Climate Change Wieden+Kennedy Sustainable Transformation

Europe leads on climate, US on social purpose, says Wieden+Kennedy sustainability boss


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

October 25, 2023 | 8 min read

Luke Purdy likens the ad industry’s attitude to sustainability to its approach to DE&I, but “several years behind.”

Luke Purdy

Luke Purdy is director of sustainability at Wieden+Kennedy

Looking back to when he first entered Wieden+Kennedy in 2011 as a wide-eyed graduate, Luke Purdy recalls how he cut his teeth on purpose-driven projects for the likes of Nike and Coca-Cola. Further down the line, the agency turned its hand to more environmental projects for brands including iron ore miners Fortescue and the Danish energy giant Ørsted. He describes the latter as something of a watershed moment.

“It came to us as an energy company that was 85% fossil fuels and it wanted to switch to 85% renewables – changing its name from Danish Oil and Natural Gas to Ørsted. We helped it with its rebrand and to communicate the change to its stakeholders, investors, employees, governments, businesses, right down to the consumers.”

Purdy says he was inspired to see a company take such a risk and realized the role that agencies have to play in helping to drive change “and put out positive messages.” Today, Ørsted produces 90% of its energy from renewables, though Purdy concedes that not all energy companies are created equal. “I think there’s a clear issue with the oil industry.”

With his passion for the subject growing, Purdy led Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam’s B Corp certification process through the pandemic. The audit process helped educate him on what makes a good business. “It forces you to ask questions you may not have previously.”

In a move he describes as uncharacteristic, Purdy went to leadership and asked to make sustainability a full-time part of his role. “I essentially wrote my own job description. I pushed for 100% of my time to be dedicated to sustainability. They said I could do my day job 50% of the time and sustainability 50% of the time and I said ‘deal.’”

About a year into this dual role, Purdy says it became clear to him that he had bitten off more than he could chew: “I had learned enough to understand that I knew nothing,” he says, so enrolled in a course at the University of Oxford. “It taught me some valuable lessons in stakeholder engagement and management and how to drive change within a company.” Purdy completed the course in 2022.

He pushes back at the idea that sustainability is purely a space for people with backgrounds in environmental sciences. “There are so many facets to sustainability and communications is a big part of it – so that’s where I’ve been looking to drive change within Wieden+Kennedy and how we can create value for our partners.”

However, he admits that this is also one of his biggest challenges. “Our expertise as an ad agency is not in supply chains, it’s in helping brands get into the culture and sustainability is a big part of culture. But I’ve quickly found out that everyone’s at different starting points.”

He says Wieden+Kennedy’s multiple offices across multiple continents give it “a unique vantage point to see who’s ahead and who needs to learn more,” adding that it’s clear to him that when it comes to environmentalism, Europe is ahead of other regions. “In Tokyo and Shanghai, for example, they are keen to help and learn more but they are honest that not everyone understands what terms like net zero mean, for example.” Similarly, he says the US is further ahead than Europe when it comes to social purpose.

As a result, he says that the transformation of the business internally has looked different depending on the location. “We can’t run before we can walk.”

Overall, he says, progress has been strong and he cites the agency’s production overhaul as an example. Small changes to sourcing crew, limiting travel and reusing wardrobe and sets have all helped cut emissions, he says.

“We also offset production as much as possible and have money earmarked for that. We do it with a partner that specializes in carbon removal but, in the long run, the solution is decarbonization.”

The mission has been successful so far. “We cut our emissions by 16% last year and we’ve launched an internal sustainability hub for all of our employees that’s full of resources to help integrate our environmental efforts into day-to-day jobs. I want to create an ethos in the company that everyone is on the sustainability team.” The cumulative effect of the group’s efforts also saw it certified as B Corp across the network of agencies – the first and largest of its kind to do so. Purdy was subsequently appointed to the role of director of sustainability.

He likens Wieden+Kennedy’s sustainability progress to the DE&I journey that many companies have been on – “though sustainability is several years behind it.”

“There was a moment in time a few years ago when people had to be told that this was important for business. It’s an expectation of your job that you uphold certain values and integrate them into everything you do. I think that’s one way of doing it.”

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But Purdy says if he learned anything through the process of B Corp accreditation, it’s that formalizing things is crucial. So, the next phase of Wieden+Kennedy’s internal journey will be building sustainability into people’s job descriptions and embedding progress into internal evaluations.

Nevertheless, the age-old question of which clients agencies should and shouldn’t be working with remains. “Anyone can see that automotive is investing more than ever in EV. The airline industry knows that if it’s going to survive, it needs to invest in sustainable aviation fuel.”

While Purdy admits that, right now, the majority of Wieden+Kennedy clients are not strictly sustainability-driven companies, he says: “I think that’s going to change.”

“Sustainability is shifting from a cost to an opportunity and things are becoming more affordable, if not cheaper, with new regulations that are being passed, such as Right to Repair, that are trying to move us away from the throwaway culture that exists in our society.

“The IPCC report clearly says that 40% to 70% of carbon reductions will come from changing consumer behaviors, and there’s no one better at changing consumer behaviors than marketers.”

Climate Change Wieden+Kennedy Sustainable Transformation

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