Talking tactics, strategy and goals for successful sustainability reporting

At Virgin Media, we're known for putting our people and customers at the heart of everything we do. This runs through our business from the way we design our products and services, how we create inclusive workplaces, to the way we disclose our social and environmental performance. Here are my key learnings to successfully embed a sustainability strategy.

Talking tactics, strategy and goals for successful sustainability reporting

Our focus is on engagement, which means we do things a little differently. While we are particularly proud of our ambitious “five in five” goals and our performance against them, our focus is not just disclosure or producing an annual report.

We’ve long since ditched a hard copy sustainability report in favour of empowering people to join a conversation through interactive scrolling PDFs, the world’s first 360° sustainability video, and highly-shareable GIFs.

Simply, we want to invite people to join the conversation and understand how we’re growing our businesses in a way that’s good for people and the environment.

This year we’ve gone a step further to enable our people to get involved directly and create positive change. That’s why we’ve launched the ‘Sustainability Squad Selector’ – a fun tool to help our people understand what position they can play; ‘Fan’, ’Striker’, ‘Coach’ or ‘Captain’ and listed out the tactics they can use to support our plan to win in 2020. This includes how they can become disability confident, reduce our landfill waste or work towards our plans to narrow our gender pay gap.

This is supported by a suite of communication materials enhanced by a strong visual identity to resonate with our people such as blogs, posters, floor graphics and GIFs.  It’s about an ‘always on’ approach.

We also report continuously throughout the year in order to keep our stakeholders regularly engaged with our activity.

For example, in May last year, we built excitement around our partnership with our partner, Scope, by donating our shirt sponsorship of Southampton FC to the charity to raise awareness of disability discrimination in football. We literally moved the goalposts; taking the story from a boring PDF to the pitch and the football fans who could help us make a difference to disabled people.

Half-time learnings

As we are at the half-way point to our five in five 2020 sustainability goals, it feels only natural to take stock, review tactics and share our analysis. The best teams in the world take time to regroup at half-time. That’s why we’ve pulled together our key learnings to help us reset, refocus and reform our approach.

Here are my top five learnings at the halfway point:

1) Do fewer things really well. By focussing on fewer issues where we can have a bigger impact, we’ve been able to make more progress. Before we set our ‘5 in 5’ goals, we had 27 targets to report on annually. It was difficult to drive change in all these areas, for our people to get behind and to tell a cohesive story about the impact we were having as a business.

2) Set big, long-term goals. Although it felt scary at the time, we embraced a longer-term focus because thinking year-to-year was providing too trivial. A longer-term focus also enables you to constantly engage your people and refer back to something they are familiar with.

3) Find new ways to story tell. We are constantly finding new ways to bring our story to life, such as the shirt-swap at Southampton Football Club. It was a great opportunity to engage our people in what we’re trying to achieve with our partnership with Scope. 

4) Don’t be afraid to look under the bonnet. With our disability action plan, we asked ourselves some difficult questions about how we were really supporting disabled employees and customers. Those difficult questions mean we have created a plan that gets to the root of the barriers while also helping us to play a role in bringing other businesses with us through our #WorkWithMe campaign.

5) Governance is golden. Delivering long-term goals and sustaining momentum is no easy task. Having support and regular check-ins with senior leaders have been crucial to our progress and has kept us on track.

I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved so far but there’s plenty more work for us to do in the next half and we’re ready for kick off.

Katie Buchanan is Head of Sustainability at Virgin Media

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