Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Liberty Global: A Taste of Freedom

At the risk of repeating myself, I love first reports, and the 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report from Liberty Global is a fabulous example. Liberty Global is an almost $10billion international cable company, headquartered in Denver, U.S., London, UK and Amsterdam, Netherlands, employing 22,000 people with operations in 13 countries. Liberty Global's television, broadband internet and telephony services connect 19.5 million customers who subscribe to over 32 million services provided under brand names such as UPC, Unitymedia, Kabel BW, Telenet, and VTR.
Connect. Discover. Be Free.
Liberty Global has a simple, clear vision: Connect. Discover. Be Free. The company sees its role in society as three-fold: promoting a digital society as a way to improve quality of life, expanding access to the digital world through the services it provides and helping people gain the skills they need to understand, use and enjoy the digital options available today. Liberty Global believes that digital inclusion opens up infinite possibilities for new and better ways of living.
Click on it Grandma!
An interesting contextual perspective is provided by Liberty Global in this first report. We tend to think of access to internet (where access means not only turning on the computer, but also knowing how to navigate and make best use of the virtual world) as something which is under-developed in emerging economies, but even in the European Union, 120 million people are missing out on this digital connection. There are still large sections of the population which are not connected to the internet. Rates of non-use differ in different countries, but I'll cite a few examples: a whopping 54% of Romanians, 28% of Hungarians, 45% of Greeks, 20% of Slovaks, 33% of Poles, 16% of Germans and 14% of Belgians do not use the internet. Through widening access and enhancing skills, Liberty Global makes it possible for non-users to become connected and click on to the benefits of life on the web. An example is Liberty Global's free computer courses to groups who may lack digital literacy skills. In Hungary, Liberty Global's UPC partners with the Budapest Cultural Center to offer free internet courses for senior people under the banner Click on it Grandma. Over 2,000 seniors participated in a 25-hour practical e-learning curriculum in 2011, bringing the total to 7,000 since 2006. That’s a lot of clicking grandmas!
Let the Stakeholders speak
The great thing about this first report is that it cuts straight to the chase: it presents Liberty Global's role in society and the most important issues that Liberty Global plans to address through Corporate Responsibility in a clear and effective way. Digital inclusion the Liberty Global way is a clear and unique social business proposition, explained well. In addition, Liberty Global addresses aspects of responsible operations and accountability for impacts, disclosing energy consumption and power saving initiatives, green technologies and green buildings and other workplace and community impacts. Material issues enjoy a prominent position in the report, informing its content. Here's the matrix.
Liberty Global details three-stage the process that led to the development and prioritization of these material issues. We will be hearing a LOT MORE about materiality with G4, and it's good discipline to get this in place with a very first CR Report.
Linking CR to Business Results
The report conforms to the GRI Framework and although it's positioned at the lower-end transparency Application Level C, it projects an authentic picture of a large organization which is moving forward on the transparency journey, and bold enough to report even though all the details and data are not available at this time. There is even some linkage which shows compatibility between Corporate Responsibility and sustainable profitability. For example, in 2011, UPC Hungary began an energy efficiency program in 18 of its datacenters across the country to reduce energy consumption using new technology in air conditioning units. UPC Hungary estimates this could save over 200 MWh of electricity consumption annually and pay back its investment within two years. Another example tells how Liberty Global turned "risk into opportunity" through a refurbishment program for customer modems and other equipment. In 2011, Liberty Global retrieved and refurbished 3 million set-top boxes and modems, re-purposing 5,000 tonnes of materials that would have otherwise have gone to waste, while making significant financial savings.
Credibility and Trust
The illustrious Leon Kaye has called Liberty Global's first report "The Template for a First Sustainability Report", and I also highlighted this report as exemplary when I presented to the annual Polish Sustainability Reporting Awards event this week in Warsaw. As with any Corporate Responsibility Report, the ultimate objective is to achieve greater trust through delivering a credible report. I like this report for its clear structure, its no-frills simplicity and its genuine representation of the current state of the Liberty Global Corporate Responsibility journey. I believe stakeholders will appreciate this, while demanding greater transparency in future reports. The journey is ongoing, but the direction is on course.

Disclosure: I provided feedback to Liberty Global prior to the publication of this report via the Beyond Business Pre-Publication Report Review Service.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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