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AMV BBDO is getting tough with clients on greenwashing


By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

March 16, 2023 | 7 min read

The agency has launched a sustainability consultancy that will skill-up its staff on best practice and tackle the thorny issue of greenwashing with its roster of clients.


The team is spearheaded by Mark Graeme, Suzanne Barker and Jonny White / AMV BBDO

AMV BBDO’s new sustainability division was born out of a demand from clients for expertise in the area. Senior business director Jonny White tells The Drum the move has helped formalize the team’s commitment to the cause, both internally and externally. “Because it’s such a complex topic, we can help both the agency to upskill and provide training, and we provide something more formal for our clients,” he says.

AMV’s strategy partner, Suzanne Barker, and its executive producer, Mark Graeme, will lead the division alongside White. They will work with a select group of industry partners, including sustainable consultancies, Tuulee Consulting and PA consulting, as well as with Rob McFaul, the co-founder of Purpose Disruptors and lead at the ChangeTheBrief Alliance initiative.

“As more and more clients are dipping their toes into sustainability, they’re realizing the pressures,” says White. “So with new guidance by the CMA around greenwashing, we really need to lean into the technical detail from an account management perspective. It’s increasingly important to bring together a number of organizations that can help us guide them through the maze.”

But it’s not just greenwashing that presents a risk to clients. “There’s also moral and business objective greenwashing that, frankly, requires honest and sometimes painful conversations,“ says Graeme. “It’s not an easy topic, but hopefully with our knowledge and the help of specialists who are experts in their own fields we can help everyone get a more rounded view of where we should be going.”

The consultancy will be embedded into the agency, sitting alongside other departments to ensure it’s not a separate, bolt-on offering. “We’ve all been here a while and have formed relationships” adds Graeme. “Now that we’re all back at the office, we can hear different briefs and cross-pollinate ideas. It’s all about these intangible connections of introductions and sharing knowledge, and indeed identifying missteps that either we’ve made in the past or have been made by others, and avoiding making the same mistakes going forwards.”

Graeme wants the consultancy to go one step further than industry norms of agency sustainability. “We’ve been staring down that net zero road for a while, and that fifth pillar (Ad Net Zero’s fifth step to decarbonizing the industry, harnessing advertising’s power to change consumer habits) casts a long shadow.”

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the work of AMVxGreen partner Purpose Disruptors that commitments to decarbonizing all five pillars include ending relationships with fossil fuels and high-carbon clients such as aviation and automotive.

“Thankfully, we don’t work with any fossil fuels in the UK,” says Graeme. “And though we were working closely with Ford and its transition to electric, we will be parting ways with it soon.”

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When it comes to the clients the agency will work with, the team tells The Drum they want to build on the experience they’ve amassed in virtual production, working with the likes of Bupa and Currys, as well as fostering sustainability across its client portfolio. “Right now, if you look across all our clients, there’s at least one sustainability project going on,” says White. “Hopefully we continue to see that grow and, as we continue, we will be seen as a go-to in the space, both with emerging and established clients.”

“For me, this is really a mark in the sand and celebration of sustainability and creativity,” says Graeme.

Barker adds: “Creativity has always best flourished in that beautiful space between boundless imagination and defined constraints. By operating sustainably and pursuing sustainability opportunities, we are applying a necessary discipline and exploring innovative necessary solutions together.”

White concludes: “That’s really our superpower: to drive people towards sustainable action, using our creativity.”

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