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How to start off-setting your agency’s emissions: 3 steps to sustainability

This article first appeared on The Drum on 29/03/2023

Let’s be honest, when robots inevitably take over, they will undoubtedly make the planet more sustainable than humans. However, until we are surplus, we’re going to have to work together to make a healthier planet for future generations.

The sustainability juggernaut isn’t going to stop with agencies. 77% of people globally say in five years, they will only want to be spending money with brands that practice green and sustainable advertising. 88% of global respondents say they will make sustainable purchases when able to.

To not react to these numbers is folly. We have just begun addressing our sustainability strategy, navigating these new murky waters (pardon the pun) in this unregulated new space.

For 99% of businesses, reducing emissions to zero is impossible. But that’s not the point. The objective of this process is to minimize your emissions by making changes within the business and then offsetting the emission that cannot be avoided.

There are three stages that each audit should go through, and I highly recommend you research which reporting standard applies to your business and tender thoroughly for a suitable partner to guide you through the process.

Step one: getting started

Start creating your Energy Savings Opportunities Statement (ESOS) and provide a full review of your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is already a huge marketplace, circa £7bn and growing rapidly.

Inevitably, this brings out businesses offering you the ‘same’ package as accredited auditors for a ‘deal,’ so choose your partner wisely as when it comes to post-auditing, or this could cost you dearly.

Ideally, you’ll look for a partner that can speak your language and explain the process without confusing jargon and technical language. The process will take some time and may involve several of your staff. Having rigid time frames and processes may not be practical for your business workflow. The process may be foreign to you; the calculations are complex. This provides consultants with an opportunity to play you. In tight economic times, it may be better to shop around for the best deal for your business.

Step two: implementation

Implementation is a five-step process beginning with data collection. This will come from several sources both internal and external. The data is then used to calculate the Green House Gas (GHG) impact of your full value change.

The plans will be revised for active reduction, target setting and ongoing measurement. Then for those that wish to pursue carbon neutrality, you can investigate suitable carbon offset options, reassessing annually.

For example, in GroupM and WPP’s Unified Methodology for Accelerated Media Decarbonization, it stated: “GroupM and WPP are holding ourselves accountable in our commitment to decarbonization. WPP has committed to reaching net zero across its direct operations (Scopes 1 and 2) by 2025 and its value chain (Scope 3) by 2030. This commitment includes the media GroupM buys on behalf of our clients, which collectively account for more than 50% of WPP’s total emissions.”

Step three: auditing

This is the time-consuming part, bringing all your suppliers, upstream and downstream into the auditing process. It’s very interesting to learn how the daisy chain of carbon emissions will be passed on/enforced from business to business. However, if your supplier or client does not have a net zero policy goal in place, you technically shouldn’t be using them until they do.

What’s becoming apparent is there are almost more questions than answers. A big one is: where does the buck stop?

The result

This process will become an ongoing commitment for the business. It will produce a carbon emissions inventory, a carbon reduction plan, quarterly review reports and possibly an offset plan that may include carbon credits.

Choosing a project that reflects your business is a great way to start. For example, if you use a lot of wood, then you might look at credits that help plant trees. However, there are a limited amount of carbon credits, meaning demand is a lot higher than supply. This drives prices up all the time, so the sooner you do this the better.

Every company can not only help save the planet but benefit from the feel-good PR factor. This in turn will lead to better connections with suppliers and brands, increased business and additional charitable projects, essential for job creation.

By Richard Hicks | COO