UK PR shops pledge not to work with fossil fuel firms as Clean Creatives targets Britain

Several UK PR agencies have signed a pledge not to work with the fossil fuel industry as Clean Creatives, the campaign group targeting 'greenwashing' in the advertising and PR industries, launches in the UK.

Extinction Rebellion protested against PR agencies' work with the fossil fuel industry outside the PRWeek UK Awards last week
Extinction Rebellion protested against PR agencies' work with the fossil fuel industry outside the PRWeek UK Awards last week

Hope&Glory PR, Words + Pixels, Don't Cry Wolf, Enviral, Franses and Futerra are among the agencies that have agreed to decline future contracts with the fossil fuel industry clients. Roaring Mouse PR, New Society and Kibbo Kift Agency have also signed up to the pledge.

Clean Creatives, which originated in the US, said 172 agencies and 600 creatives have signed the pledge so far. The group is also urging clients to decline work with agencies that retain fossil fuel industry clients.

The group's expansion to the UK coincides with the start of the COP26 climate change summit on Monday (1 November).

Clean Creatives cited its research that found current and recent fossil fuel clients represented by UK advertising and PR agencies invested $57.9bn in new fossil fuel projects in 2020. In the same year, fossil fuel companies contributed 6.47 billion tons of carbon pollution, approximately 77,080 times greater than the whole UK ad industry combined, the group said.

Clean Creatives has criticised the focus on what it calls "ad net zero", which it said leaves room for large emissions increases from work with fossil fuel clients.

"The failure to address emissions from the industry's main products – influence, trust, and consumer activity – leaves the ad and PR industry far behind other major industries in the UK that are accounting for their products' carbon footprint," the group stated.

In addition to galvanising the industry, Clean Creatives said it aims to use "influential figures within politics and power" to "pressure key opinion leaders to call out the industry's worst offenders".

Clean Creatives recently accused Edelman of working with ExxonMobil to undermine anti-climate change regulation work. The agency denied the accusation.

Edelman was one target of an Extinction Rebellion protest last Wednesday outside the PRWeek UK Awards in London, which cited research by Clean Creatives. WPP was also targeted – the holding company's agencies have worked with clients including BP (Ogilvy) and Shell and ExxonMobil (Hill+Knowlton Strategies).

Clean Creatives is led by Jamie Henn, founder of Fossil Free Media, a non-profit media group that supports the movement to end fossil fuels and address the climate emergency.

Clean Creatives campaign manager Duncan Meisel said: “Despite their sustainability goals and past pledges to stop working with climate deniers, nearly all of the world’s largest PR and ad firms continue to work with fossil fuel industry clients.

"As long as they continue to engage in polluter relations, these firms will be one of our greatest barriers to climate progress. It’s time for PR and ad agencies to come clean.”

Support

UK PR agency bosses have explained their reasons for supporting the campaign in the press release from Clean Creatives.

John Brown, chief executive and founder of Don't Cry Wolf, said: "While agencies breathlessly fall over themselves to declare net zero commitments and plastic-free offices, the fact remains that until they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, it's all just hot air. We made a commitment from the start to not work with fossil fuel companies, irrespective of whether that hurts our bank balance. It's time the industry moved away from wishy-washy intent and towards powerful action."

Enviral chief executive Joss Ford said: "We're in the middle of a climate crisis, and it's our role as creatives and strategists to help communicate our way out. Scientists have done their bit – it's now time for communications agencies, in-house marketing departments and freelance communicators of all types to help bring genuine positive behaviour change, quickly."

Chloe Franses, chief executive and founder of Franses, added: "As the world's eyes settle on Glasgow over the coming fortnight and more and more agencies turn to self-promotion based on trust and purpose, it is crucial to remember the responsibility which comes with claims in this space. Dark money lobbying against climate action, funneled through agencies who detach the profit from the planet or people, is called out by this Clean Creatives campaign. I hope this can be a positive joining of forces across the industry, as it can't be a finger-pointing exercise. Now is the time to reflect, adapt and commit."

Words + Pixels client director Oli Bradley said: "For too long our industry has led and designed strategies and campaigns that shift focus away from repetitional problem areas. Continuing down this path not only undermines the work of businesses that genuinely want to make positive changes, but moves us further away from the real solutions that are so urgently needed. As comms professionals, we have the opportunity and responsibility to lead and implement change for businesses that truly want to do better, but there are no solutions for some industries.

"At Words + Pixels, we're proud to have never worked with any businesses in the fossil fuel industry, and we're delighted to continue declining work in this sector. We proudly join forces with agencies around the world and the Clean Creatives movement to help create a greener future for the industry, and our planet."

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