Green searchlight falls on marketing services

Brand owners are launching far reaching environmental initiatives and forcing advertising agencies to look at their own green policies or face losing valuable accounts to more ethical rivals.

As the world’s largest marketing services holding company, WPP, prepares to ensure its agencies become carbon neutral – with Grey Advertising expected to be the first – other agencies are coming under pressure to convince clients of their green credentials.

Marks & Spencer, BSkyB and Walkers Crisps have all launched green initiatives that require them to look across their portfolio of suppliers, including marketing services, to ensure they make the grade on green issues.

As part of M&S’s Plan A strategy to go carbon neutral in five years, which was announced in January, the retailer says it wants to “engage its suppliers to come with us on the journey” and it will review them on a “case by case basis” if any are reluctant to comply.

PepsiCo-owned snacks brand Walkers is working with the Carbon Trust to reduce its footprint and has introduced carbon labelling on its packaging. It says it is working “closely with all our partners and suppliers to meet this objective.” 

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R – a WPP-owned agency – set up a “Green Team” as M&S launched Plan A, which lays out initiatives and targets in five core areas including climate change, waste and fair trade. To ensure that it meets the requirements of M&S and other clients such as Virgin Atlantic and Land Rover, it has carried out a review of the agency and has set a range of long and short-term targets. 

The team, which is headed by business development director Helen Kimber, is working on areas such as recycling, transport, facilities and energy use and has already implemented projects such has having lights and computers that switch off after ten minutes of inactivity, and printing on both sides of a sheet of paper.

In the longer term, it is getting rid of personal bins and installing recycling hubs that will recycle waste, including plastic and food products. Kimber says: “We have to be as conscientious as our clients as once they have their ships in order then they are going to look at their suppliers.” 

Agencies claim
Meanwhile, marketing services holding company Engine Group is also looking at its green policies and has allocated an undisclosed budget to the project. It will include looking at its carbon footprint and waste and plans will be presented to the board this summer. Sky, which works with Engine-owned WCRS, announced its environmental position in May last year. It claims to be the world’s first carbon neutral media company and has already implemented a number of strategies such as buying 100% of electricity for Sky-owned sites from renewable resources.

The green issue is one that agencies have to take seriously, says Hugh Burkitt, chief executive of the (carbon neutral) Marketing Society. He adds: “It is a trend that has huge implications for everyone. Clients will be asking for evidence of green credentials more and more, particularly in the case of government contracts.” 

Many government departments already ask about environmental and ethical issues in tenders, but the COI is about to launch a review of its suppliers’ sustainability, which it expects to carry out with industry bodies such as the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.

Co-op ultimatum
And the Co-operative Group says it already screens all its suppliers, including marketing services, before appointing them and refuses to work with companies that fail to comply with its criteria. It will also sever links with existing suppliers if unacceptable working practices come to light. It ended a deal with DHL after it found that the delivery company had a contract with the Burmese government.

Marketing services agencies will be forced to demonstrate their green and ethical credentials just like any other suppliers

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