Why Leo Rayman stopped making ads and started selling sustainability instead
The WPP veteran who went on to found green growth consultancy EdenLab tells The Drum that, when it comes to sustainability, creativity achieves nothing without business transformation.
Leo Rayman is founder and CEO of Eden Lab
A planner by training, Leo Rayman had an almost 10-year stint at WPP, rising to CEO of Grey London before he eventually “got bored of the adverts” and founded its worldwide consulting division, Grey Consulting. “I was working on sustainability projects towards the end of my time there and realized that, despite our best intentions and doing them with high integrity, they were essentially hollow.”
As an explanation, he recalls working with one unnamed but well-known FMCG brand: “We did a full ESG assessment, got an expert in to look into materiality, but the outcome never really changed. They just briefed something different to the creative agency at the end and nothing really changed inside of the brand’s own operations.”
Rayman says one issue he consistently sees when it comes to the sustainability movement within the industry is a “gulf between people who get sustainability and the people who get marketing,” he decided to go it alone and set up EdenLab – although he still doesn’t make ads.
“I want to actually help clients reformulate and rebuild the things they’re putting into the world in the first place – to help them make decent revenue but by shifting out of dirty, high carbon stuff and into clean, green stuff. Then, there’ll be a brief to an agency later on and we’ll do the strategy for that, help out.
“I love the power of creativity. But it’s just that, right now, the creativity needs to apply more upstream.”
A global sustainability innovation and green growth consultancy, EdenLab is now just over a year old but has already worked with big names from Unilever to Tui, Danone to The Football Association.
Rayman says the big names are important. “I set myself the stupid goal of removing 5m tons of CO2 from the atmosphere in five years. It’s a number that seemed big and scary; that’s why I chose it.”
He plans to achieve this by helping EdenLab clients invent new business models, transition roadmaps, sustainable value propositions, customer experiences, brand and communications strategies. “People want to believe communications and creativity can change the world. Maybe it can, but divorced from making fundamental changes within the business is just pissing in the wind.”
Suggested newsletters for you
On the other hand, he says that, unfortunately, sustainability teams often aren’t the best at selling their vision for the future either. “Everyone in advertising and marketing learns to be a brilliant pitcher because, otherwise, you’re dead. But we’re always pitching the wrong product and the wrong service for the world. Meanwhile, the sustainability community is shit at pitching.”
As a result, Rayman says he’s learned to lean on the commercial benefits when it comes to speaking to clients. “One thing I never do is walk into a presentation and say, ‘Look how fucked up the planet is.’ Instead, I show them all the companies that are succeeding and reinventing themselves – otherwise, they just stick their heads in the sand because who wants to contemplate their own death?”
Rayman admits it might be an unpopular opinion, given that most people within the climate movement would point to degrowth as fundamental to tackling the overconsumption that has contributed to the climate emergency, but he wants to use money to pull companies through to the right side.
“I’m not being a crazy optimistic tech solutionist here – I’m more worried than not about our planetary systems – but I think for the foreseeable we need to think about how we can make companies part of the change.”
Whether that change can really come from the big agencies, however, he isn’t sure. “There’s loads of smart people in agencies doing great stuff, but it’s not really having that much impact outside the industry.
“The industry is going to tie itself up in knots over media carbonization when really it should be thinking a lot more about how it applies creativity to the fundamental problem here. How do I make someone stop buying something and enjoying something instead?”