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November 11 2020

Sustainability Week at PHD – Lessons learnt

Our Views

After a long slumber, the world is waking up to the realities of climate change with a jolt. Consumers are increasingly anxious about the future, and pressure is mounting for big brands to act quickly and decisively to reduce their carbon impact. Also future-proofing their businesses models where sustainability is key.

The advertising industry may not have always been a force for good in the past. But we have all the right the tools and momentum to help to tackle the climate crisis.

Not only is the industry full of brilliant, creative minds, but we also have a track record of influencing consumers and a direct line to thousands of powerful brands.

Time to act

At PHD we are driven by a restless ambition to understand what motivates people and to use creativity to solve our clients’ biggest business challenges.

To create momentum behind this vital issue we recently hosted Sustainability Week. Inviting a host of media owners, research partners and environmental experts for a week of thought-provoking talks.

Topics ranged from the science behind climate change and the impact of the pandemic on sustainable behaviour to exploring green carbon-reducing media solutions. The response from the agency was brilliant. PHD’ers felt energised, inspired, and importantly motivated to Make the Leap for their client’s sustainability.

We learned a lot from our brilliant speakers and the conversations the inspiration week sparked so we wanted to share our key takeout’s.

Get your house is in order first

There are three types of conversation media agencies need to be having in the context of sustainable business practices.

Operational – Understanding the carbon contribution of your own business. Whether it is from the output of your building and business operations, the footprint of any production activities, and the media spaces you plan and buy.

Strategic – Setting a clear and directive vision for the role your agency can play in a carbon-neutral society. It’s about investing in your staff to enable them to imagine and deliver this vision and engaging stakeholders in the conversation – both media partners and clients.

Creative – Your physical, tangible output. The gateway to consumers. This is the hardest and most complex conversation, but perhaps the most influential. If we can evolve the messages we put out into the world (in partnership with our clients) we can change the conversation and ultimately behaviour.

We must practice what we preach. Understanding our carbon contribution, allows us to effectively measure our progress and importantly provide better advice to our clients. At PHD we are working with several environmental suppliers & specialists to lighten our operational footprint. Also assembling a “Live More Green” team dedicated to making positive changes to our internal and external practices.

We need courage, not hope

There is a lot of talk about “hope” in the context of climate change. ‘We hope’ for a better future for younger generations. ‘We hope’ governments will step up to the plate and act in our best interests.

The reality is we are arguably facing the biggest crisis in human history. Hope is simply not going to cut the mustard. What we need is hope and a metric tonne of courage.

Courage means acting fast and decisively, taking risks, and having difficult conversations with our clients. It means not putting things in the “too hard” basket but persisting with ideas we truly believe in. It means realising that commercial benefit and climate benefit need not be opposing forces if creative thinking is applied.

We won’t succeed alone

No one media agency or organisation is going to solve the climate crisis. With a problem this immense and complex, collaboration is essential.

A host of media partners – like The Guardian, Sky Media, and ITV to name a few – are rolling out exciting green innovations as well as making substantial pledges on carbon neutrality. They need agency support to unlock client investment and attention. We are committed to championing these sustainable partners and solutions to our clients.

Secondly, and more challenging, but most critical collaboration is between agencies. Earlier this year, the Advertising Association’s Climate Action Group was formed, comprising of half a dozen media agencies (including PHD and our Omnicom Media Group sister, Manning Gottlieb OMD) with the ambition to accelerate zero carbon transition for the media industry.

This is a great start, but we need wider agency traction. Only by putting aside individual agency agendas can we start to revolutionise the operations and output of the entire industry to be fit for the climate future.

The media industry has always prided itself on being future-facing. Therefore, as we begin to rebuild from the chaos of COVID-19, it’s the ideal moment for a reset. Challenger brand thinking is at the heart of PHD, and there has never been a greater need to break convention and set a new climate-friendly vision for our industry.


Sustainability Champion PHD

Written by PHD’s Sustainability Champion, Frith Janes, Strategy Director


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