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C21’s Big Picture is an ongoing initiative to support positive change in and through the content business across four key areas of focus: inclusivity & diversity, sustainability & environment, business practice & operations, and content & storytelling.

‘Now is the time to get on with it’

Fiona Ball is tasked with ensuring Sky operates as a sustainable and responsible business, alert to the UK media and communications giant’s environmental and social impact on its 24 million customers and 32,000 employees. “We’re committed to using our channels, content and platforms to make positive change,” she says.

What does your role involve?
My days vary greatly between working with stakeholders within Sky and collaborating with external partners. One day, I might be supporting our internal teams to ensure our target to reach net zero by 2030 is embedded into the decisions we make around product design and supply chain management. The next, I might be helping our Young People team to take school children behind the scenes of TV with Sky Up Academy Studios.

I also work closely with our charity partners, such as MAMA Youth Project, to champion diversity and inclusivity within our industry, and WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature], to craft a long-term strategy to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises. I’m also incredibly proud of the work we do with our peers, industry bodies and NGOs to help set the standards of tomorrow. I sit on the Climate Action Leadership Team for Business in the Community, where a key focus is engaging businesses more generally in the net-zero and climate challenge.

What’s the main focus for you?
Our net-zero strategy. To reach our science-based target of halving our emissions in absolute terms by 2030, there are barriers we have to overcome and work streams we have to deliver on. We’re working hard to engage and transform our business, including our products and wider supply chains, and all this must be done in a way that supports a just transition to a net-zero future. We’re currently training and upskilling our employees to ensure that human rights are built into every decision made throughout our value chain. Concurrently, we’re looking at our nature and biodiversity strategy, which complements our reduction strategy. We need to ensure we are investing in nature in the best way to absorb the emissions that we can’t currently cut.

What are the biggest challenges?
Making the substantial changes required across our value chain to deliver on our net-zero target. We need to collaborate with other businesses in the UK and abroad from a range of sectors – and we need to do this at speed. The transition to a net-zero economy is going to require partnerships and business relationships on a scale and ambition level unlike anything we’ve seen before. It will need flexibility to think and deliver work that falls outside existing business parameters. Collaboration will be crucial.

Can you give a specific example of a challenge you’ve faced?
In 2017, we set ourselves the target of removing all single-use plastic from our operations, products and supply chain by 2020. At the time of setting the target, we had no idea how we were going to get there. We reached our goal by tearing up the rulebook in terms of product-packaging design and starting again from scratch. While we worked quickly, we also had to work extremely closely with our suppliers. Today, we’re proud to use no single-use plastic in product packaging.

When you have a challenging large-scale target, your approach can’t be incremental – it must be a complete innovation-led transformation.

Can you give an example of how you set about trying to influence positive change?
Sky’s overall climate strategy is split into three key areas: transforming our business, including our supply and value chains; using our platform to engage other businesses and policymakers so we are working in the right environment to move at pace; and using our content and reach to mobilise millions. One of the ways in which we’re trying to influence positive change is through our collaboration with other broadcasters across supply chains and product-development teams to spot opportunities. Whether that’s through [UK screen sustainability collective] albert or the Climate Content Pledge launched at COP26, we’re committed to holding ourselves to account and using content to educate and involve the public on issues related to climate change.

What are the most common issues that need to be addressed?
Whether you’re a small business or a large organisation trying to ensure different business units play their part, you need to make sure the fundamentals are in place. These are: ensuring you have the resources, capability and skills to move forward; measuring and understanding your carbon footprint; and, based on your carbon footprint, setting science-based targets to ensure progress can be made.

Giles Harvey

How could things be different and what kind of change needs to be introduced to achieve this?
No business or government is going to succeed in delivering a low-carbon economy in isolation. We need every business and supplier to join the effort and set a science-based target that limits the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. We must work together and remove barriers to collaboration. There are many tools to drive such change, from pre-competitive agreements to subsidies for low-carbon innovation. It’s been said before, but now is the time to get on with it. We need to act and collaborate on solutions, as opposed to continuing to talk about the issue.

Who has impressed you in terms of how they are working to bring about change?
The work done by Sky’s Group Supply Chain team continues to really impress me. Led by Giles Harvey, this area has the most material impact on our carbon footprint. However, it’s also the most challenging part of the business to transform in terms of emissions reductions because it spans product design, manufacturing and delivery logistics. Despite the challenges, the team’s passion to reach net zero and drive positive change for people and planet is incredible. For example, they led Sky’s drive to ban single-use plastic in 2020. What I love about them is that, when they’re given a challenge, they will not give up.

Who do you look to for inspiration?
I continue to look to experts in the sustainability space for inspiration, as I strongly believe that listening to everyone’s unique expertise and understanding enables us to move forward. For example, we recently had Lydia Collas, policy analyst for the Green Alliance, and Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, on Sky News’ ClimateCast podcast. All of us working in this field are tackling new challenges daily, so hearing from people as they confront these challenges for the first time is both inspiring and incredibly helpful. I also really appreciate speaking to my peers across all industries and sectors. There’s no competition here – everyone knows the way we move forward is by working together and sharing ideas, best practice and lessons learnt along the way.

