Virgin Media’s sustainability reporting revolution – Q&A with Katie Buchanan

July 30, 2018

Katie Buchanan, Head of Sustainability at Virgin Media, answers our questions on how to use the sustainability report to engage employees

1.What led Virgin Media to this latest evolution in sustainability reporting?

Our approach to reporting has to date focused on establishing a strategy, getting our house in order and engaging primarily with our senior leadership team, while having a bit of fun along the way.

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 GIFs.

Now we’re evolving our reporting process to engage our entire workforce on our goals given we are at the half way point.

This year we turned to the World Cup for inspiration for our 2017 sustainability report, ‘Half-Time Team Talk’. The tournament provided a perfect opportunity for us to take stock and review and reset our approach as we’re at the half-way point of our 2020 deadline for achieving our five sustainability goals.

It’s a straight up review of our performance, champions our successes and marks out the area where we need to up our game.

We’ve also created a ‘Squad Selector’ quiz to help our people find out what role they can play in helping us achieve our goals.

Simply, it’s about bringing to life our sustainability performance in a way which resonates with people so they can join the conversation and understand how we’re growing our businesses in a way that’s good for people and the environment.

2. This report places an emphasis on transparency, what are some of the learnings shared since Virgin Media originally set its ‘5 in 5’ plan?

We take a frank approach to sustainability reporting where we celebrate our successes but also highlight the areas which could have gone better, too.

My top five learnings are:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Find new ways to tell stories. We are constantly finding new ways to bring our story to life, for example when we donated our shirt sponsorship of Southampton FC to our charity partner, Scope to raise awareness of disability discrimination in football. We took the story from a PDF to the pitch and the football fans who could help us make a difference to disabled people.
  • Don’t be afraid to look under the bonnet. We asked ourselves some difficult questions about how we supported disabled employees and customers, which helped us create a meaningful disability action fan. It’s part of our ‘Work With Me’ campaign to support a million disabled people to get in and stay in work by the end of 2020.
  • Governance is golden. Having support and regular check-ins with senior leaders have been crucial to our progress and keeps us on track.

3. What tools is VM using to engage employees on the sustainability journey?

Our people are central to us achieving our sustainability goals.

The ‘Sustainability Squad Selector’ follows the football theme of our sustainability report and is a fun tool to help our people understand what position they can play and lists 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.

It’s supported by a suite of communication materials enhanced by a strong visual identify to resonate with our people such as blogs, posters, floor graphics and our popular GIFs.

We report continuously throughout the year in order to keep our people regularly engaged with our activity. For example, in May last year we built excitement around our partnership with Scope through the shirt-swap at Southampton FC. It was a great opportunity to engage our people with what we’re trying to achieve with the charity.

4. Better Products is one 2020 goal, how does VM communicate the improved environmental and social impact profile of its products to customers?

Our approach to communicating directly to customers is evolving and we will have a greater focus on this in the run up to our 2020 deadline.

We’ve published scorecard results through blogs and social media, and on our website where we advise our customers on how they can recycle their old equipment. Our user manual also contains information on environmental and social issues.

As we launch new products we want the environmental and social impact to be part of how we talk about them.

5. How is the sustainability strategy governed?

Each of our five sustainability goals are owned by a member of our Executive Committee. This way, accountability for sustainability sits with the people at the very top of our business.

Each of the goals are governed by a Steering Committee which meets quarterly. Following these meetings the goals’ performance, risks and action plans are documented and shared at the Executive Committee meeting as appropriate.

The Sustainability team is accountable for making sure there is a plan in place to deliver performance against the goals and communicating progress in a transparent way to key stakeholders.

The day-to-day management of our environmental impacts sits with our business functions e.g. fleet managers are responsible for improving the environmental impact of our company vehicles, while the Logistics team is responsible for ensuring that our electrical waste is disposed of or reused correctly. The role of the Sustainability team is to facilitate and communicate our progress as we become a more sustainable business.

Since Liberty Global became our parent company in 2013, Virgin Media’s Sustainability team has worked in close partnership with the Liberty Global Corporate Responsibility team, based in Amsterdam, to ensure our activity is aligned.


Katie Buchanan is Head of Sustainability at Virgin Media.