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The Template for a First Sustainability Report: Liberty Global’s CSR Debut

Words by Leon Kaye

Liberty Global Inc. is a $9.5 billion media company with head offices in Colorado, London and Amsterdam. The company, which conducts most of its business in Europe, runs 13 cable operations, has wired over 33 million homes and employs over 22,000 people. Last week, Liberty Global released its first annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) report.

This company’s initial report, timely as Liberty Global is on the Dow Jones’ Sustainability Index for the first time, provides a strong case study of how a company issuing a CSR report for the first time should communicate with its key stakeholders. Liberty Global outlines its challenges, discloses its key material issues based on what its stakeholders defined as priorities and defines realistic future goals.

Some of the report’s highlights include:

Narrowing the digital divide: As is the case with technology companies, media companies have the capacity to narrow the gap between citizens who take Internet access for granted and others who cannot either afford it--or even understand it. To that end, Liberty Global has launched a variety of programs. E-readers for Chilean school children, e-skills training for senior citizens, and donations for NGOs focused on digital literacy are among the initiatives included in Liberty Global’s digital divide kit.

E-waste: Liberty Global is in the early stages of tackling the problems related to electronic waste. So far, the company has refurbished over 3 million set-top boxes and modems. At least 11 pallets of refurbished computer hardware from Liberty Global’s offices and field operations have ended up in African schools and hospitals.

Online privacy and safety: To date, Liberty Global has distributed over one million “E-Safety kits,” available in 18 languages. Europeans are more concerned about privacy and security than their cousins across the Atlantic, and therefore, these issues were the top concern of Liberty Global’s stakeholders based on the company’s materiality assessment.

Environment and energy: Liberty Global consumed 432 gigawatt hours of electricity in 2011; 86 percent of that was to keep the company’s networks operating. The company invested in an environmental and social data management system only last year, and expects it to measure and improve its performance in the coming years.

Liberty Global is also taking its first steps to develop a responsible supply chain initiative for its suppliers; internally the company seeks to boost employee engagement by launching new leadership and innovation programs.

What makes Liberty Global’s first CSR report a strong first effort is how the company launches the ongoing conversation between the company and its stakeholders. Liberty Global is frank about the fact that it is only now grasping its various social and environmental impacts, has set realistic goals for the next few years and tailors the discussion based on what its stakeholders believed were most material to the company’s overall performance. Rather than browbeating readers with heavy public relations lingo, the report is an example of a holistic overview of what the company has accomplished, what is difficult and what stakeholders can expect in the coming years. In sum, it is frank and transparent--which at a core level is what stakeholders expect.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Liberty Global, Inc.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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