The Think Big Blueprint- The Journey So Far

BEING MORE THAN THE SUM OF OUR PARTS

I am proud to report on the close-out of Telefónica UK’s first public sustainability plan ̶  the Think Big Blueprint  ̶  which set O2 on a path towards three stretching and time-bound goals between the years 2012 and 2015.

The results are in.

We’ve met or exceeded two ambitious goals and made great headway on the third  ̶  emerging from our plan in a carbon positive position by a factor of over seven times our network’s impact, thanks to different ways of working and new products and services.

PASSION AND PROOF

Sustainable business has been a passion of mine since 2008 when I experienced a light bulb moment: that taking responsibility for the social and environmental impact of your products and services creates trust in your brand sets you apart from competitors and creates a healthier bottom line.

In my experience, businesses that “do good” as part of their business strategy also “do better”.

OUR JOURNEY

Back in 2008 we partnered with Forum for the Future (Forum) with the ambition to move along from a Beginner to a Leader among sustainable businesses, using Forum’s highly respected benchmark methodology. We achieved this important milestone in late 2012 thanks to our early preparatory work, our youth programme and the Blueprint launch.

The aspiration was always to work with other organisations, with our customers and communities in ways that would take our initiatives to a much greater scale. Since then we’ve driven our Blueprint internally and externally and launched a range of industry-leading initiatives and partnerships.

My thanks to Forum for the Future for keeping us focused and ambitious, to the likeminded business partners, charities, agencies, and suppliers who have joined us in their thousands on this co-collaborative journey and, of course, to our people, who’ve taken our vision to heart and made sustainability a part of who we are.

CUSTOMERS COME FIRST

Above all we’ve listened to our customers. For example: our research told us that 48% of consumers wanted to buy brands that transparently tackled environmental challenges. So we set about empowering them to make more sustainable choices.

We also wanted to improve the lives and futures of our 24 million diverse customers, in particular those of young people  ̶  often referred to as “digital natives”  ̶  who were disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, and needed support to unlock their talents and ambitions.

As the generation that have grown up with the internet, young people are uniquely placed to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the digital economy. I believe that young people hold the skills and ideas to help create a prosperous future for everyone. 

SMART FUTURE

Meanwhile, the smart phone was fast becoming the remote control of people’s lives, enabling them to do more, faster, but also to opt for sustainable solutions with potential to disrupt damaging trends like growing electronic waste, energy and fuel consumption.

Today, our customers remain at the heart of everything we do. But rather than force sustainable solutions on them, we’ve used stakeholder insight to understand their priorities, to build digital accessibility and to demonstrate the fresh possibilities of the digital economy  ̶  all under the rallying cry to Think Big.

THINKING BIG

One such possibility comes to mind as I write. In 2012, all 2,000 O2 head office employees worked away from the office for a day. We wanted to show that  ̶  with the right connectivity and support  ̶  they could work as productively, if not more so, from home or on the move.

They did. Plus, the reduced electricity use and avoided travel saved 12.2 tonnes of CO2 while 1,000 fewer cars motored to our head office that day. The experiment motivated us to rubber stamp lower-carbon flexible working at O2 and engage business customers in mobile and home working solutions, taking behaviour change to greater scale.

“Behaviour change” and “scale” are key words here. I believe that the future depends on collaboratively changing the way we all do things. I genuinely believe, too, that smart technology is playing a pivotal role in enabling that transformation and in creating the scale of change that will make a difference. 

HOW DID WE FARE?

Could we find new ways to make a positive contribution to society and the environment within a tight deadline? How did we capture imaginations and encourage different behaviours? What have we learnt along the way? And what’s next?

I hope the commentary from our stakeholder advisory panel and the results of our Blueprint reports goals and commitments prove the case for fresh thinking and bold ambitions. Both can be found here.

LEARNING

We’ve learnt a lot along the way.

You’ll see that we’ve faced hurdles – not least in the pursuit of UK-wide major carbon savings. Like smart technology itself, our business is constantly evolving so we’ve faced some difficult decisions and had to adjust our business strategy at times.

There were disappointments, yes. Our hopes for O2 Health to help the NHS, health providers and the chronically ill with remote services proved premature. Our work on the Government’s Smart Meter Implementation Programme (SMIP) to connect millions of homes and small business premises by 2021, saving energy use and money via real-time monitoring, has been subject to delays beyond our control.

Nevertheless, we are delighted with our achievements to date  ̶  in particular our work to inspire a generation of young people to Think Big; alongside industry game changers such as O2 Recycle, Charger Out of the Box and Eco Rating; our growing smart energy, logistics, driving and mobile working solutions; and our landmark online safety partnership with the NSPCC.

The challenge for our industry is to seize opportunities that promote sustainable, lower-carbon lifestyles by giving consumers well-marketed, relevant products and services exactly when they want and need them. We also have a role to play in helping our customers and their families to build the skills and confidence to access the best of a digital world. 

CULTURE CHANGE

At the same time, we’ve worked to put our own house in order from top to bottom and enabled everyone at O2 to roll up their sleeves and get involved. People from all major business functions are represented on our Sustainability Taskforce and the role of every O2 employee is now linked to a Think Big objective.

In a nutshell, we believe that the biggest contribution we can make to the environment and society is as agents of change.

NEXT STEPS

Our next stage strategy will keep us on our toes as we continue to give back more than the sum of our effects and do our best to help safeguard the future for our business, our customers and the communities where we live and work. You can read more on that here.

It seems to me that the language of sustainability (reduce, minimise, less, neutral) is still out of kilter with the lingo of the business world (grow, achieve, increase, profit).

Are they reconcilable? I believe so; especially when companies are prepared to think imaginatively about inspiring positive change through their products, services and people.