Can a large company act responsibly, be trusted by customers and loved by its employees? Vodafone UK, one of the largest mobile operators in the UK, thinks so. In their latest sustainability report, the company presents the measures it takes to meet this goal, from decoupling commercial growth from environmental impacts to providing their employees with the ability to work independent of place and time to launching JustTextGiving, an innovative new text message donation service.
Vodafone UK’s sustainability report has an interesting way of presentation – it’s not just a dull PDF document, but a platform they called ‘The Responsibility Store’, where you can ‘shop’ (or click) for different topics presenting how Vodafone UK does business across a range of CR issues. It’s not as user-friendly as Timberland’s reporting platform for example, but it’s still a refreshing effort to make a sustainable report more accessible and fun, and thus more readable.
The first thing that got my attention was the part where they report on their success to grow their business while reducing their environmental impacts. This idea of decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth is one of the greatest challenges we have so it is interesting to see how it works on a company’s level.
Let’s look at Vodafone UK’s figures – between the 2005 reporting cycle and the most recent report, the number of customers went up by 23 percent from 15.5 million to 19.1 million. At the same time, the company’s energy use was reduced by 34 percent. Vodafone UK has only been measuring its carbon footprint for the last three years, which makes its 27 percent reduction all the more impressive.
How did the company do it? In the report they explain that “we are working hard to reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to Vodafone Group’s global target to cut CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2020. We’re focusing on improving energy efficiency in our network, offices and stores and purchasing renewable energy when possible.” They also mention improvements in monitoring and analysis of consumption as reasons for reducing energy usage and improving their efficiency.
A word of warning though – there’s a good chance the celebration might be a bit too early. It looks like that the company is only looking at one component of its carbon footprint, leaving the majority of it’s impact out of its calculations. Vodafone’s Scope 3 emissions, from customers using Vodafone UK’s products and services, must be quite substantial. If you look at competitors’ reports, such as Virgin Media for example, you can see that this is their most significant source of emissions, generating almost two thirds of Virgin Media’s carbon footprint. It’s really not clear if Vodafone UK includes Scope 3 emissions in their calculations or not. If they are, they should do a much better job in presenting it, and if they aren’t, then they need to address it ASAP in order to present the full picture of their carbon footprint.
The report also focuses on the launch of JustTextGiving. This is a new service that makes it easier for charities, big or small and individual fundraisers, to raise money by text message without any cost to themselves or the charity. Building on Vodafone’s successful World of Difference program, which has paid salary and expenses for 1,000 individuals to work for charity, JustTextGiving has already been taken up by 13,000 charities and 8,000 individual fundraisers.
JustTextGiving is a great example of a company using its core competencies, in this case their communication technology, to create an innovative service that makes a positive social impact, promoting the well-being of individuals as well as communities.
Another interesting element in the company’s usage of technology to promote sustainability is their effort to provide their employees with the ability to work independent of place and time. The company adopted new ways of working in their Newbury HQ. For example – no more offices! Everyone there has a ‘home zone’ and no one owns a desk. Everyone uses laptops and is encouraged to use electronic storage rather than printing. The company also uses instant messaging and video conferencing to improve collaboration and reduce travel. As a result, employees are freed from the constraints of location-based work models, which creates a positive impact on costs, infrastructure and the social workplace.
Vodafone UK certainly shows commitment to sustainability and progress in their work in their new report, providing not only an innovative platform, but also innovative ideas that actually echo some of the recommendations on the latest consumer futures 2020 report. Nevertheless, to make the shopping in their Responsibility Shop a great experience Vodafone UK must make sure their CSR efforts are clearly and fully presented, providing shoppers with all the information they need to better understand the path the company is taking.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.