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From the mind to the heart

In conversation with Nicola Green from Virgin Media O2

"You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet."

It’s a philosophy that guides Nicola in her role as Chief Communications and Corporate Affairs Officer at Virgin Media O2 (VMO2), the organisation created by last year’s merger of the two telecommunications giants. But doing business in today’s world looks very different to how it was in the past.

The company serves almost 50 million customers. That’s many obligations, but also many opportunities to make a positive difference. Nicola led the launch of VMO2’s new sustainability strategy, which sets out a clear, yet challenging path to a fairer, greener future. But how do you actually go about this to effect real change?

We spoke with Nicola about how to put sustainability at the heart of everything you do, going from paper to action, and finding her own inspiration at home.



“I’ve been in communications for a long time – I joined O2 as head of media and communications almost 20 years ago and was promoted to Corporate Affairs Director in 2012. When I became part of the Executive Committee seven years later, it was a great opportunity to show how important good communication is if you want to make a difference.

Working in this area also gives you a view across the whole organisation, which is why sustainability falls under my remit at VMO2. Through my insight and experience, I can help our people to pick this up and run with it. And this isn’t just about having a great sustainability team; every one of us needs to be accountable for the future of our planet.

Much of my inspiration comes from my family – my lightbulb moment happened when I had my own children. Wondering about their future and their children’s future, that’s when it hit me that we must do something.

I’m very passionate about our social responsibility, too. During lockdown, I saw the damage caused by the digital divide. Fortunately, my kids could continue with online learning, but putting myself in the shoes of others who didn’t have that same opportunity – it brought home how vital connectivity is.”

“The things I care about at home help me see more clearly what needs to change in business too.”



“As a business, I believe you have to set targets that are stretching. If they’re easy, you won’t get the same focus. And how do we achieve them? By recognising the role sustainability plays in determining the growth, evolution, and longevity of our organisation.

As we set out in our sustainability strategy, we’ve committed to achieving net zero carbon across our business, products and supply chain (Scopes 1, 2 and 3) by the end of 2040, and zero waste by the end of 2025. By using our gigabit broadband and 5G mobile networks to power the latest green tech, we want to help our customers prevent 20 million tonnes of carbon from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Connectivity is up there with water and electricity, and nobody should have to go without. We want to bring an end to data poverty and digital exclusion through, for example, broadband for people receiving Universal Credit, and better mobile coverage for rural communities. During the pandemic, we set up our Community Calling initiative, which has now rehomed more than 10,000 used smartphones with people who need them, which is something we’re really proud of.

Our goal is to enable customers to carry out 10 million ‘circular actions’ by 2025, making it easier for them to return used devices so they be recycled through our O2 Recycle programme. We’ve already recycled 3.5 million devices, and through our ‘take back’ scheme, nine million routers and set-top boxes have been refurbished and reused since 2014.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get to a point where we’re not just buying new products, but devices have a second, third, fourth life and so on? If you recycle the bits and chips in our products, one device can have up to six lives, so we’re championing the reuse of materials, again and again.”

“The more we can do to preserve our resources, save people money and close the digital divide, the better.”



“Change starts with you, but you need to work with others if you want to make a real difference. Our plan is ambitious, and much of that is thanks to Deloitte. In helping us to shape it they did a fantastic job of bringing the outside in. The team pushed us to make sure it wasn’t just words on paper, but a clear and credible strategy for embedding ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) into the heart of our organisation.

For us, it’s crucial that we multiply our impact by helping our customers live and work more sustainably. For example, if our mobile devices can save businesses from putting their fleets on the road, that’s fantastic. But to do that, we need our colleagues to step up and think about solutions with the customer in mind.

We asked our people to discuss the topic with their kids for an internal campaign. The result was a lovely video of children talking about what’s important to them, from turning the heating down to saving polar bears, and making sure fish don’t die because of plastics.

Let’s be honest, putting long-term targets in place isn’t that exciting and that’s part of the problem with climate change – despite the science, until people are impacted themselves, it can be hard for them to get on board. But when you make it personal, people take notice.”

“Our strategy is only as good as the passionate champions we have across the business, who turn our ambition into real action.”



“Autonomous vehicles, smart cities, AI powering the factories of tomorrow – none of this would be possible without 5G or low-latency broadband. It presents a huge opportunity for businesses like ours, as well as an obligation.

I believe telcos and tech companies have a duty to help others, whether that’s organisations or individuals, to live greener, more inclusive lives. Last year’s merger has given us increased scale, so we can have a greater impact. But in my mind, you can’t have scale without responsibility, and we’re clear on what our duty is to the UK and its people.

This is coming from consumers, too. Three years ago, ESG was a consideration for 27 percent of our customers; now it’s 60 percent. People have much higher standards and expect businesses to grow sustainably, as well as profitably. And if we don’t operate ethically, they’ll start voting with their feet - so it’s something crucial for any business to consider.

Another reason I think organisations are getting more serious about sustainability is because of access to green bonds and sustainability-linked loans. If you can get more investment money into your organisation to make it better, it lights up everybody’s eyes and opens up a whole new audience of people. We’re working with financial institutions to explore this.”

“We’re on a journey – this is about progress, not perfection. We all need to learn, evolve and drive as much positive change as we’re able to."



“We all have an individual responsibility towards the planet. At VMO2, we talk about the importance of doing one thing – making one change to our lifestyle, big or small. If we all just did that, I truly believe we can create a better world for everybody.

Something that’s giving me energy at the moment? It’s got to be empowering young people through our Youth Advisory Council. Our research shows that 72 percent of young people have felt their views on the climate crisis aren’t being listened to, and more than eight out of 10 want more action. So who better to hold us to account than a council of Gen Zs?

These are the people who are going to have to live in this world and who can already see what’s happening around them. But if we’re giving them a voice, we must listen.

If I could pass on any advice for the next generation – or other business leaders reading this – I would say, be bold enough to ask for help. Don’t be shy, it’s how you learn. I’ve done it throughout my career and people have been there for me, so I’m always happy to pay it forward.”

"I want to be able to say, ‘This is what they told us. This is what we did."

Thanks for reading


We hope you enjoyed meeting Nicola and finding out how she went from an ambitious plan on paper to galvanising everyone around her to help deliver it. Our main takeaway? We all have the power to do one thing for the planet, no matter how small. It will likely lead to another. And another. And another.

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