Facing outside pressure, Edelman launches initiative to focus ESG, sustainability, purpose and climate services

In a coordinated campaign, celebrities and influencers have been urging the world’s largest PR firm to stop working with fossil fuel companies. The firm has named Martin Whittaker (pictured), CEO of Just Capital, as senior adviser and head of Edelman Impact.

Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital, will head Edelman Impact.
Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital, will head Edelman Impact.

NEW YORK: Edelman has launched Edelman Impact, an initiative that brings the agency's ESG, sustainability, purpose and climate offerings to the forefront of its global business strategy. 

The launch is taking place less than a week from the conclusion of climate summit COP26 in Glasgow, and days after the firm came under fire from celebrities and activists for its work with fossil fuel clients. Edelman is promising to do more to help clients hold the limit of global warming to the 1.5 C agreed upon by world leaders in the Glasgow Climate Pact. 

"We recognize the responsibility of the private sector in the wake of, I would say, a pretty disappointing outcome of COP26, and that won't do," said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. "It's going to have to be a business that does this, and we want to play a leading role in fighting climate change."

Edelman said communications plays a key role in encouraging businesses to teach their customers how to make good decisions about climate change. To that end, Edelman has created a set of principles to guide the firm's client engagement for sustainability, which includes partnering with those committed to accelerating action, putting science at the core of information, including diverse employees in the decision-making process, focusing on a just transition and holding itself accountable through regular reporting.

Immediate actions include launching a 60-day assessment of Edelman's client portfolio, establishing science and values-based criteria for client engagement, formalizing clear criteria for climate communications and creating a task force for internal climate conversations. 

Edelman is also establishing a board-level committee that will release a semi-annual report on its progress and submit the report to the Science Based Targets initiative for independent validation. 

The firm has named Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital, as senior adviser and head of Edelman Impact. He will work with Edelman in addition to his role as CEO of Just Capital, a nonprofit that focuses on holding companies accountable to improve their social impact. 

The agency also named Robert Casamento as the first global head of climate at Edelman. He will advise all Edelman clients on taking next steps to build on the firm's commitment to a science-based emissions reduction goal for its operations. 

Whittaker and Casamento will work closely with Deanna Tallon in the newly created role of MD of sustainability. Tallon is returning to Edelman after working as chief communications officer for SystemIQ, a company focused on the accelerated achievement of the Paris Agreement standards.

Last week, more than 100 celebrities and influencers called on Edelman in an open letter to end its work with fossil-fuel companies such as ExxonMobil. Using the tag, #EdelmanDropExxon, activists used posts across social media channels to accuse the firm of “actively contributing to fossil fuel emissions through its marketing activities.”

In response, Edelman affirmed that climate change is "one of today's most important global challenges" and urged collaboration across institutions and sectors as a solution.

Asked this week about continuing to work with fossil fuel clients like ExxonMobile while launching initiatives like Impact, Edelman said he welcomes the challenge of walking the tightrope.

"We absolutely feel uniquely capable of moving our clients toward all of these targets of net zero emissions and keeping warming under 1.5," he said. "The nature of business is to offer a service at a time of need, and there is certainly a necessity of having communication drive action now." 

While part of Edelman's new principles includes an assessment of the firm's client portfolio, Edelman expects to have an "honest discussion" with clients and come to a "good outcome." 

"I believe in the mission of energy companies and providing energy to the billion people in the world who don't have any," he said, noting the importance of the transition from oil to natural gas. "I want Edelman to be the agency of choice for any institution or company committed to climate action."

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