As part of Admap's April issue on sustainability, Fiona Ball, group head of responsible business, Sky, details the launch of Sky Ocean Rescue, an initiative that sets out to stop our oceans from drowning in plastic, while also inspiring Sky's customers to make simple everyday changes.
Sky services can be found in millions of homes across the nation, providing TV, internet, mobile or other services. By sharing the nation’s living rooms with them, we have the unique opportunity to connect with millions of people and help share important, change driven messages.
Having this level of day-to-day involvement in so many people’s lives means that we understand the importance of having values and principles that underpin the way we work. We think that the idea of responsibility is important across all industries but particularly for us in media, as we are in homes across the country. Here at Sky, we believe that it is about how we do things and that we take action on issues that matter to our customers and colleagues.
In 2017, we realised the huge impact that single-use plastic waste was having on our oceans and how households everywhere were contributing to the problem. We learned that the average UK household used one rubbish truck’s worth of single-use plastic a year, and at that time, 20,000 plastic bottles were sold every second around the globe.
Those millions of tonnes that end in the ocean do not break down, they disrupt the natural ecosystem. Shockingly, that means that over half of sea turtles have consumed plastic. The average portion of mussels contains about 90 pieces of microplastic. We do not yet know the impact that ingesting this will have on the human body.
We were shocked by these findings and commissioned the (now) ground-breaking documentary, ‘A Plastic Tide’. That’s why we launched Sky Ocean Rescue. We set out with big goals: to stop our oceans from drowning in plastic, while also inspiring our customers to make simple everyday changes.
We made a conscious decision to not house Sky Ocean Rescue within our sustainability team. It is operated by an Oceans steering group drawn from all parts of the business, simply because it is an issue that impacts all parts of the business.
We consider Sky Ocean Rescue to be much bigger than a CSR campaign. We are not doing for doing’s sake. We are committed to driving real change in attitudes and behaviour across the nation and permanently halting the impact of single-use plastic on our oceans, with a long term and sustainable view.
Jeremy Darroch, Group Chief Executive at Sky, made it clear that as a business it was crucial that we lead by example. He vowed to make the entire business single-use plastic free by 2020, a move at the time that made Sky the first FTSE 100 business to do so. A goal that we are currently on course to achieve.
When auditing the business, we opened up boxes, took pictures, removed everything – really got to grips with the levels of single-use plastic within the business. It quickly became evident that plastic was deeply embedded in every facet of our business, and that to remove it would not only require lateral thinking but a serious commitment and focus.
Some changes were obvious and relatively easy to implement but had an immediate impact. We removed disposable coffee cups from all of our business centres and studios, saving seven million cups per year, and did the same with disposable plastic drinks bottles, preventing nearly half a million (450,000) of them entering the ocean. A further change came in cutting down on 320kg of plastic wraps for our customer products by moving to alternatives such as paper packing tape, with a natural adhesive.
Then came larger and more complex changes which affected projects we had been working on for months, and years in some cases. We soon realised that the (then) new Sky Soundbox was set to be sent to our customers in a polystyrene box and packaging, a move that would be completely against our new direction and ethos. As a result, we rethought our packaging strategy and turned around a new packaging design completely in just eight weeks. This attention to detail and commitment is embedded within the business, with teams stopping at nothing to find new ways of doing things.
Now all new Sky products have single-use plastic free packaging: from our Sky boxes and remote to Sky Mobile SIM cards. This saved 175 tonnes of single-use plastic 2018, which equates to 19 rubbish trucks full. Overall, this process is entirely cost neutral to the business.
We are particularly proud of the design of our new Sky Q set top box which is a great example of single-use plastic free design from concept. We even built in compartments into the set top box so that cables and accessories do not require cable ties or plastic bags to keep them in place.
It sounds like an expensive process but worth flagging that the actual results have, overall, been cost neutral.
This approach is very much open source. If other businesses – big or small, follow us and reduce their single-use plastic intake that is fantastic. We strongly believe that if we can all make little changes, collectively it makes a big impact. Our logistics supplier, Unipart, is a business that has identified single-use plastic free solutions, cutting 80 tonnes of single-use plastic from their operations within a year. We are proud to call them our partner as we go through the continuous process of finding better and more sustainable solutions in every area of our business.
But we know that we can go further. We are working with our partners to drive change in their businesses. Through the Sky Ocean Rescue partnership with the Premier League we are helping to inspire football clubs to go single-use plastic free. At the time of writing, we are working with the Premier League to trial reusable drinks cups across four stadiums.
It’s not all about business transformation, however. Consumer behaviour change remains a real focus for us. We have never lost sight of the importance of encouraging positive action in households up and down the country, knowing the critical mass that can be achieved through the actions of many people. Through our ongoing #PassOnPlastic campaign we have raised awareness of the issue and encouraged millions to make simple, meaningful changes, whether that’s by carrying a reusable coffee cup or bottle, packing their children’s lunch in plastic free packaging or taking part in a beach clean.
This pressure and shift in consumer thinking has really moved the dial on the topic. With the UN now also campaigning for a ‘significant reduction’ from 173 countries around the world, this will only continue to develop over the next year and onwards.
From a brand perspective, research shows us that our positive actions and our commitment to doing the right thing reflects on how much consumers trusts us. For us, that’s paramount – we want to show consumers that Sky is a brand for them.
For more on Sky Ocean Rescue, the actions that we have taken are set take, you can read our Impact Report here: skybiggerpicture.com/impact. Or why not get in touch with Sky Ocean Rescue on all the usual social media channels and let us know how you pledge to #PassOnPlastic?