But what's motivating them: a collective green conscience or demands from image-conscious clients? Francesca Fisher investigates.
When St Luke's sent Campaign a press release in June 2004 announcing that it had made a carbon-neutral ad for its BT client, we interpreted it as more touchy-feely nonsense from those tree-huggers in Euston. Less than four years later, and it's humble pie all round at Campaign Towers.
The tree-huggers were on to something; they were pioneers of green conscientiousness, and today their rivals, clients and friends are all peddling hard to catch up.
Indeed, even though Campaign chose the agencies featured opposite at random, most of them have fairly robust green policies under way. In just three years, green strategies have become the norm. What has made agencies act so quickly?
The first reason cited by most is the touchy-feely one: that everyone has a responsibility for the planet we live on. It only takes one member of the management team to have a green conscience for an environmental policy to be put into place.
On its own, however, it's questionable whether this would be inspiration enough to drive so many agencies to such speedy action. Green policies don't come cheap, after all. They require research, a lot of staff time and often expensive alterations to infrastructure. Although some argue that long term they can save money by reducing utility bills, agencies are still forking out for special bins, water filters, communications and consultation from green experts.
Indeed, much more likely to have made agencies act fast is the difference a green policy can make to its bottom line. Stuart Archibald, a partner at Archibald Ingall Stretton and a trustee of The Climate Group, made sure his agency was an early adopter. This was due to his personal green conscience, but rapidly developed into a rather flattering new-business accessory. "Clients feel we have a personality as a result of our green policy," he explains.
In addition, some client companies like to plug into the communications expertise of their agencies. As they implement their own green strategies, they seek inspiration from their agencies, not only as to what measures to undertake, but the best ways of communicating these measures to staff.
But not having a green policy in place is not just attractive to potential clients, it's becoming essential. COI, which controls one of the biggest marketing budgets in the UK, is taking the matter very seriously.
In fact, the organisation already has several measures in place. For example, with direct marketing campaigns it has 12 best practice guides, such as not using windowed envelopes, avoiding staples and the inclusion of messages to encourage recipients to recycle the mailing.
But the Government's marketing body plans to go much further. It has commissioned a working group to look at what green policies it can realistically require in order for agencies to qualify for a place on one of its 28 rosters. The working party's recommendations will become requirements from this autumn.
Peter Buchanan, the deputy chief executive of COI, explains: "It's important for the working group to strike the right balance.
"We don't want something too dictatorial that would make it impossible for agencies to qualify. It's about championing best practice."
"While ISBA is concentrating on environmental claims in advertising, we're focusing on the issue of sustainable procurement," he adds. And it's not only COI; private sector advertisers including Marks & Spencer, BSkyB and Eurostar are also demanding an environmental conscience from their agencies.
The other big incentive for agencies to take environmental steps is staff morale. This is particularly true of the bigger agencies, where keeping up morale is often more difficult than in their smaller, more entrepreneurial rivals. Jim Carroll, the chairman of the 455 staff at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London, explains: "The company should reflect the ethical interests and attitudes of its employees. If you want to talk to the modern employee, they want to know what the company is giving and want to feel part of it and want to 'do', not just 'give'."
He believes this is a new concept: "When I joined the business it was seen to be something best kept separate and discrete.
"To publicise or put on public show our charitable actions was trying to make capital of them ... but times have moved on, there's no longer cynicism about transparency."
In addition, it seems larger agencies tend to have more developed environmental policies than their smaller counterparts, because as established businesses they have the capital, and infrastructure, to invest in green strategies. Of the agencies featured opposite, for example, Beattie McGuinness Bungay's promises are the most vague. And James Murphy, a founder of the new start-up Adam & Eve, admits it hasn't really got a green policy yet (although it will be looking for sustainable premises).
This indicates that for now, green policies are something of an expensive luxury. It will be interesting to observe how much continued investment the initiatives enjoy if the expected downturn bites over the next two years.
BEATTIE MCGUINNESS BUNGAY
We recently took on two graduate recruits. Whenever we undertake these processes, confronted with more 'As' and 'Firsts' than you can shake a stick at, its easy to come away feeling a bit of a thicko.
But recently a new, deeper humiliation has struck us. We have (let's claim the credit) bred a generation whose ethics and concern for those other than themselves runs far deeper than it did for many in our generation.
For this group, and increasingly many others, combining strong ethics with a strong business performance is no longer an optional extra, it's fundamental. The green agenda is a big part of this. So while we don't have a 'policy' (we pride ourselves on not having many of those), we do take action.
We recycle, take energy reduction measures, use public transport when we can, low-impact cars when we can't.
We offset our flights, use only ethically sourced water, have our heating so that it's only one notch above bollock cold in winter and just below bloody baking in summer.
EURO RSCG LONDON
Following a full energy savings assessment by Energy Intelligent Solutions/Carbon Trust, we have embarked on a carbon emissions reduction programme. This follows the Euro RSCG UK Group turning carbon neutral at the beginning of 2007.
We are a long way from having a clear conscience, but we have a plan in place that is being actioned and embraced by management and staff alike. The first phase is to reduce energy use, costs and associated carbon dioxide emissions from our building. While we are a relatively small contributor (288 CO2 tonnes per year or classified as typical) we still recognise the need to reduce our impact. We are following the audit's recommendations - embarking on a reduction programme comprised of target setting; a formal energy policy; more efficient use of technologies; greater levels of monitoring; changes in procurement policy over time and staff involvement.
An energy committee involving department heads and senior management delivers and reviews actions. In addition, some small (yet significant) steps already taken include fitting of door closers on external doors; re-setting of boiler operation times and reduced wastage via increased recycling provision.
