25 Jul #CreativesForClimate: How to declare your climate conflicts
If you’re a service provider working in the ethical and sustainable space, you can play an important role in tackling the climate crisis by choosing which clients you support, and which ones you don’t.
Climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion recently called upon advertisers to consider the consequences of their work in the context of the climate emergency.
Advertising and marketing has helped promote high-carbon lifestyles and mass consumption – but this needs to change if we’re going to bring climate change under control.
Marketers have the power to influence mass behaviour and create change, which means creatives have a powerful role to play in the climate crisis.
As a response, consultancy Futerra published a letter seeking like-minded agencies and individuals who are prepared to declare a climate emergency and be openly honest about any climate conflicts in their work and client portfolio.
They invite agencies and individuals to sign the letter as a pledge not to work on fossil fuel briefs, and asking agencies to declare the percentage of turnover categorised by industry, including high carbon clients.
At Ethical Hour we were pleased to sign and show our support. We created our first ever Client Disclosure Report, dating back to when we were first founded in 2016, and now plan to make this part of our annual impact reporting process.
We also set out a new Client Engagement Policy, which declares the types of clients we welcome and the industries and businesses we will not associate ourselves with, based on their sustainability policies and ethical practices.
Although this campaign is specifically targeting marketers and creative freelancers, it could easily apply to any service providers interested in taking an active role in the climate crisis.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure
As with any impact reporting, measuring your potential climate conflicts is the first step towards reducing them and maximising your positive impact.
Through analysing our data from 2016 – 2019 we can report that less than 1% of our revenue came from carbon critical industries – and those clients that were engaged were working with us to increase their sustainability initiatives.
Declaring your climate conflicts shows that you’re living your values, and that you’re taking a proactive approach towards the climate crisis. If you’re a service provider working with clients in sustainability, they will appreciate this attitude.
Transparency and honesty is not something to be afraid of.
Everyone is at different stages of their sustainability journey, and by publishing your own climate conflicts report, you can show your clients that you understand them and the causes they care about, and that you’re as committed as they are to creating a better world for us all.
Understanding where your revenue is coming from
As a service provider or creative, if you want to declare your climate conflicts the first step is to gather the data about where your revenue is coming from.
If you’re using accounting software you should be able to gather this data fairly easily, although some manual effort may be involved.
Start by exporting a revenue breakdown by client. You should be able to access this in the reporting section of your software.
Next, you need to categorise each client by industry. It’s important to protect client anonymity when preparing impact reports, so this part of the process will remain confidential, but is a helpful internal exercise to undertake.
You can use the industry titles that make the most sense for your client portfolio, but remember to highlight any that fall under carbon critical industries, as these will need to be declared in your report.
Carbon critical industries include:
- Coal, oil and natural gas
- Private cars
- Iron, aluminium and steel manufacture
- Concrete and cement
- Chemicals and petrochemicals
- Trucking and shipping
- Meat and dairy
- Timber, pulp and paper
Once you’ve segmented your clients by industry, you can calculate the total revenue by industry and showcase this in a chart.
Declaring your climate conflicts
If you have any climate conflicts, you may want to provide more explanation as to the nature of the work involved.
For example, dairy is considered a climate critical industry, but Ethical Hour worked with a dairy campaign group on a transparency campaign to raise awareness of fair farmer incomes, increasing dairy cow welfare and small scale farming.
0.56% of our revenue came from this project, and we provided an explanation about the nature of the work.
Alongside this overall chart and explanations, you may want to highlight the percentage of revenue from carbon critical industries – in the spirit of true transparency – and depending on what these figures look like, you may wish to include a paragraph about your plans to reduce these figures too.
Taking your reporting to the next level
You might want to take this opportunity to look at your client portfolio from an ethical standpoint too.
If you’ve set out a manifesto for your brand, identified your core values or embedded a giving back strategy, you can use the data you’ve exported to analyse how well you’re aligning to those intentions in the work you’re currently doing.
You might wish to include a declaration about your income from controversial sectors, with an explanation about where that income came from.
Typically controversial sectors include:
But you may also wish to expand this list to include any that don’t align with your ethical values, or potentially present an issue.
For example, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet and often involves labour rights abuses like sweatshops.
17.6% of our revenue to date at Ethical Hour has come from brands within the fashion industry, but all of these clients are small, ethical and sustainable fashion brands with transparent supply chains.
We only work with slow fashion brands committed to transparency, sustainability and good ethical practices. As per our client engagement policy, we won’t work with fast fashion brands, but it’s important to us to declare this in our report to demonstrate where our income comes from.
Talking to your clients
Producing your disclosure report and working on your climate conflicts can be a good talking point to start conversations with current and potential clients about the climate crisis.
If the results of your report are good and your climate conflicts are low, you can display this with pride on your website and include it in your marketing messaging. Positive impact can be a great way to attract like-minded clients!
However, if the results are higher than you would like and you now intend to take action to reduce your climate conflicts, don’t be afraid to talk about this too.
Reporting your situation is the first step, you should also decide what actions you’re going to take next and set targets and deadlines to make sure they happen. You can include clients in this journey in a positive way and demonstrate your true ethical credentials.
Remember, greenwashing is all about making your brand look more eco-friendly than it actually is. We all have to start somewhere, and your clients will appreciate your open, honest approach to your climate report. But if you hide it away or try to cover it up, it could lead to a backlash.
Moving forward in a climate friendly way
Once you know where you stand, you can decide what you’re going to do next to make your business more eco-friendly.
If your climate conflicts are high, it might be time to look for new business so you can let some of your high carbon clients go.
Alternatively, if you do want to keep working with them, it might be time to renegotiate your retainer and discuss their sustainability policies with them.
It’s your personal decision which clients you choose to work with and why. Everyone has different definitions of ethical and different values driving their business forward. You might decide that you can have more of an influence working with high carbon clients on their sustainability strategies, whereas for other agencies, boycotting brands in this space is the better option.
Having a clear Client Engagement Policy that states which clients you do and don’t work with can be a good way of communicating your values clearly, and will make it easier for you and your team to determine if new clients are a good fit.
If you care deeply about the climate emergency and want to play your part in tackling climate change, reporting and acting on your climate conflicts can be a great place to start.
As service providers, we help businesses grow. We shouldn’t be afraid to only use our talents and skills to grow those businesses and industries that align with our values and the type of world we want to see.
Don’t be afraid to build a blacklist of clients you won’t work with. In 2017, The Guardian reported that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
Just as the Stop Funding Hate campaign is challenging the hate campaigns run by the media by asking advertisers to cut them off, as service providers we can have a huge amount of influence by choosing who we do and don’t work with.
As service providers, this is our opportunity to Be The Change we wish to see.
Futerra have some valuable advice on how to rise to XR’s challenge here if you’d like to know more.