The CarbonNeutral Company co-founder Sue Welland caused a stir last week by accusing major PR consultancies of ‘failing to grasp the climate-change nettle themselves (PRWeek, 10 November).
PR agencies, she argued, were lagging behind ad agencies in adopting carbon neutrality by a ratio of around three to one. In her experience, PR agencies were more interested in advising their clients on green cred than getting their own house in order.
The CarbonNeutral Company - the organisation du jour for reducing carbon output (although there are others, such as ClimateCare) - calculates a company's ‘carbon footprint' and then charges for ‘offsetting' projects, such as reforestation.
To be fair, all of the top ten agencies - as defined by PRWeek's 2006 Top 150 Consultancies chart - tell PRWeek they have robust environmental plans, ranging from supporting alternative-energy sources to recycling printer
cartridges and using low-energy light-bulbs. But not every PR agency can be, or wants to be, carbon-neutral. The approach has its critics and, as PRCA D-G Patrick Barrow pointed out last week, for an agency to establish its precise ‘carbon footprint' it would need to take into account the environmental impact of clients - a tricky task.
Prepared to pay
It can also be expensive: for a 50-person business, offsetting via CarbonNeutral costs around £2,500 a year (each person ‘produces' roughly five tons of carbon a year, while carbon-offsetting costs are around £10 a ton).
The Euro RSCG Worldwide group - including PR firms Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster and Maitland - is working with CarbonNeutral (click here for an interview with Biss chairman Graham Lancaster about the group's green strategy).
Capital MS&L, too, has gained CarbonNeutral accreditation. Agency joint MD Richard Campbell says the process, which took around six months, was less trying than expected.
Chime Communications CEO Chris Satterthwaite plans to achieve carbon-neutral status for the whole group, including the Bell Pottinger set of PR firms, by the year's end.
He advises: ‘The key is not to think you can offset carbon - you have to reduce your output first. We have our own agency, Smart, which handles this problem for clients, so, in conjunction with it and The CarbonNeutral Company, we have been working on the project for more than six months.'
Satterthwaite says agencies need environmental evangelists to ensure the company gets behind the initiative. He says: ‘Each part of Chime has a champion to make sure the progress was being made at all levels. That's not about planting trees, but turning off lights and supporting alternative energy sources.' Satterthwaite even believes such corporate green-thinking has boosted employee morale.
‘The general enthusiasm for the project has moved into private lives - staff are starting the same initiatives at home.' But, he stresses: ‘This is a business decision. Within years, a good green record will be a prerequisite for any agency, and that's starting already. And it's important to be an agency that staff want to work for, and that means being environmentally conscious.'
Ketchum, meanwhile, has encouraged its staff to commute by bike by installing showers in its offices. CEO David Gallagher says around 30 of its staff now cycle to work - up from five in the past year. He adds: ‘We now also have two wormeries into which most of our food waste is dispensed, creating fertiliser that we then use for our rooftop garden.'
Over at Weber Shandwick, international head of corporate responsibility and sustainability Brendan May says: ‘For a long time PR has been behind other industries on environmental issues, but we are getting better. As an agency we're a long way from being carbon- neutral but our carbon output and environmental record has improved dramatically.'
WS also uses staff members to police colleagues, making sure they recycle waste.
‘One of the steps we took was to make printing more difficult, which initially raised grumbles but has now been accepted,' says May. ‘Instead of printing off reams of paper, employees now have to go through a more complicated process, and all printing is double-sided.'
This year, WS changed its procurement policy. Paint, chairs and - from next year - even canteen food will be bought only if ethically sound and environmentally friendly.
May argues that any costs are swiftly recouped. ‘It stands to reason that when you save energy by turning off lights and computers, your energy bill will tumble,' he says.
Hill & Knowlton, meanwhile, says it seeks Blue Angel certification - a German recognition of environmentally friendly products - for all printers.
CEO Sally Costerton says: ‘Hill & Knowlton endeavours to recycle as much as possible. Becoming carbon-neutral is very much on our radar and we are liaising with WPP to establish a more holistic approach for the group.'
There appears to be little justification for resisting the pro-green tide - for agencies of all sizes.
As Satterthwaite reasons: ‘Under James Murdoch and [comms director] Matthew Anderson, BSkyB has gone CarbonNeutral. If a company of that size can make the changes, then there's no reason why PR agencies can't do the same.'
‘Green' tips for agencies
01. Avoid simultaneously heating and cooling the office: set air-conditioning to come on when the temperature reaches 24°C, while adjusting your heating to switch off when it gets above 19°C.
02. Avoid placing ‘hot' equipment, such as photocopiers, near to vents, because the system will have to work harder to cool the area.
03. Replace older 38mm fluorescent tubes with 26mm versions.
04. By turning down the heating just one degree, a saving of up to ten per cent can be made on energy bills.
05. A computer left on 24/7 will cost around £37 a year, but if switched off at night and at weekends, this can be reduced to around £10 a year.
06. Make use of individual lights, such as desk lamps, when natural daylight is not sufficient. This is cheaper than lighting your entire office.
Source: The Carbon Trust