Unfortunately, environmental responsibility is a matter of substance not spin. So no easy slogans or glib announcements. It is too easy to do a few symbolic things and convince yourself you are making a difference.
To achieve anything good, you've got to have principles. So here are ours.
First, we believe it is more important to reduce our carbon footprint than to offset it. (What are you really offsetting - carbon or guilt?)
Second, we don't think we will get anywhere unless our staff, rather than our management, lead the change.
As a consequence of these two beliefs we are doing the following. We are measuring our carbon footprint accurately, and identifying issues in three areas - water, waste and energy (including transport). We will then set precise reduction targets, publicise them to our staff, instigate campaigns and publish progress.
Meanwhile, of course, we have implemented the quick wins, including: hybrid cabs, carbon-neutral air travel (everyone should fly Silverjet), recycling, heating and lighting improvements, ecological equipment disposal and a bike purchase incentive.
Our aim is not to make a definitive claim about being carbon neutral (would you trust it?), but to reduce our impact - transparently - as much as we can.
BARTLE BOGLE HEGARTY
We set up a multi-discipline team of BBHers who try to find ways of helping us adopt greener ways of working.
They created an internal brand for staff to rally behind called the Big Green U - empowering the individual (you) to make a difference.
We held a launch week for the brand in June last year and focused on a key message per day with activities to highlight specific problems and introduce ways of solving them. Since then, we have regularly introduced more environmental policies.
Some of the things we now do include:
- We use only recycled paper, stationery and eco-friendly cleaning products.
- We encouraged our cab company to buy a fleet of Toyota Prius Cars which we now use.
- We use a green electricity supplier.
- We have introduced a new comprehensive recycling scheme and have invested in more visible and effective rubbish and recycle bins.
- We also encouraged our people not to use plastic bags for their lunch by giving each person a re-usable canvas bag.
- Banned bottled water from meetings (use filtered tap water instead).
- We have reduced the amount of water our toilets use.
- The Big Green U team leave branded flags on electrical equipment that has been left on in the agency and rolled out an automated reminder to turn off equipment.
- We gave everyone a tree to plant at Christmas.
What we are hoping to achieve is:
- 25 per cent less carbon output from 60 Kingly Street by the end of 2008.
- 25 per cent less carbon from shoots and travel by end 2008.
- Continued reduction year on year, reaching carbon neutrality by 2010, offsetting if necessary.
MindShare appointed a six-strong "green team" in March 2007 to monitor environmental impact and devise ways to change the habits of MindShare employees.
Every six months, it commissions an all-staff survey to gauge the 500 UK employees' environmental habits.
The team has three main tasks: dealing with waste disposal and recycling; monitoring energy efficiency; and the implementation of best practice initiatives - including the unnecessary use of travel to, and from, appointments.
Waste-disposal initiatives include centralised hubs with paper and plastic recycling bins, the use of eco-friendly cups and cutlery and a concerted effort to use filtered MindShare water during meetings. The energy efficiency drive includes monitoring mobile phone charging, and the use of energy efficient lightbulbs throughout the building.
Best practice includes encouraging MindShare employees to use public transport.
The agency is also looking into ways to reduce international flights by using more video conferencing.
MindShare is encouraged by the example set by all our clients, including HSBC, BP and COI, to reduce the environmental impact of their businesses.
Upcoming initiatives are set to include "walk to work" days and measuring the tonnage of our waste.
MindShare's mission statement on the environmental issue is: "For each of us at MindShare to be aware of what our environmental impact is and to reduce it through our behaviour."
At Engine, we've got a close eye on our emissions. And to make sure we're all doing our bit we created a team of 12 people from across our companies, armed them with a sensible budget, and the Our Little Bit strategy was born.
We know that lots of small steps can add up to a big difference. So peppered around our buildings we have stickers bearing encouragements such as "We switched to paper from a sustainable source. And because your bottoms were green with envy, we've switched to recycled toilet paper in Golden Square too" and "Presenting in Paris? Try the train. Shooting in Tooting? Try the Tube. Flights and cabs can take longer and the ham and Emmental paninis on Eurostar are great."
We try to give immediate benefits as well: "If we all printed double-sided we'd use around 60,000 fewer sheets of paper a year, and by the laws of probability that's got to mean less paper jams."
We've got a way to go, but Our Little Bit is already making a difference - in a year we've quadrupled the number of plastic bottles recycled (or in Engine speak; the weight of eight 118 118 runners!). And next year maybe we'll make others envious if we get ISO 14001 certified.
ARCHIBALD INGALL STRETTON
Archibald Ingall Stretton has been building its environmental commitment for the past two years, since Stuart Archibald became a trustee of The Climate Group, a worldwide, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to fighting climate change.
The commitment has proven popular with staff and both current and prospective clients, who recognise their moral responsibility to the environment. WRAP, the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme, is also a client.
The agency's focus is on cutting emissions first, before aiming to offset its emissions. It operates a range of in-house initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, with an extensive recycling programme, green energy tariffs, agency bicycles for staff to borrow. It has also banned the use of plastic bags, providing reusable cotton bags for shopping trips.
With a ban on plastic bottles, the agency uses mains water purifiers and carbonators.
Fairtrade and organic products are preferred and all suppliers are selected based on their commitment to sustainability. The agency also advises clients on shaping their own environmental policies. Using some energy is unavoidable in the running of a business, so what can't be done without is offset through approved programmes via Carbon Neutral Company and Climatecare including projects in China and Germany. Video conferencing cuts down on unnecessary travel. Stuart is even catching the Tube these days.
This article was first published on Campaign