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The ESG Audit: Publicis Groupe

This week Annette King, the chief executive of Publicis Groupe UK, is in the chair to discuss her company's ESG goals

By Jeremy Lee

Five weeks today world leaders will be sitting down at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference to thrash out the terms of what is hoped to be an enhanced ambition to reduce greenhouse gases - the first time that this has happened.

Not everyone is convinced that real change will be effected. Ahead of COP21 Greta Thurnberg said: "Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say 'we'll do this and we'll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this', and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don't really have a big impact. We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it."

Achieving consensus - and then ensuring that is adhered to - is going to be problematic given that carbon dioxide emissions in China were nine per cent higher in the first quarter of this year than they were in pre-pandemic times. Equally, the moral authority of post-industrial countries, such as the UK, to demand change from those that are undergoing industrialisation, such as China and India, is open to question.

So the macro questions remain large and as yet unanswered. But that's not to say that on a micro level, including in the ad industry, some change is underway. In the latest of our series of interviews with holding company heads we caught up with Annette King, the chief executive of Publicis Groupe UK and member of Publicis Groupe Global Management Committee, to see what it was doing to become a more positive environmental and social force:

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?

"I firmly believe that as we emerge from the pandemic, we have a responsibility to build back better.

"It’s not an overnight fix but something we remain focused on is: how can we ensure our actions are sustainable, while adding long term value to our people and clients?

"As CEO of Publicis Groupe UK, I’m proud that we’ve created the OA, a training programme designed to open our industry up to people from marginalised backgrounds, and more recently, a set of family-friendly policies for employees covering maternity, paternity, shared parental leave, adoption, surrogacy, pregnancy loss and fertility. By creating a working environment where everyone can thrive wherever they come from and whatever they’re going through, we are able to attract and retain top talent with a wide variety of perspectives and get the very best from our people and make the workplace more inclusive.

"In the UK, we’re part of Publicis Groupe’s global commitment to be Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030 as certified by Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) and we’re on the steering committee of the Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero Action Plan, whose five point framework is to get to net zero by 2030, continually committed to curtailing carbon emissions, principally by reducing travel, fossil energy use and waste. From a production perspective, we’re committed to curbing emissions and are founding members of AdGreen, the industry-wide initiative that educates and enables the production community to foster more sustainable production.

We’re on a journey, one that I can only see becoming more and more crucial in attracting clients and talent."

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?

"We’ve seen significant growth in areas such as sustainability and DE&I, not least since we acquired specialist sustainability consultancy Salterbaxter in 2015.

"The pandemic has highlighted the connected nature of human and planetary health and has given everyone a wake-up call on wealth inequality, food waste and shopping locally.

"Salterbaxter work with the world’s biggest businesses and are responsible for many of the leading global sustainability strategies in market. There’s potential for revenue growth and crucially, there’s enormous change in our business models. As the world faces such transformational change, all industries and brands are impacted.

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 believe we have a responsibility to build back better as we emerge from the pandemic. We are committed to facilitating ethical and sustainable growth for our agencies, our clients and our shareholders and to supporting our employees in achieving their own personal and professional goals. As well as global commitments like our SBTi net zero emission plan, we ensure concrete action at a local level through country specific initiatives.

"The goal is to create maximum impact for our clients while having minimal impact on the planet, which is why A.L.I.C.E (Advertising Limiting Impacts & Carbon Emissions) was launched. It’s our proprietary tool which reviews carbon emissions on all client projects, from creative/production and media, to data and digital business transformation; we’ve already seen impacts reduced by 20%. As a result, our clients can then decide to modify their media plan or use renewable energies for example. Locally, we have supplementary schemes which enhance A.L.I.C.E. In the UK, we’re a founding and active member of AdGreen, the industry-wide initiative that educates and enables the production community to foster more sustainable production, and Ad Net Zero.

"It's important that we do what we can to help our client partners to grow in ways that are ethical and sustainable. To do this, we’ll continue to invest in our talent and our capabilities, to help our clients navigate these profound changes in the world."

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