A recent industry survey found a shocking disconnect between agency leaders and younger staff when it comes to environmental concerns, leading to calls to drop fossil fuel clients altogether. But as our CEO Nick Behr explains, more can be done by progressive agencies committed to transparent and accountable business practices.
Vice clients are nothing new in marketing – tobacco, adult services, gambling and even alcohol are some of the contentious categories which have divided agency businesses over the years.
There’s a new category of ‘vice’ client which has emerged in the last couple of years – fossil fuel and large polluters. As the recent Comms Declare survey showed younger staff are increasingly uncomfortable working with businesses in this category, but many agency owners are apparently not as concerned.
Clearly there’s concern for the environment amongst agencies – 78% said they are concerned, but only 39% are aware of what their own carbon footprint is. As an industry that’s not good enough – we need to be more accountable than that.
However, we also need to be mindful that people leading businesses have a lot to contend with every day: recruitment, overheads, tax, client retention, staff satisfaction, profitability and continued growth.
Despite all of this, the mantra cannot be making money at any cost – especially if that cost is our children’s future (and maybe even many of our own). Agencies need to follow the lead of so many big businesses in declaring their green credentials and being transparent with staff about who they work with and what their position is.
At Kaimera we’ve been working hard to ensure we understand what our environmental impact is and how we can make constant improvements. It’s not just about recycling bins or walking to work initiatives, but actually understanding how our day-to-day business operations impact our people, our community and the world at large.
We’ve decided to become part of the solution, by making our company carbon footprint public through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The CDP is a global non-profit whose mission is to accelerate corporate action on climate change.
Unlike those other vice categories listed above the polluter category is large, varied and integral to life in the 21st Century. I wish it wasn’t the case, but we rely on coal power, oil and petrol to keep our country moving. It’s not the case that we can just switch it off and become carbon neutral in an instant. But I acknowledge we do need to move fast.
And that’s where agencies of all types actually have a vital role to play. Polluting businesses aren’t run in a vacuum, and executives there are aware change is inevitable. Many are scrambling hard to find the solutions that will ensure they can continue to be viable companies in a future ‘green’ economic environment.
What I’d much prefer to see is those companies partnering with more progressive agencies which have acknowledged the issues, and allow them to help drive the necessary changes. It’s a rare opportunity for agencies to make a whole business impact on a big corporation by showing them the ways of transparency, best practices from other clients and industries and working on solutions to the problem.
Let’s face it, nothing will change if we allow the less well intentioned actors in the industry to pick up this work and enable more greenwashing and obfuscation by these businesses. That will lead to more of the status quo.
Obviously this will be a balancing act, and agencies will need to satisfy themselves, and their staff, that potential clients have the will and ability to change what they are doing. It requires a strong internal dialogue and a transparent culture, allowing people to make their own choices on working on these kind of accounts, but importantly framing the ambition and holding the client accountable for walking their talk.
It’s not an easy thing to do, and may feel like a David v Goliath approach. But we’re meant to be experts in influencing behaviour, and what better place to be wielding that influence than from the inside, where real change can come.
by Nick Behr, CEO.