Being part of the climate solution

Planet B

MediaCom UK is five years into its sustainability journey. Helen Brain and Pauline Robson, who lead the charge, outline the practical steps that the network has already taken - and where it will look next.

At the start of November, we spoke at COP26 as part of the industry’s Ad Net Zero Global Summit. We shared with the 2,000 delegates how our personal climate change journeys had started nearly five years ago.

As part of our presentation, we outlined some of the lessons we had learned in the course of bringing a more sustainable approach to MediaCom UK’s operations, output and strategic offering over the past five years.

Reflecting on that journey made us realise how far we had come, but also how much we still have to do. It also highlighted how much power we have as an industry to drive change, and promote the positives of behavioural change for climate action.

Our most recent initiative, for example, is designed to put sustainability at the heart of all our client work. Working with colleagues from across GroupM, we have created a training programme that gives all our people the knowledge and license to discuss the climate crisis.

The training launched last month and, by the end of next year, we are committing to having trained hundreds of our people in the fundamentals of climate change, so that they can understand the challenges we face and be comfortable discussing it with clients.

This programme aims to ensure everyone will understand the operating context of climate change and will be able to give our clients the advice they need to make the right decisions for their brands and the planet.

It will also help us hit the global targets that we share with our WPP and GroupM peers which is to become net zero in our operations by 2025 and in our supply chain, including emissions from media, by 2030.

The MediaCom UK journey

Like many organisations, our journey started with us looking at the impact of our operations. It’s usually the easiest place to start as it is the most visible and the most within our control.

There are some easy wins here – switching to renewable energy, increasing recycling rates, eliminating single use plastics and limiting flying (made much easier since the pandemic-related Zoom boom has made video calls the norm) are all easy ways to make an impact.

While operations is a good place to start, it’s important not to get stuck here because this isn’t where the bulk of most organisations’ emissions are. At WPP, less than 2% of our emissions come from our operations. The remainder come from our supply chain and 55% of these are in our media supply chain. Looking at our output is crucial to helping us and our clients achieve our net zero targets

One of the key tools we developed is the media Carbon Calculator, which helps us understand the emissions associated with each individual media plan.

This also involves looking beyond MediaCom. In particular, it means working with our media owner partners – our decarbonisation journey really is dependent on our media partners also reaching net zero.

The third part of the journey is strategy and integrating sustainability into the very heart of what we do. This means that sustainability ultimately needs to become part of everyone’s job and shouldn’t just sit with a small group of experts or passionate volunteers.

We are creating a network of planners who will be trained on how to bring sustainability into communications. For starters, we have created a sustainable planning toolkit to give everyone the confidence to talk to their clients about how applying a sustainability lense to our planning process can positively impact a response to brief.

Potential wins include identifying new category growth opportunities, creating new motivations for shoppers to switch to a more sustainable product, changing the work we produce, and changing our definition of success.

Future focus

We are currently also looking at two other critical areas. Firstly, our ability as marketing experts to change consumption models for the better – helping brands shift what people consume, how they consume and what they do after they’ve consumed. We should all expect to see a lot more work from brands and agencies in this space in the near-term future.

Secondly, we want to create new measurement frameworks that allow us to truly see the bigger picture. As a media agency, we are experts in measuring effectiveness, but we have traditionally only looked at how our work impacts on profit. Our mission now is to think about how we can measure the true effectiveness of a campaign in terms of people and planet, as well as profit.

Embedding sustainability into our work and our advice means bringing people together. It means working collaboratively across clients, media owners and our global network.

It takes a village to create the toolkit for the future, stress test that toolkit and bring the steps to life with case studies so that it’s as easy and as frictionless for everyone to use as possible. We all need to be part of that village, for the good of the planet.

Three things everyone can do now

Join a community: As an individual, you can ignite change, but you can’t scale it, and we need to deploy solutions at scale and at speed if we are to tackle the worst impacts of climate change.

Collaboration is crucial. If you don’t have a green team or similar in your organisation, find a like-minded person and start your own community. It’s so much easier to make change happen with other people. Get senior level support for what you are doing and set yourself some targets. Even better, share the targets with the rest of the organisation. Then you have to deliver!

Make it easy for people to get involved: This has been a constant challenge. It’s no good getting excited about new ideas without bringing everyone else along too. Remind yourself to check in with other people and identify the best ways to let them be part of the journey too.

Talk about climate change: The topic of climate change and its impact on our industry, and our clients, needs to be brought into every conversation. Ask for feedback from your peers when you come up with an idea on how to do this, create a working group of people in your company who are passionate about creating positive change and discuss what it means for your company and your clients. Whatever you do – talk about climate change in your office, or your zoom call. When one person brings it into the conversation, it gives everyone else permission to get involved too – model the behaviour you want to see more of.

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