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Edelman sticks with fossil fuel clients for now after climate review

Climate project Clean Creatives says “Edelman is on the path of branding itself as the agency only polluters can trust.”

The world’s largest PR firm, Edelman, has completed a 60-day review of its climate strategy, but has made no commitment to end its work with fossil fuel clients including ExxonMobile and Shell.

Edelman launched its climate review back in November as part of its new approach to sustainability following the Cop26 negotiations in Glasgow and an open letter penned by Clean Creatives that garnered over 100 signatures from celebrities and influencers calling for the PR giant to drop its polluting clients.

The initial review also included the creation of a head of climate position at the firm, but Edelman has consistently been criticized for not going far enough.

On January 7, two days premature of the 60-day time limit, Edelman revealed the results of its deliberations identifying 20 emissions-intensive clients for follow-up discussions.

What has Edelman pledged?

Edelman outlines six goals that it says demonstrates its operating principles. These are:

  • Work with those committed to accelerating action to Net Zero and in compliance with the Paris Accords

  • Put science and facts first

  • Advance best practices and standards for climate communications

  • Ensure inclusivity

  • Focus on a just transition

  • Hold itself accountable

Edelman will now require all staff to complete mandatory Climate Change Communications Training this year, collaborating with universities and a third-party expert partner to educate on best practices and communications standards. It has also undertaken a review of its “relevant client portfolio and the work it does around the world to assess whether it is consistent with our climate ambitions and values”.

Edelman says: “This comprehensive internal review has identified areas where our principles will evolve the nature of the work and assignments we take on in the future.”

However, chief executive Richard Edelman has not disclosed which clients are under consideration, though he stated in his blog post: “We anticipate that we may have to part ways in a few instances. We cannot comment further on relationships with individual clients or client assignments, for confidentiality reasons.”

What are the criticisms?

Clean Creatives, a climate campaign project made up of workers in the PR and ad industries, says that Edelman’s review and the statement fail on numerous levels, particularly in its lack of consultation of climate experts and not providing transparent standards for evaluating clients’ climate goals.

However, Edelman has clarified it will be forming an Independent Council of Climate Experts from outside the company to provide input and guidance on strategy as well as on assignments and client situations of concern.

In a tweet posted on January 7, Clean Creatives said: “Edelman is on the path of branding itself as the agency only polluters can trust.

“It will do damage to their reputation, their clients with genuine sustainability goals, and their staff who came to the company expecting to work with a forward-thinking agency.”

A recent New York Times article also detailed growing dissent among Edelman employees over the company’s refusal to cease work with fossil fuel clients altogether. However, in his statement, Edelman himself claims: “We attract people to Edelman who want to make change and we are the platform that will enable it.”

The PR and ad industries are coming under increased scrutiny from climate activists for propping up high-polluting companies, such as fossil fuels, and allowing them a social license to operate. While there is a growing movement from industry workers to correct course and utilize the industry’s power to enact change, many feel that decision making at the highest level is not going far enough to halt the work of fossil fuel clients and their disastrous impact on the planet.

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