Episode #24: Katie Buchanan – Do a few things really well

05 March 2019

Katie Buchanan

In this episode, I talk to Katie Buchanan, the head of sustainability for Virgin Media.

Katie is responsible for Virgin Media’s growing reputation for creative and innovative approaches to sustainability. She has also created a powerful partnership with the charity Scope focused on getting people with disabilities into the workplace.

In this interview, we talk about how she got here, and what she learned along the way. Why she has become immersed in inclusive employment issues, and why reducing its areas of focus has been so powerful for Virgin Media’s overall approach to sustainability.

Katie is a dynamic change maker who was shortlisted this year for the edie Sustainability Leader of the Year. We cover a lot of ground in this interview, and I think you’ll get a huge amount from it.

Show notes

Why Katie’s sustainability journey actively began right when she was back at high school (1:35)

Katie’s “lightbulb moment” when she saw corporate social responsibility as the focus for her creative energy (3:31)

First job in football hospitality (5:55)

Katie’s initial move into the CSR world as a result of a NESTA award (6:42)

Why joining a CSR / sustainability agency was a great first step (10:30)

Katie’s immediate draw towards the Virgin brand and how she first arrived at Virgin Media with a specific focus on the environment (12:30)

How Virgin Media’s initial approach to CSR reporting involved posting hard copy reports to MPs (14:05)

The spirit of the changes Katie introduced to how the company approached its communications (15:55)

What propelled Katie within a very short period into becoming head of sustainability for the company (17:50)

Adapting to new realities when the company was bought by Liberty Global (19:40)

How Virgin Media came to focus on disability inclusion as its issue of focus (22:02)

Narrowing from 23 sustainability goals to just five on the principle of “do a few things really well” (23:48)

Identifying Scope as the one charity partner to take over from the many, and moving the focus to inclusive employment (26:00)

The huge impact the launch of the new campaign made on employees, many of whom had their own disability story (28:16)

Why the issue of disability in the workplace retains a taboo status (29:30)

What the programme does, and what obstacles are needed to be overcome (30:15)

What lessons have been learned about how to make an effective partnership? (34:41)

The areas of focus for Virgin Media’s approach to sustainability, and why ‘big hairy goals’ can help push a long-term view (37:00)

How to persuade upwards to get decision-makers on board (40:56)

What is Katie’s personal purpose? (45:00)

What one practical change would Katie like to bring about in the world before hanging up her gloves? (46:23)

What advice would Kate give to her younger self? (46:58)

Impressive change makers Katie has been influenced by? (48:45)

What mistake did Katie make that led to some better outcome or personal growth? (50:00)

What one habit would Katie like to change? (51:25)

What book, or books, has changed Katie’s attitudes or life? (52:45)

Advice Katie would give to young change makers (55:45)


Katie on twitter https://twitter.com/katie_chaps?lang=en

Katie on Linked In https://www.linkedin.com/in/katieebuchanan/

Virgin Media Sustainability https://www.virginmedia.com/corporate/sustainability.html


Caroline Casey’s TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/caroline_casey_looking_past_limits?language=en

The Big Five for Live, John P. Strelecky https://www.amazon.co.uk/Big-Five-Life-leaderships-greatest/dp/0749929588/

Finding Your Element, Ken Robinson https://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Your-Element-Discover-Transform/dp/0241952026/