents an accurate reflection on what an organisation has achieved, or failed to achieve in the last year. Discussing the negatives, as well as the positives, and laying out new action plans can then appease potential concern.

“Sustainability reporting should be more than a single moment in time,” Buchanan added. “Consider how you can use communications when publishing your report as a springboard to engage your people in a new (or existing) programme, campaign or activity that supports the objectives of your sustainability strategy.”

“Reporting your performance should be engaging, insightful and fun. Ultimately, nobody will read an 80-page PDF – so really focus on the design, language and length of the report.  Reports should be aimed at your customers, employees, and as a tool for your peers to learn. As sustainability professionals, we are all striving to create an impact with our work and we should be proactive and proud to learn from each other – which ultimately will have a positive effect on where we work and the communities we serve.”

Find out more in edie’s free sustainability communications and reporting handbooks

As part of the recent Engagement Week 2021 editorial campaign, edie published two new free handbooks providing best-practice advice and expert insight on supercharging sustainability communications and developing modern CSR reports.

Both handbooks are free-to-download, combining advice from experts, top tips and case studies to provide the information and inspiration you need, regardless of where you are on your reporting journey. 



Matt Mace

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