How agencies are fighting the climate emergency

Last month, the world’s leading climate scientists released their latest report on the climate emergency and humanity’s chances of mitigating it. The prognosis is not good, amounting to what The Guardian called the “starkest warning yet” of “inevitable and irreversible” climate changes.

This warning of already-existing and intensifying climactic events – including heatwaves, floods and droughts – marks the need for immediate action to limit global rises in temperatures.

It’s clear that businesses must be part of this effort. Historically, the marketing industry has not been innocent, racking up large carbon footprints through travel and events. But efforts are under way to cut back the industry’s emissions and prevent climate-related harm. We spoke to six members of The Drum Network about what they’re doing to fight back against the climate emergency.

Dan Keam-George, founder, KGA

The pandemic encouraged a fresh opportunity to re-engage with sustainability objectives as the planet took a deep breath during the first lockdown. At KGA, the result was a review of the company’s carbon output, independently assessed and moderated under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), led by Carbon Footprint Ltd.

After the review, we planned to make KGA greener. We became one of the few agencies within experiential production to go 100% carbon neutral – operationally as a company, but also in delivering client work and in our events.

Now brands who work with us can do so without harming the planet, and we’re able to take on some of the heavy lifting in clients’ offsetting goals. It’s also a great way for clients to achieve CSR objectives at no extra investment cost.

Amy Stobie, co-founder, Agency UK

At AUK, we work with consumer health, biotech, food and retail brands to develop and communicate their environmental values. They may be already deeply focused on environmental values and looking to communicate their vision to customers, or they may be looking for guidance around consumer attitudes so that they may align their brand better for the future.

That gives us a strong incentive to develop our own understanding of and response to sustainability challenges – which appeals to my own background. I did a degree in Environmental Science and have previously worked for the Environment Agency. I’ve consulted with brands developing sustainability manifestos to ensure that they are authentically communicating their policies to consumers.

To ensure that we can continue to develop our policies internally and help direct the brands we work with, I am taking a course on Sustainability Leadership with Cambridge University this month.

We became carbon negative as a business in June of this year, and began the process of attaining B Corp certification. We’ve been implementing several positive changes around our energy usage and encouraging our staff to make small changes at home. We have climate and environment champions in the business who encourage small changes both at home and in the office, from adopting eco products to using eco washes on dishwashers and water-saving devices on toilets and taps. Even the smaller things make a difference, and positively encouraging change is what is needed most.

Stuart Bryan, content manager, Guerillascope

Guerillascope has been carbon neutral since 2019, contributing to tree-planting schemes near schools in London; conservation in the Amazon; and a reforestation project in Kenya.

While we’re delighted to be supporting such fantastic initiatives, we know that offsetting alone is not a silver bullet. Our focus now is on a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

We aim to become a net-zero organization by 2030, in accordance with science-based targets. It’s important to remain educated on the latest developments in the sustainability field. Last year, we became members of an online community of change-makers called Future Planet [SA1], and our monthly meet-ups provide an invaluable source of knowledge and support.

We’ve also set up close partnerships with clients such as Pukka Teas, Edgard & Cooper, Mindful Chef and Vegan Friendly, which share our passion for the planet and its animal species, which has driven business growth and amplified important conversations. This should encourage other companies to recognize that the landscape is shifting; embracing your responsibilities as active participants in the fight to halt climate change doesn’t have to mean a loss of profit.

It’s heartening to see the UK advertising industry mobilizing efforts to face this challenge head-on. We have so much capacity to do good. The motivation is there, ideas are abundant and the need is great. Collaboration is – and will continue to be – vital.

Beth Tolson, content writer, Reddico

Our Reddico Eco Committee was created in July 2020. Meeting once a fortnight, we initially looked at ways office life could be more sustainable, before shifting the focus toward helping the team make gradual, eco-friendly changes in their daily lives as the company moved to remote working. Here are some of the steps we’ve taken to become more environmentally-conscious:

  • Eco spotlight sessions. Once a month, the Eco Circle gives an all-agency presentation, drawing attention to a specific issue, such as microplastics or palm oil. We answer four simple questions: What’s the problem? Why should you care? What can you do? What’s the easiest way to do it? By taking a simple, judgment-free approach, we hope to make sustainable living seem more accessible and less overwhelming. In previous sessions, we’ve sent out samples of plastic-free, multipurpose cleaner; suggested apps for more informed purchasing decisions; and offered discounts for eco-friendly online stores.

