And in particular, I want to thank everyone involved in this research. What Emily told us this evening brought home not just the scale of the problem, but the need for urgency in our response.
When this issue was first on my radar, it was only talked about as a ‘risk’. Sadly, it’s no longer just a risk, we’ve gone beyond that now. It’s happening. It’s a clear and present danger that is now with us all.
I can see lots of businesses recognise that, but collectively we can, and need to, do more.
It starts, I think, with self-awareness. Businesses often talk about the contribution they make and what they bring to society but not often enough about what they draw from or consume. It’s as if they operate in isolation from the environment.
That is obviously wrong. No business is separate from its environment or the broader eco-system that helps sustain it. We’re all part of that wider system and are therefore all dependent upon its long term health. We contribute to it of course; but we also take things too. We do good, but there is also harm.
We’ve got to recognise that, and then answer the question I want to focus on this evening:
- What should we do about it?
What society wants from business
At Business in the Community, we recently did a piece of research where we asked the public that question, and it came down to four things:
First of all, people wanted business to ‘show up’ in their local community. To support and respect the immediate areas in which they operate; and pay their fair share of taxes.
They think we have a particular responsibility to create opportunities for young people. That’s jobs, training, education and helping create a secure and supportive environment to grow up in.
People care about the environment. They understand that climate change is upon us – they get it – and they want to see business act and be more responsible.
And finally, they want to see business work with others – whether other businesses, or NGOs or scientists. They want us to use the power of our networks to make a difference to the world, not just to put some lustre on our brands or CSR policy.
That seems a very reasonable list to me. And it’s what we are trying to do at Sky across the countries we operate in.
No man is an island
The thing about Sky is that our roots are as a challenger. We believe in better because we believe that greater action leads to better outcomes.
When we set up there were a handful of channels and very little sport on TV. Rolling news wasn’t a thing. ‘Streaming’ wasn’t a word. The job ahead of us looked exciting but daunting.
So we set out to shake that up.
Over the years what I’ve increasingly realised is that there is no contradiction between challenging the status quo and also recognising that we are part of a wider community. That, in the words of John Donne, “no man is an island.”
At Sky, we have our own unique DNA, but we also depend on common goods:
A transport system for our people.
An education system that nurtures talent.
Properly funded national infrastructure.
And because we benefit from those shared things, we have a responsibility to contribute towards replenishing them. We take, and we have to put back.
There is no long term future unless we do that.
That’s why I feel so strongly that businesses should pay their share of tax.
At Sky we pay as much UK Corporation Tax as Facebook, Google and Amazon combined. It’s ridiculous to have a system where such successful companies don’t have to pay their fair share.
But it goes way beyond that.
In my view, for Sky to continue to thrive we need to be a good employer, a community citizen, to work productively across our sector to effect positive change and to see the bigger picture.
Climate change at Sky
And if you’re serious about seeing the bigger picture you have to do what you can to tackle the climate crisis. The idea that it’s someone else’s problem or too big an issue to challenge simply isn’t right. That’s my view.
So, I’d like to share with you some examples of what we do, because, I think, it shows that you can be a big, commercial business and still make change. Of course we can do more, and we want to work with everyone from the WWF to our broader supply chain to do that as we continue on this journey.
It’s a journey we started a while ago - we went carbon neutral in 2006. Since then, we’ve cut our carbon intensity by approaching two thirds and, working with the WWF, helped preserve a billion trees in the Amazon.
We will have eliminated all single-use plastic from our operations by the end of next year, and our impact investment fund is partnering with start-ups to find sustainable solutions to environmental supply chain issues.
Just as important as all that is the way we use our channels and our voice.
We have huge reach through our entertainment and sports content - we reach over 100 million people every month through our broadcast networks, which we try to use to highlight important issues, whether through our partnership with the Premier League to eliminate single-use plastic at grounds, or theming an X-Factor show in Italy around the issue of plastic.
And we also do a significant amount through Sky News.
Our editorial policy is not to have ‘both sides’ debates about whether climate change exists. Instead we have added a climate change correspondent. We evaluate the evidence with an open mind and then we are very happy to tell our audiences what the facts are. In a time when there is so much misinformation out there on social media, we invest millions every year to keep Sky News as an independent, impartial free to air news service, even though there is no direct commercial return.
So, that’s where we are today.
But we will need to do more. As a country we have made our commitments to get to Net Zero and we have our part to play in that. We’ll need absolute emission reductions, not just in our own operations but in our customers’ homes too.
And I can tell you: we’re up for it. 2050 is the UK deadline, but a business like ours ought to be able to get there quicker. We’re currently figuring out how.
It’s just good business
I started off by saying that we are doing all this because we are part of an ecosystem, and we recognise the need to contribute to the sustainability of that ecosystem.
But I know not every business leader will buy that argument, particularly if they are faced with the immediate pressures of short-term performance.
So, I want to make a different but complementary argument for why business should act responsibly: and that is that it is simply just good business.
What I’ve found is that when you act, people respond. They start to look and think about your business differently to how they may have seen you in the past.
Customers see it.
Suppliers see it.
And, employees see it.
80% of people in the UK say they are concerned about climate change.
In Italy 71% of people see climate change as a major threat to their country. Only 8% think it’s not a threat at all.
The numbers are similar in Germany.
Concern is not going away, so it is enlightened self-interest to make sure business is in step with customers on this issue.
And it is just as important when we are recruiting staff or looking for partners to work with. Great people don’t want to work in companies that are damaging the planet.
The cause needs business
The final point I want to make today is this:
Just as business needs to join the cause of tackling climate change; so, the cause of tackling climate change needs business to join.
Because business is really good at making big shifts happen fast.
We make things part of the daily life of everyone. From the phone in your pocket to the wind turbines that can now produce electricity more cheaply than fossil fuels; business makes change happen at scale.
Businesses are basically pretty simple things. We have a set of goals, and we find ways to make them happen. We develop products and services that we think people want to buy and we go and sell them. If we succeed, we carry on, and if we fail we go bust and someone else does it.
That process works really well. So, if we want electric vehicles rather than petrol; electric heat rather than gas boilers and mass shifts in consumer behaviour at every level, we need business to help make that happen.
I am glad that we are part of this movement and effort at Sky.
And I am encouraged that more and more businesses are doing something similar.
What I’ve said today is not a fringe position. If you look at the annual reports of FTSE 100 companies, more and more flag climate change as a major business issue.
We know that the extreme weather events, the sea level rises, the droughts will not be someone else’s problem. They will be… they are… our problem.
And we know that there is opportunity in being part of the solution.
The reasons Sky is transforming are not unique to us. We are changing because of things that are true of any business: our customers want it. Our people want it. And it just makes good business sense.
Above all, we are changing because for businesses to succeed in the long term they have to recognise that they are not isolated from the environment; we are profoundly connected to it.
So, when a business leader is frustrated at the disruption caused by Extinction Rebellion; or they find that extreme weather is making it hard for their business to operate… they shouldn’t only look to government to solve the problem. Business survives and thrives because we are all part of a connected ecosystem. And that means it’s not just the responsibility of other institutions to tackle climate change. It is our responsibility too. Indeed the future of our businesses and more importantly our planet depend upon it.