What makes a sustainability leader? Meet Virgin Media’s ‘small but mighty’ sustainability team

With the entry deadline for edie's 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards less than two weeks away, this series showcases the achievements of previous winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: Winner of our 'Team of the Year' award, Virgin Media.

What makes a sustainability leader? Meet Virgin Media’s ‘small but mighty’ sustainability team

Are you our next winner? You have until 1 October 2021 to apply for the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards


Virgin Media’s sustainability team is a small but mighty team of four: head of sustainability Katie Buchanan; senior sustainability manager Robert McCann; sustainability manager Phoebe Whittome and #WorkWithMe ambassador Shani Dhanda.

The team recently completed its five-year (2015-2020) strategy – delivering significant, positive social and environmental impact. In that time, the business has achieved a 42% reduction in its carbon footprint and has started sourcing 100% renewable electricity.

It has also transformed the lives of one million disabled people and created opportunities for more than 125,000 small businesses to grow.  The team is proud of the impact it has had and the change it has driven in Virgin Media over the past five years.

Covid-19 hit just as the team had kicked off a new strategy development process, but by working collaboratively, the team members managed to deliver a materiality assessment to inform the business’s strategy for 2021 and beyond.

Team members pulled together and worked collaboratively to deliver an in-depth materiality assessment to inform the new ‘Meaningful Connections’ sustainability strategy. The team delivered all workshops virtually and set up an activation squad to test its ideas as it developed its new strategy with the areas of the business which would be involved in delivering it post-launch, and kept its executive committee heavily involved throughout the process. In addition, the team completed a carbon modelling process to inform the development of its new environmental plan and targets.

At the same time, it completed Virgin Media’s 2019 annual reporting process of data collection and assurance and prepared its annual sustainability report.

The team also supported the business with the huge influx of requests for support and connectivity. Members coordinated the provision of devices to NHS hospitals and Trusts and became the centrifuge for all proposed donation initiatives while juggling their existing programmes and commitments. In addition, the team was able to quickly reorganise the remote access technology available to the advisors of the Support to Work service – the digital employment services for disabled jobseekers the business set up in partnership with Scope – to ensure disabled jobseekers could continue to access flexible, tailored employment support at a time when the job market has been very challenging. Demand increased by almost 20% at the peak of lockdown and the team was able to meet this.

While each me member of the team has their own areas of responsibility, they are flexible and multi-skilled such that they are able to support each other with big initiatives and can quickly adapt to meet business demands. The team co-developed its strategy and work with drive and impeccable focus to deliver it.

As a small team, the sustainability team can only be successful and achieve transformation in Virgin Media by inspiring others and enabling teams across the business to be accountable and responsible for sustainability. As part of its 2018 sustainability report launch, the team produced a ‘Squad Selector’  tool to help employees understand the role they play in ‘the team’ to contribute to each of the goals in the business’ strategy.

Since the team set its ‘5 in 5’ strategy in 2015, it has maintained a laser focus on the five big goals. This does not mean it has not adapted. For example, the focus of the transforming lives goal was originally on how digital technology could transform the lives of disabled people, but after the original projects finished, the team shifted its focus to the big issue of disability employment,where it has had a far bigger impact.

The team completed its five-year sustainability strategy at the end of 2019 with very clear evidence for delivering on its vision but also supporting company growth. Key achievements delivered through collective work include: a reduction in Virgin Media’s carbon footprint (scope 1 and 2) of 42% against its 2014 baseline, and an energy cost avoidance of £13.8m thanks to investment in energy efficiency.

The team has also created a product scorecard to improve the sustainability performance of every new customer products. This helped the company to launch its Virgin TV V6 box andHub 3 router which, between them, have saved enough energy to power more than 41,000 UK homes and saved hundreds of tonnes of virgin material.

Additionally, the team has supported more than one million disabled people with the skills and confidence to get into and stay in work; donated more than £7.3m in strategic community investment over the past five years,and supported 127,036 small businesses to grow through digital.

edie’s judges said: “This small-but-mighty team have skills that complement each other and offer great support to each other. They have pivoted, showing great agility to retain a much-ne eded team ethos in the time of Covid-19. They have created a structured and focussed plan, put it at the heart of the business and engaged colleagues in all they do, making them thoroughly deserving of this award.”

Please note: The edie 2021 Sustainability Leaders Awards 2021 took place before the Virgin Media O2 merger.

Are you our next winner?

After a tough and extraordinary year, edie’s RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are back for 2022, bigger and better than ever – celebrating the incredible people, projects and partnerships that are accelerating climate action and transforming business, for good. 

Entries are now OPEN. The submission deadline for the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday 1 October 2021. The Awards is then set to take place as a live ceremony on the night of Wednesday 2 February 2022 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 

Our ‘Sustainability Leader of the Year’ category is among the 23 categories to choose from. Make sure you get the recognition you, and your team, deserve. ENTER THE SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS AWARDS 2022 HERE.

edie Staff

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