Yannick Bollore

The ESG Audit: Havas

Yannick Bolloré, the chairman and chief executive of Havas, speaks to Creative Salon about building a business that makes a difference to society

By Jeremy Lee

With 200 countries preparing to descend on Glasgow - and with Prince Charles now joining the chorus of voices lamenting climate change and expressing sympathy with protestors - the environment continues to dominate headlines.

In the UK, Havas London has achieved B-Corp status - one of the few agencies to do so - and this is something that Havas hopes to roll out group-wide.

In our latest installment with the holding company chiefs, we spoke to Yannick Bolloré, the chief executive and chairman of Havas, on what commitments he is making to the ESG agenda and also his observations on what environmental commitments clients are now demanding from their agency partners.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are becoming an increasingly popular way for brands and businesses to be evaluated. How much of a competitive advantage is it for a business like yours? Also how important is ESG when it comes to attracting both clients and talent?

"At Havas we believe that companies have a key role to play in solving the biggest challenges we share in the world. This ambition, together with ongoing dialogue with all our stakeholders, is a catalyst for creating value at the heart of our Group's strategy and for contributing to a better world.

"We were pioneers in meaningful and responsible communication and have been taking on concrete commitments since 2009. In 2020 we optimised our CSR approach and launched the 'Havas Positive Impact' programme which structures our commitments around three pillars: people, environment and meaningful communication. We are the only group in our industry with B-Corp certified agencies, and we aim to make this group-wide. We also have gold Ecovadis certification and many of our employees are working under ISO 14001 certification in markets including the UK, Spain and France.

"Over the past five years we have seen this through a big shift in pitches. Before there were maybe two or three questions on CSR in RFIs. Today teams are answering very in-depth and detailed questionnaires on our policies, our carbon footprint, our suppliers…. So we can safely say that having a strong ESG commitment is crucial to winning new business. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is now a ‘must have’. I have recent examples of client wins where our ESG approach was the tipping factor in bagging the business.

"In terms of attracting talents, our current and potential collaborators are looking to work for a meaningful company that can give them a purpose beyond a well-paying job. A company that is making a difference to society. A strong ESG proposition creates value and is a large component of our employer brand. More and more potential candidates enquire about our ESG commitments during the recruitment process and it has become a key criteria for choosing an employer."

WPP was recently quoted as saying that “Demand is off the scale” for ESG-related work - how significant is it when seen as a potential revenue growth in advising clients in areas such as climate change, racial equity, privacy and responsible marketing?

"I completely agree with this observation. Demand is high and we are approached more and more by companies seeking advice for their own ESG strategies. This has led us to creating specific consulting offers and we recently required an agency in France which has been the leader in communication around CSR for the past 20 years."

As a holding group what is your stance on ESG for your agencies, your clients and your shareholders? And does that preclude you from working with certain businesses?

"I firmly believe our responsibility as a communication group is to use the power of our creative ideas and influence to create positive change and promote the values we want to see reflected in our society. We are happy to help brands in their transformation to becoming more sustainable, responsible, respectful of the environment, diverse and inclusive - basically getting their ESG proposition right.

"We have implemented a certain number of tools in an effort to truly integrate the environment within our business strategy and support our clients’ efforts to reduce their environmental impact. In France for example, we partnered with EcoAct to develop a Carbon Impact Calculator to measure the carbon impact of our clients' multi-media campaigns.

"The aim of the Calculator is to make our clients aware of the impact their campaigns are having on the planet. We then work with them to find innovative solutions to offset the impact and improve the carbon footprint overall. Havas UK and Havas Studios recently supported the development and launch of AdGreen's Carbon Calculator, and I hope we will see more in other markets.

"We have also produced an eco-campaign guide of best practices designed to help our creative teams all over the world have the right reflexes to make sure a campaign is as eco-friendly as possible."


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