When broadcast giant Sky teamed up with WWF back in 2009 it was one of the biggest corporate conservation partnerships going – and also one of the first. It all centred on tackling one of society’s biggest issues: deforestation and climate change. So what triggered an entertainment company into thinking it could take on such a challenge?
Fiona Ball, Head of Responsible Business at Sky, says that prior to the collaboration, Sky’s sustainability focus had very much concentrated on internal priorities such as examining its own carbon footprint and working towards becoming a carbon-neutral organisation. The WWF partnership however shifted that focus to become more outward-looking.
“We declared ourselves carbon neutral in 2006 and we were looking more and more at energy efficiency. The energy consumption of our set-top box was a big part of our thinking and at the time we were also printing a monthly magazine, so paper and, ultimately deforestation, were also very much on our customers’ radar,” explains Ball.
The entertainment company felt that this was an area where it could engage consumers on the environment. “It was fitting for a communications business to be involved in this way and at the time no one else was doing it,” recalls Ball.
As a result, the six-year campaign with WWF to help save one billion trees in the Amazon was born. Called, Sky Rainforest Rescue, it aimed to protect rainforest covering over three million hectares in the state of Acre in Brazil.
“It was very much a tri-partite agreement between Sky, WWF (both in the UK and Brazil) and the State of Acre in Brazil. You need that to actually achieve on the ground,” says Ball.
One of the biggest challenges at the outset of such a big partnership was working out what exactly was each organisation’s role. “Over time agreements became more robust as roles were clarified. Sky’s involvement was very much on the commuications side and WWF brought the forestry expertise,” explains Ball.
Another of the early challenges was that it was two big brands coming together for the first time. “We had to get used to the way the different brands worked and communicated. Even the language we used in advertising was different,” Ball recalls.
Early on in the campaign the key performance indicator was the amount of money raised. Sky knew that it had to raise £9m in order to reach its goal of helping to save 1bn trees – it ultimately reached £9.5m (including Sky’s match funding of£4m) - so the focus was very much on that. High profile British stars like Lily Cole helped in promoting awareness of the campaign and the reach was not confined to Sky television channels. “There was outreach advertising on Channel 4 and ITV too,” says Ball.
Once the funds were raised, and there were results from the activity on the ground, the partnership focused on raising awareness of deforestation in the UK and Ireland and helping people to take action. “We needed to see what behaviours were changing,” says Ball. Indeed, Sky monitored its awareness building work through regular surveys. “Every quarter we’d ask our customer base about the initiative.”
Almost half of its audience (47%) were aware of the campaign and committed to changing their behaviours, Ball maintains. “They made hugely personal and individual commitments such as changing the way they travel to work one day a week.”
Results on the ground in Acre have been impressive. By 2016 it’s estimated that the project will have avoided 8,300 hectares of deforestation, saving over 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Fifteen hundred local farmer families have signed up to Sky’s sustainable farming scheme, which has helped increase their income while enabling them to access new markets and get a fairer price for sustainable products, and to commit not to deforest. Sixty processing plants have helped improve the market conditions and price for wild rubber, giving rubber tappers a viable alternative to cutting down trees and helping to create new demand for their products.
As an entertainment company, Sky has been able to bring the subject to life on screen. Over the lifetime of Sky Rainforest Rescue it has aired over 12 weeks of environment-themed programming, from Flintoff’s Road To Nowhere to its most recent commission, Richard Hammond’s Jungle Quest, which aired on Sky 1 in October. “We’ve managed to show many different angles on the same subject, bringing a serious issues to life in an entertaining way,” says Ball.
Supportive programming is continuing into December 2015 too with a climate change documentary by Stephen Emmott, Microsoft’s Head of computational science research who has spent five years as a scientific advisor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the consequences of the world’s population reaching ‘10 billion’(aired to coincide with COP21) and a documentary entitled How to Change the World that charts the birth of the modern environmental movement and Greenpeace.
Public awareness has also been raised by enabling people to experience the wonders of the Amazon here in the UK. “We have a partnership with the Eden Project in its rainforest biome,” says Ball. “It’s in situ indefinitely and is focused on wild rubber and the creation of a sustainable economy for rainforest dwellers.”
Over 600,000 people have visited the wild rubber exhibit at the Eden Project, with Sky data revealing that 53% of visitors left the exhibit with a better understanding of the issue of deforestation.
Sky also worked with the Forestry Commission in the UK promoting Discovery Trails, where over 500,000 people learned more about the rainforest.
Sky’s research shows the partnership has given around 7.3m people an increased understanding of deforestation.
Sky retail stands in shopping centres have also been involved in raising awareness, as have their engineers’ vehicles, often emblazoned with one of the Amazon’s endangered species. And, as in Brazil, it has also spread the word to the next generation, with 80,000 primary school children having taken part in its ‘I Love Amazon’ Schools initiative.
Ball is happy with the campaign’s achievements. “We have achieved our goal of helping to save one billion trees in the Amazon, by making long-term changes on the ground as well as raising awareness about climate change in the UK.”
While the campaign is no longer fundraising, Ball says that the commitment to Acre will continue for another 18 months. “That is our legacy. There has been lots of work on the ground to create a sustainable, locally-managed economy in Acre. They’re now farming Açaí berries and Brazil nuts as well as wild rubber.”
There is no doubt in Ball’s mind that WWF and Sky will continue working together to support Sky’s environmental strategy to minimise impacts and to raise awareness of the environment, inspiring consumers to take action on climate change.
“We are now looking at where else we can work together to reach conumers,” maintains Ball. Sky will get behind Earth Hour, encouraging people to join the global movement to switch off lights, for one hour on 19 March 2016, as well as showcasing the beauty of the planet through environment-themed programming. All part of Sky’s desire, as a media company, to help bring the issues of climate change to life in ways that people can truly understand.