A new global report on the damaging effects of promoting fossil fuels has singled out Australia as being uniquely compromised by agencies lobbying for oil, gas and coal.
The joint study by Australian organisations Comms Declare and Clean Creatives lists the 90 advertising, marketing and PR agencies that have hampered cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and details ways they have influenced policy.
Comms Declare Founder, Belinda Noble commented: “Australia is unique because three Prime Ministers have lost their jobs for trying to limit greenhouse gases.
“A lobbying firm helped put a lump of coal into Scott Morrison’s hand in parliament. Now PR and ad companies are helping gas corporations promote and greenwash the so-called ‘gas-fired recovery’.
“With corporate giants pumping tens of millions into sponsorships, PR, lobbying and marketing every year, it’s no wonder Australia has no net zero commitment and is playing a wrecking role in international climate negotiations.
“The research also shows that two multinationals, WPP and Omnicom, have a significant influence in the local market. WPP has six local agencies that represent fossil fuel companies despite its own pledge to have net zero carbon emissions by 2025,” she added.
The report also highlights the new greenwashing battleground of net zero claims.
“Fossil fuel companies are the biggest polluters, the biggest greenwashers, and the biggest opponents of life-saving climate action. There is no room for ad and PR professionals to continue promoting companies that are doing so much damage to our future,” said Duncan Meisel, director of Clean Creatives.
“The most important step any agency can take to address the climate crisis is to rule out working with fossil fuel companies. We need creatives and communications experts to bring their full energy towards ending this crisis, not extending it.”
The PR company Edelman recently released a report finding that 60 per cent of employees would leave a company that is doing “fundamentally immoral” work. A growing percentage of millennial, Gen Z, and other younger workers view the fossil fuel industry in precisely those terms.
In recent months, major advertising and PR holding companies have announced sustainability policies aimed at reducing the carbon impact of their offices, travel, and production. Disclosed pledges from across the industry so far amount to reductions of less than seven megatons of carbon per year – an amount that equals approximately one month of the carbon impact of a single fossil fuel client, Exxon, under their current business plans.
Sustainability pledges by holding companies will fall short in addressing climate change and questions of employee engagement as long as they do not clearly rule out working with the most polluting clients.
OnEarthDay2021, holding company giant WPP pledged to reach net zero across all of its operations, going so far as to account for the energy used to run banner ads across the internet and develop plans to power them with renewable energy, or offset the carbon impact. This extensive, detailed plan will account for reductions of 5.4 mt of carbon annually by 2025 across the entire group of agencies.
WPP maintains a long list of fossil fuel aligned clients, most prominently BP in Ogilvy, Shell at WundermanThompson, and Exxon in both Hill + Knowlton and Burson Cohn and Wolfe. These fossil fuel majors account for 423 times the carbon impact of WPP’s operations. This gap in WPP’s pledge means that generating sales increases of 0.2 per cent across these clients would immediately wipe out the impact of WPP’s net zero plan.
In June 2021, the holding company Interpublic released a Net Zero plan that included powering their work with 100% renewable energy by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2040. This plan, which includes expanded reporting and disclosure on their operations, would account for reductions of 211 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually.
G’s operations represent a tiny fraction of emissions compared to their work for major polluting clients. Just one agency, Carmichael Lynch, bragged to the public that their campaign for oil giant Conoco Phillips resulted in 40,000,000 gallons of gasoline sold, representing a carbon impact greater than the entire global holding company.
Additionally, their extensive work for Exxon at both Weber-Shandwick and UM Media contributes directly to Exxon’s longstanding – and confessed – strategy to obstruct climate action by governments, and extend their highly-polluting business model past the window of climate safety.
In comparison with IPG’s goal to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, their client Exxon plans to increase oil production by 52 per cent, and gas production by 27 per cent by 2030.
dentsu has made a public commitment to achieve Net Zero on a timeline which, on its face, matches well to the Paris Climate Agreement goals, and more ambitious timelines for climate action. However, none of its clients in polluting industries have targets to match Dentsu’s ambition, and the company’s failure to account for the impact of their work for those clients undermines the credibility of their pledge.
On its website, Dentsu lays out five planks to its net zero agenda: Technology, Flights, Research and Advertising, Professional fees, and Buildings and Fleet. None of these five areas would account for, or mitigate, the impact of working for clients such as Chevron (mcgarrybowen), or Ampol (iProspect), both of which are major sources of climate pollution at a scale that outstrips any of Dentsu’s current commitments.
Since 2007, holding company Publicis has adopted climate disclosure and planning into its business plans. Their current plans include carbon neutrality in their operations by 2030, and regular reporting on annual emissions. Their climate plan focuses first on reducing travel, and then the most concrete parts of its carbon and waste footprint by reducing raw material consumption and using renewable energy in its offices.
These commitments stand in sharp contrast to their work with fossil fuel companies such as Ampol and Total. While Publicis will reduce their carbon footprint to zero by 2030, Total plans to expand their oil production and leave their gas production virtually unchanged. The work Publicis agencies do for these companies allows them to extend their polluting business models far beyond where Publicis itself believes it is appropriate to continue contributing to carbon pollution.
Holding company Omnicom has taken a fragmented, piecemeal approach to sustainability within its business. Several agencies have joined initiatives like the UK Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero project, but none which would commit them to addressing the impact of their work for major polluting clients.
Their current holding-company wide goals include only minor targets such as using 20% renewable energy by 2023. But by comparison, their fossil fuel clients are even lower-performing. In 2020, Ketchum’s major oil industry client ExxonMobil invests less than one per cent of their annual capital expenditures into developing renewable or carbon-capture programs.
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