Monday, September 23, 2013

Liberty Global: Discovering New Possibilities

It's always a pleasure to tell CSR Reporting blog readers about reports that I have been involved with. Last year, I posted about Liberty Global's inaugural Corporate Responsibility Report  and now, I am delighted to bring you an update in the form of the second global report, called Discovering New Possibilities, which was published last week.

This report represents a step up in transparency for Liberty Global with a GRI G3.1 report at Application Level B, more extensive than the first C Level report, and covers operations in including UPC (Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary), Unitymedia Kabel BW (Germany), Telenet (Belgium), VTR (Chile) and Liberty Cablevision Puerto Rico.
A lot can change in a single year, which is reflected in this new report from Liberty Global. The company is now the largest international cable company in the world, following the acquisition of Virgin Media in June 2013, and expansion of presence in different markets, generating a whole lot of economic and social value with revenues of over $17 billion and employing over 36,000 employees. With 24 million customers and over 48 million subscribers to video, internet and voice services, Liberty Global maintains an operation which is transforming access to the digital world - a transformation which is relevant to the quality of life of millions of people in the markets in which the company operates. Liberty Global's approach to delivering this transformation is routed in a compelling vision of the role that Liberty Global can play in society. It's much more than selling modems or set-top-boxes. It's about changing the way people live their lives. It's not enough to connect. It's about knowing what to do with that connection. In the language of Liberty Global, this means Discovering New Possibilities.
Possibilities for New Digital Skills
The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) recognizes that access to next-generation broadband with speeds exceeding 100 Mbps (megabytes per second) by 2020 is vital for long-term economic development and competitiveness. The goals of the DAE range from fast broadband for all to increased online commerce to 60% of disadvantaged people using the internet regularly. This is because digital technologies have "enormous potential" to benefit our everyday lives and support the economic wellbeing of Europe, as well as contribute to environmental resource efficiency. Liberty Global, as a seriously large player, recognizes that continually improving technology is not going to do the job. The technology needs to go where it's needed and people need to understand how to use it for their own benefit and for that of others. For example, in Belgium, Liberty Global's company, Telenet, installed 450 multimedia monitors in patient rooms at a hospital, providing video conference capabilities for patients and secure access to patients’ medical information for use by hospital staff, helping to increase the efficiency of staff while providing patients with opportunities to engage with their families and friends. Also in Belgium, Telenet Foundation developed an award-winning program called Recup PC, which helps people to get online, understand how to use the technology and develop digital literacy.
Possibilities of Buttons
Another great example of helping people not only to be aware of new technology but also to increase their capabilities is Liberty Global's innovative web tool called Internet Buttons. This enables people who have some experience in using the internet to create easy-to-use customized starter page for family members and friends who are new to the internet or find it confusing. Large, brightly colored ‘buttons’ act as shortcuts to websites such as email, search engines, Skype, eHealth or other services tailored to the user. These can be saved to a personal homepage, easily accessible at the click of a button and a whole lot less confusing than a bunch of unrecognizable icons and symbols that only experienced users can navigate around. New digital skills – button-wise – is a way to bring the internet to those who otherwise would probably never be able to figure it out on their own. Like most things, it's easy when you know how. But if no-one helps you, you never know how.
Possibilities of Engaging Children in Innovation
In Romania, Liberty Global company UPC has developed a platform to get kids interested in technology involved by submitting ideas with the possibility of winning a trip to attend a NASA educational summer camp. Over 230,000 visits to the Tech School website and 570 ideas later, the winning ideas included a super bionic hand, a mobile-phone-charging-T-shirt and a mobile astronomy observatory, showing that, when you provide the tools, kids get engaged and discover new possibilities. The overall winner of Tech School 2012 developed a prototype of a bionic hand with enhanced control and strength, which has wide-ranging implications for surgery, telemedicine and other remote interventions. A UPC Tech School grant will help develop an advanced version of this prototype.
Possibilities of Keeping Kids Safe Online 
Another area in which this report demonstrates the impact and potential positive impact of a company as large and influential as Liberty Global is the ways in which it advances technology, awareness and education to protect kids online. As a mom who has had personal experience of my own child getting into a potentially very dangerous online situation, which I managed to catch in the nick of time, and with kids who are mesmerized by the big, medium and small screens, I am only too aware of the need to protect our children. Liberty Global's report discusses this in detail and provides examples of how the company is supporting media literacy for parents in the Netherlands, campaigning to keep passwords safe in Chile and working in partnership in Europe to create safe internet experiences. The focus of protecting children is on education and empowerment.
Corporate Responsibility Performance
The nice thing about Liberty Global's report is that stories such as these show how positive impact is created through Liberty Global's core business. This is not a report about switching off lights at the end of the day and retrofitting offices with low-flow toilets (although there is some of that too). The main content of Liberty Global's report is about the role that the Company plays in society, which includes significant discussion about public policy and the complexities of creating internationally aligned protocols for data privacy and more. Liberty Global is active in helping define and shape the future of our digital world, which makes this report quite relevant for almost everyone.
Liberty Global's report also covers areas of responsible performance in environmental impacts, people management, supply chain monitoring and management and other relevant issues which affect the sector such as conflict minerals and an important discussion about e-waste, one of the sector's most significant impact areas. Liberty Global achieves a 36% retrieval and recycling rate of set-top boxes and modems, which adds up to over 5,000 tons of e-waste which avoids landfill. That’s equivalent in weight to offering 10,000 people an annual supply of ice cream every year for over 25 years. Unless you are me, in which case an annual supply would last about two days.
Take a Look – Give Feedback – Think Future G4
The transition from first reporter to experienced reporter is not easy. Liberty Global has delivered an equally relevant and more transparent report this year, which places the Company on the right road for a G4 report next time around. With this in mind, I encourage you to take a look, and give feedback!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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