Seeing Green

Ad agencies are realising that going green makes financial as well as ethical sense

Going green is rapidly becoming a crucial issue within the advertising and production industries. No longer seen as the preserve of the overtly environmentally conscious, agencies and production companies are increasingly aware that going carbon neutral, at the very least, could in fact be very good for business.

The signs that being seen to be green is fashionable have been around for a while, though many of the gestures towards environmentalism have remained largely inconsequential so far. At Christmas there was a noticeable increase in digital greetings being sent, as an alternative to paper cards, and TBWA/London used the festive season to highlight climate change awareness through its Green Santa website where children were encouraged to pledge to be more energy efficient. Draw Pictures production company similarly focused on global warming in its Adma scriptwriting competition, which sought scripts for a Carbon

Footprint Initiative brief, and the resulting ads were all shot with the emissions offset. All worthy actions but still some way from making a definitive change for the environmental good where it will really matter, by changing core practices within the industry.

Some ad agencies are pledging to do just that, however. At the beginning of this year, VCCP announced that it had become carbon neutral by offsetting carbon emissions from its business operations. The agency, part of the Chime Group, which is entirely carbon neutral, is offsetting its emissions through the CarbonNeutral Company, and is also committed to a 15 per cent reduction on emissions year on year. “There’s a real chain reaction happening within business,” explains Louisa Fielding, account director at VCCP. “The more of our clients that are aware of this issue, the more it’s passed onto everyone that works with them. Plus there’s increasing consumer awareness as well.”

Fielding highlights the most significant reasons why introducing a “change for good” programme is particularly appealing right now. Under pressure from frustrated consumers, corporations are becoming increasingly obliged to commit to a green strategy within their business operations. And it is only a matter of time before this will mean that all aspects of their activities have to be proven to be environmentally friendly, including the making of any advertising. Agencies that have a strategy already in place therefore seem likely to have added appeal to clients as a result. “We started thinking about it all about six months ago, when we started tendering for the Carbon Trust account,” says Helen Kimber, head of new business at RKCR/Y&R, where a voluntary committee has been set up within the agency to encourage the adoption of energy friendly practices. “When we started that tender process it really raised our awareness of the issues, and we thought it was very hypocritical to try and get their business without doing it ourselves. We’re also on the COI roster and I have no doubt that this is going to be a factor in the future with them – the government can’t be seen to be using suppliers that aren’t responsible for their carbon footprint.” In the end RKCR/Y&R lost out on the Carbon Trust account, which was recently awarded to VCCP. While its carbon neutral status could not legally be considered as a factor in the agency being appointed, it seems unlikely to have done them much harm.

So the benefits for all involved (including of course the environment, lest we forget) in agencies being more green conscious are obvious, but without any industry-wide guidelines it can be difficult to see the best way to achieve these goals. At present it is a case of experimentation. One recent example of a successful green shoot was for RKCR/Y&R’s recent campaign for M&S, where Knucklehead was the production company. At the instigation of Tim Katz, joint managing director at Knucklehead, the agency agreed to arrange to offset the carbon emissions on the flights on the production with the client picking up the tab. Because all the companies involved were equally enthusiastic about the process it was remarkably straightforward, however it cannot be assumed this would always be the case.

“Like a lot of things, there will be talk about the financial aspect to this,” says Katz. “Put simply, who pays? Should the client undertake the cost, as they are commissioning the job, or should it be split between the three main parties in the production: the client, the agency and the production company? I think that arguably it could work that it should be included in the budget as a zero-rated line item, so that it becomes a cost of the production but not one that is marked up. I don’t think people would suggest that anyone in the food chain should seek to profit from this cost. If the cost were divided between client, agency and production company with each partner covering the costs of their respective representatives, would it not be unfairly weighted against the production company, who usually have the largest number of crew and talent travelling but who are potentially squeezed the most at the budget stage of the production?”

In order to tackle some of these questions, Katz is working with Steve Davies, chief executive of the APA, in order to implement a guidelines policy for production companies. “At a recent council meeting everyone was enthusiastic about the idea, but felt that the next step was to understand how you put together an effective programme, so we’re going to approach an environmental consultant to talk about this,” says Davies. “It’s got to be fair and everyone has to be happy about it – just because you think it’s the right thing to do, it’s not necessarily fair to foist it on someone else. Either it’s got to be agreed industry-wide or taken up on a voluntary basis.”

Alongside companies such as the CarbonNeutral Company, which will arrange offsetting for an agency, allowing it to be officially termed carbon neutral, there are other companies that cater specifically for the changes in the industry. Graham Monk, a veteran of over 20 years’ experience in the ad industry, has launched Green Strategies, an advisory service to help companies become more energy efficient. The consulting company will help agencies navigate the process and, most crucially, provide accreditation that they have undertaken the task. More importantly, Green Strategies is keen to emphasise lasting energy saving changes, rather than simply offering offsetting packages. “We strongly believe that rather than rushing to buy credits in an attempt to assuage our guilt, both companies and individuals should first and foremost assess the way that they live their lives and run their organisations in an attempt to reduce their reliance on and consumption of emission-generating outputs,” says Monk. This seems difficult to argue with, meaning that surely it is only a matter of time before this practice is adopted throughout ad land. “We need to find an equilibrium where we’re not harming things,” agrees Katz. “I think there are a lot of people sitting around thinking we want to do this but don’t know how. It’s still seen as charity though, which is one of the interesting things about this. It isn’t charity, it is the way the industry will go.”


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