Building a Sustainable Digital Future
Last year was a seminal year for the development of digital Britain. In 2012, we hosted the first truly digital Olympics, hit 10 million users on twitter and completed the digital switchover for the country’s TV services.
Digital technology has undoubtedly already significantly changed the way people interact with companies. It’s been a tremendous driver of transparency and enabled a different kind of conversation between brands and their stakeholders – two-way, authentic and more accountable. It’s this recognition that’s steered our own approach to engaging people in our sustainability journey, which we do by getting our staff to post short videos and blogs on our sustainability website to give people a unique behind-the-scenes perspective on our efforts.
But the rapid pace of change in digital technology can also create some challenges. At Virgin Media, we recognize we can have a big impact on the development of a “digital society,” which we need to manage responsibly. Because as well as creating loads of new opportunities – for doing business, communicating, getting access to information and entertainment — we know an increasingly digital society throws up challenges like keeping kids safe online, data privacy and online piracy.
So what are the biggest issues when it comes to the impacts of digital technology on our lives? What do digital consumers think are the most important? And what are the most relevant issues for companies aiming to operate responsibly the digital space?
We set out to answer some of these questions through a new program called “Our digital future.” As one of the UK’s largest providers of superfast broadband services, understanding the impact of our digital technology on people’s lives, their communities and society at large is a key part of our corporate sustainability strategy. This is something our stakeholders expect us to be thinking about and acting on, even if some of them – staff and customers included – don’t always call it “sustainability.”
Putting the impact of our core products at the heart of our sustainability strategy and engaging a broad range of stakeholders about how we can work together to tackle challenges and even unlock opportunities for new ways of doing things represents an important development in the way we think about sustainability. It’s an approach that all companies can follow – not only because it makes sense from a sustainability perspective, but also because there’s a real business case. We’ve created a differentiated approach that’s true to our business, with a big focus on engagement that supports what our brand is all about.
As part of “Our digital future,” we commissioned consumer research and engaged opinion leaders – like David Jones and Martha Lane Fox – to share their insights into these important issues. Through our research, we found that digital confidence in the UK is at an all-time high with 88% of people feeling confident in using the internet. But we also learned that people do have concerns about some key issues.
Whether it’s walking down the street or clicking on a link, there will always be some dangers for our children to deal with. But the question of keeping kids safe online is becoming more important than ever.
- Over a third (38%) of parents with children under the age of 18 have taken action to limit their child’s online behaviour
- 84% of adults with children under 18 agree that the greatest responsibility for ensuring their children are safe online sits with them. 45% think that broadband providers should share some responsibility
This perspective is backed up by the experts. “I think the responsibility for educating children is the same as it is outside the internet world which is with parents, with schools, with anybody else who has authority over children,” said Martha Lane Fox, founder of lastminute.com and UK government-appointed Digital Champion.
If the headlines are to be believed, piracy is rife, however is it just the domain of those that would never pay for content? Initial findings have shown it is those who already have access to paid-for content that are helping themselves to a little more on the side.
- Two in five adults admitted they have downloaded or streamed content illegally
- 29% of adults who have a paid service to watch video, TV and film on the internet have used unofficial or illicit downloading or streaming websites
- Two thirds of women (67%) say they have never used illicit websites compared to half (54%) of men
Protecting your data
The more digital our lives become, the more information can be found about us online. Whilst sharing financial details has always been a concern, the increased use of social networks has meant we are sharing more information, photos and videos then ever before – initially with friends but potentially many more on the web.
- 36% of people told us they were very concerned about getting a virus or malware on their computers
- 62% thought that broadband companies should be responsible for educating their customers about the risks of using the internet and how to protect against them
- One in three young people said that unapproved photos of them have been shared online, whilst only one in ten adults have had the same problem
All of these issues present challenges for every company whose success or failure is influenced by the use – or in some cases misuse – of digital technology. Helping people navigate these complex issues is going to be a key aspect of demonstrating that you’re putting your customers’ interests first. Like many other companies, it’s something that we’re already working on.
Of course, all of this also presents some important opportunities. In our research, we found that three in four (78%) people agreed that Britain would be better off if more people knew how to get the most out of the internet and had access to faster broadband.
Just ask Richard Branson what he thinks about the potential of digital technology as a force for good. “It can keep generating new, innovative technologies that help to make positive social change. It can continue to bring people together, and provide people with good ideas the tools to start great new businesses and services,” he told me when we launched ‘Our digital future’. “At best, digital technology and the internet will allow every person to contribute and share their ideas, creativity and entrepreneurship with the world.”
David Jones, CEO of Advertising Group Havas, shares Branson’s enthusiasm. “The brilliant younger generation will drive us all to change, maybe even faster than some of us are comfortable with. They are the most knowledgeable generation that has ever existed as technology has democratised access to information and education. They are the most responsible generation that has ever existed – not the rebellious idealists of previous generations – as they see the world’s growing issues and problems. But above all they are the ones who best understand how to use the power of digital and social to drive positive change in the world.”
There are already growing numbers of start-ups and small businesses that focus on using the internet for good, like Games for Change, an organisation that harnesses the power of digital gaming for social change. In this respect, I agree with Co-President, Asi Burak when he says, “What is more positive and exciting than the potential to reach millions of people with a simple creation, engage them and mobilize them towards real-world actions that are only ‘one click away’?”
People are already starting to ask how can big companies playing in the digital space use their technology for good, in a smart, strategic, commercial way. For me, it’s about finding new ways of working and developing innovative collaborations, both internally and with external partners. This is certainly going to be a big focus for me in 2013.
Katie Buchanan is head of Sustainability & Reporting at Virgin Media. Working closely with key partners around the business, she is responsible for providing Virgin Media with clear guidance on how they can minimise their impact on the environment, work more closely with their suppliers to ensure they meet appropriate standards and deliver a focused strategy around workplace practices. Most recently, Katie has also lead the company’s new corporate programme, ‘Our digital future’, which sets out to explore what the people of Britain think about their increasingly digital lifestyles. This is seen as the start of a longer-term commitment to enable digital consumers everywhere to get the best out of the internet and digital technology. The conversation is – as you’d expect – being facilitated online, at ourdigitalfuture.co.uk and everyone is invited to share their views on the website or by tweeting @vmdigitalfuture or #ourdigitalfuture. Katie also heads up the ongoing development of the company’s sustainability website – www.virginmedia.com/sustainability – and other reporting activities.
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