  • A cycle-to-work scheme, which allows the team to hire bikes and cycling accessories for an agreed length of time before buying them for a fraction of their original value.

  • We’ve signed up to Ecologi, a carbon-offsetting scheme that funds climate projects such as tree planting and carbon reduction schemes, including renewable energy efforts and biological corridor preservation. So far, we’ve planted 11,194 trees and contributed toward 790.02 tonnes of carbon reduction – equivalent to 606 long-haul flights, 1,960,040 miles driven in a car, or 2,370 square meters of sea ice saved. Carbon offsetting isn’t perfect. The trees we’ve paid to plant will take a long time to grow, but we hope we’re contributing toward something that will benefit the planet in future.

  • We’ve applied for B Corp status to ensure the future sustainability of the company, which requires us to consider the environment in every business decision we make.

Tom Poynter, chief executive officer, Southpaw

The warning that some parts of the planet will soon heat to temperatures uninhabitable by humans is just one of the deeply troubling consequences of the climate crisis.

Southpaw’s Kent location means we enjoy a temperate climate, but the headlines make you stop to think: “How long can that last?”

Keen to ensure we do our part, we’ve created a series of green initiatives, led by our Southpaw Seed Team, to combine long-term goals with immediate actions:

  • We’ve provided all staff with a Southpaw-branded aluminium bottle (not as cute as Love Island’s named bottles, but just as serviceable). An agency clothes swap might have made one room of the agency look like a bring-and-buy sale for a few days, but we saved some unwanted threads from landfill as a result.

  • We were proud to march alongside others in the 2019 Global Climate Strike – our placards, I’m proud to say, won a prize in the Create and Strike creative competition.

  • We encourage our staff to attend AdGreen training to better understand how we can incorporate and advocate for greener productions. This includes moving to more green screening and other forms for video capture to reduce global travel.

We also support clients including Diageo and Ahmad Tea in their Global ESG programs. Ahmad Tea’s mission to ‘inspire kindness’ translates into investing profits into local communities, prioritizing environmental initiatives and integrating sustainable business practices into all areas of their supply chain.

We’re not perfect and we haven’t been able to implement everything we want to do yet. But we’re not stopping at these everyday initiatives. We’re currently considering investing in solar panels and hybrid company cars, and we’re investigating how to measure and offset our carbon footprint.

Sam Zindel, managing director, Propellernet

As a 40-person agency, with one small office and no international travel, our carbon footprint is small. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand the exact scale and nature of our emissions, so we engaged an environmental services company to calculate them across scopes 1, 2 and 3.

We found that our carbon footprint is less than 100 tons of carbon emissions (CO2e) per annum. Our next step was to decide on a reduction target by asking: “What is the most we can do to have an impact?”

We are targeting not net-zero but sub-zero – we could reduce our emissions by 50% and offset the rest to reach net-zero without a great deal of effort or investment. But that’s not an ambitious enough target. Instead, we want to draw down more greenhouse gases than we emit.

In addition to emission reductions, we have become founding members of The Million Tree Pledge and are funding to plant one million trees in partnership with Eden Reforestation, which we want to reach by the end of 2023. Within the first 11 months, we had already planted over 200,000 trees. Over a 25-year period, these trees will draw down 340,000 tons (CO2e) of carbon.

We’ve embedded climate action as an integral part of how we run our business. We gift trees to new colleagues and clients; we celebrate success by planting a small forest of mangroves. We have two working groups focused on emission reduction and influencing other businesses, and have set up a network of radical, low-carbon businesses called Low Carbon Leaders.

Our team now contributes a portion of their monthly salaries to climate action, which the agency matches – an initiative known as ‘pension for the planet’. Climate action has increased the trust in our brand (we recently became a certified B Corp) and has attracted prospects who are putting sustainability at the core of their strategy.

Having gone back to university earlier this year to study the transition to a low-carbon economy, I believe every business can benefit from implementing a credible environmental plan. We’ve achieved so much at Propellernet in under a year, and we’re only just getting started.