Which organisations or processes have you worked with?
I work across several business organisations that are specifically addressing climate-change issues. Together, we’re looking at the biggest challenges facing business and how to come together to overcome them. For example, I’m a member of Business in the Community’s Climate Action Leadership Team and Net Zero Carbon Taskforce, the UK Corporate Leaders Group and the Aldersgate Group, which covers a lot of different issues, including policy change and climate leadership. We also do a lot of work with our long-term charity partners, such as WWF and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, which are currently helping us to develop our nature strategy. All these organisations play a vital role in galvanising business and helping them move forward at pace.

Chris Stark

What resources do you use to help you do your job?
I try to read the most up-to-date information via LinkedIn or in trade publications, such as edie and Business Green. I also take development courses through platforms such as the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership to make sure I’m staying on top of emerging issues and the latest academic understanding of environmental and social impact. And I’m a big fan of podcasts like Sky News’ ClimateCast. I find podcasts are a great way of keeping abreast of innovations, solutions and science.

Which TV companies or shows do things well in meeting the challenge?
The Climate Content Pledge is one excellent way in which TV companies have risen to the challenge. All the broadcasters that have signed up to the pledge are doing their bit to engage viewers – and it works so well because each broadcaster has its own area of expertise, whether documentaries on climate issues or soaps. Our channels Sky Sports, Sky Kids and Sky News leverage specific audience groups and educate them on what they can do in ways that engage their viewers.

What books or blogs would you recommend?
I’ve continued to develop my skills and knowledge by doing courses with the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. They also have some amazing free resources, including blogs that share the latest expert insight into the most urgent sustainability issues.

How would you like to see things change in future?
I’d really like to see a mass movement of business action and investment into climate reduction strategies, biodiversity and the conservation of the natural environment. We need to see further changes in the policy space – and fast – so that climate strategies are more integrated into business structures and corporate strategies.

Upcoming standards, such as those being discussed by the Transition Plan Taskforce, should ensure that investment into the protection and restoration of nature is embedded in companies’ net-zero roadmaps. At Sky, we’re currently working with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew on guiding principles to ensure that investment in nature is enshrined in science and has the positive impact intended.

If three things could be introduced to help, what would they be?
The three things I believe would help the journey to net-zero carbon are: accelerating the renewable-energy infrastructure and decarbonising the grid; expanding accessibility to electric vehicles and the infrastructure to support those with electric vehicles; and standardised transport reporting.

What’s the best advice you have been given?
To put yourself in other people’s shoes. So often, we sustainability professionals live in our own bubble, but not everyone has the same level of focus or understanding of sustainability-related issues. So we must listen to the concerns of those we’re trying to engage and work with and weave their priorities into our sustainability priorities. The science is telling us how big the challenge is, but to mobilise and encourage behaviour change we must be collaborative and empathetic.

What advice would you give to someone working in a similar role to yourself?
Aim for ownership, accountability and responsibility towards delivering against targets throughout your organisation. Achieving a net-zero target is the responsibility of everyone within your business – and beyond. These ambitious targets are not going to be achieved by one department or one business on its own. It’s going to take collaboration on a seriously big scale.

Any other thoughts?
Every year, we deliver incredible initiatives to engage our people and the wider public in our Sky Zero strategy. In 2021, we worked in partnership with the Cabinet Office on Game Zero, the world’s first elite-level net-zero football match. In 2022, we showed sports fans the impact of climate change on sport. Our campaign explained how droughts and flooding are disrupting matches and impacting athletes. Alongside this, we showed sports fans what actions they can take in terms of more sustainable travel, plant-based food options, reusing and recycling. Across the summer, sports fans took 1.74 million climate-positive actions to help protect the sports they love. This was followed up in early 2023 with the Green Football Weekend, which encouraged fans to score green goals for their club and broadcast sustainability-related features.

We need to be aware that the climate-related issues may not be everyone’s priority, so it’s important to engage people via their passions. By showing people the impact of climate change on the things they care most about, from sports to food, we hope to inspire them to take action. We’ve applied this theory to our Sky Zero consumer website, which has been designed to show people ways to help the planet while still doing the things they love.

C21’s Big Picture is an ongoing initiative to support positive change in and through the content business across four key areas of focus: inclusivity & diversity, sustainability & environment, business practice & operations and content & storytelling.


Fiona Ball
Fiona Ball joined Sky in 2005, rising to become group director of Bigger Picture, the UK media conglomerate’s responsible business and sustainability team, in 2020. Under her stewardship, Sky has delivered a string of cause-related strategies and campaigns, including Sky Zero, Sky Ocean Rescue, Sky Cares, Sky Academy Studios, Sky Rainforest Rescue and, most recently, Sky Up, which tackles digital inequality through a £10m fund. A keen traveller and scuba diver, Bell holds a masters in environmental management from Brunel University, is a chartered environmentalist and also a member of the Institute of Environmental Management. She sits on the Media Trust Advisory Group, BiTC’s Climate Action Leadership Team and Net Zero Task Force, and BAFTA’s Sustainable Production Directorate.