A deep dive into Sky’s approach to sustainability




Neil Bayley

There’s hardly been a brief across my desk in the past 18 months without ‘sustainability’ central to the challenge.

As someone who started his career three decades ago hoping to help businesses address their sustainability agenda, that’s a relief….but it’s taken a while.

Back in the early 90’s, climate change was an emerging challenge well beyond the consciousness of most business leaders. Now it’s firmly on their agenda. Whether their concern is cost, risk, competition, customer loyalty or employee pride….it’s now hard to find a leader in the UK or Europe that doesn’t see the sustainability challenges facing their business as critical.

With increasing levels of public concern and business engagement, there’s no doubt corporate campaigning around sustainability has seen resurgence in recent years. But how can companies and brands engage audiences on their sustainability agenda in effective ways? And what are the critical factors for making a lasting impression rather than just adopting a temporary green glow?

These were the questions we debated at a recent breakfast event with the help of our guest David Wheeldon, Group Director for Policy and Public Affairs at Sky. We invited David along to talk about Sky’s approach to sustainability and their award-winning Ocean Rescue campaign. It was great to see over 100 guests join the discussion.

David set the scene by reflecting on how sustainability conversations in the 2000s focussed mainly on risk. The issues and opportunities were seen as peripheral to the business agenda, not deemed worthy for corporate campaigning. This mind-set has changed at Sky over the past decade.

The company sees itself as a challenger seeking to make a difference in customers’ lives. When it came to sustainability, they decided to look beyond simply how they could reduce their impacts to what role they could play as a media business in enabling positive change.

That’s what led Sky News to change its editorial policy to reflect a belief that the need to tackle sustainability challenges is not a two-sided argument. You’ll find them reporting on the issues and imperatives for action, but not giving air time to the cynics or deniers. They’ve hired a dedicated climate change correspondent to report honestly and accurately on the challenges that lie ahead.

Sky felt its customers were looking for three things from them when it came to sustainability. First, don’t duck the issues and show up committed to make a difference. Second, create opportunities to engage and discuss what can be done to tackle the most important challenges. Third, be open to working with others in achieving progress.

This was the kind of thinking that led their CEO to look at the challenge of plastics in our oceans and ask ‘what more can we do?’ The answer came in the form of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, which has three strands:

· A clear, measurable business pledge to remove single use plastics from all aspects of the business and supply chain by 2020.

· A commitment to use their reach of over 100 million homes a month across Europe to help educate and inspire audiences into action.

· A £25 million impact investment fund for small businesses and enterprises creating alternatives to the single use plastics in the supply chain.

The ambition to eliminate single-use plastics is challenging and something that many other organisations are looking at. Sky has a responsible business team guiding the programmes and initiatives that will help the business meet its commitment. But they’ve also learned there are important factors to aid their success that others can learn from.

First, have a clear strategy with targets. Second, whilst commitment from the top is key, the responsibility for delivering against the commitment needs to be shared at all levels of the business. Finally, don’t expect to be able to do it all yourselves, so look for positive partnerships that can help you achieve more, faster.

The campaign is embedded within the business, so it comes to life in different and unexpected ways. For example, Sky holds the rights for the Italian X Factor and last year focused an episode on single-use plastics to help carry the message to new audiences. They’re also working with the Premier League to remove single use plastic from its matches and looking at other sporting events to use their platform to raise awareness.

At Good Relations, we’re admirers of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign because it reflects two of the key principles we believe can help companies find the right strategy for communicating their approach to sustainability.

First, when it comes to choosing where to focus your efforts, look for the crossroads between an inherent brand strength, concern and opportunity. Second, look beyond what you make (i.e. product, service, opportunity) to what you can make happen for the people that matter to you, whether they are employees, customers, stakeholders or part of wider society. These helped Sky find the focus for their campaign and decide on the role they wanted to play.

I was delighted to welcome David along and very grateful to him for sharing his insights with our audience. From the buzz and questions in the room, it was clear that the debate had sparked some inspiring conversations.

This was the first in a series of Good Relations events we’ll be theming around the sustainability agenda over coming months.

To register for future events at Good Relations check out our events page

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