Last year was a turning point – the year that top brands, from retailers to energy suppliers, broadened their leadership role and encouraged low carbon lifestyles. In 2008, the wise will stay the course. Climate change is too big and too urgent an issue for us to opt out – we need all hands on deck. But it’s not just about “doing the right thing”. Lower carbon leadership is good for business, whatever the economic weather.
The key is to keep the approach relevant. Most consumers now understand the size of the problem and the need to address it fast. But they are bored with being hectored; they are drowning in information; and economic conditions mean that belts will be tightened. We need to reflect this by providing desirable products and services that don’t cost the earth in either sense of the word. Brands that can offer both environmental and financial advantages will prosper.
Through the Sky Magazine, we offer Sky Perks – special discounts that have saved customers millions of pounds – as a way of thanking them for their loyalty to Sky. Thousands of customers have taken up the “green” offers we have included, like Angela, who e-mailed us recently to thank us for helping her go green and save money with the eco-kettle she had ordered. This is the kind of small step that, if multiplied across Sky homes, makes a big difference.
Sky’s focus on climate change is having a significant impact on our brand. In a “most admired companies” survey last year, we moved up to third place, largely in recognition of the fact that Sky is a company that both innovates and makes an important social and environmental contribution. This has been backed by our own research, which has seen an uplift in customer affinity with the Sky brand. Business success, innovation and environmental action are not at odds.
We became carbon neutral in 2006 and have reduced our carbon emissions by 27% in the past three years. In February, we secured the entire energy output of a new wind farm on the Isle of Skye. But the real potential for change comes when we reach out to our 8.8 million customers. A year ago [as part of the Together initiative], Sky launched the world’s first auto-standby for set-top boxes, which puts millions of Sky Plus and Sky HD boxes to sleep overnight, saving our customers money and energy. In its first year, this saved 49,000 tonnes of CO2 – more than Sky’s direct carbon footprint.
We also want to inspire our customers to make positive changes themselves. We focus on actions and solutions. We aim to be fun, with programmes like Brainiac and The Simpsons, and our Cool Cat ad campaign.
Looking ahead, we have embarked on a three-year partnership with Global Action Plan, a practical environmental charity, to further extend our work in this area.
But it’s not all about customers. Our employees are our best brand ambassadors and we know they want us to take a lead on climate change. The fact that we have placed the environment high on our agenda is helping to attract, retain and motivate employees. They also want to play their part. The launch of our online carbon credit card – where eco-points mean prizes -saw 1,200 people signed up in two days.
There are many ways for companies to address climate change. Every brand needs to find its own path. But one thing is clear: there is an opportunity to attack the energy-wasting status quo through innovations great and small, and change how we do business. Those that choose to be part of that, leading the charge towards a low-carbon economy, will emerge as winners.
Don’t be tempted to let environmental performance fall down the agenda. The opportunity for UK plc is huge – with breakthroughs will come new jobs, new intellectual property, heightened investor, customer and employee loyalty, and a new competitive edge.
Jeremy Darroch is chief executive of BSkyB