We must help smaller companies join the war on carbon

We must help smaller companies join the war on carbon

A guide for smaller media owners and agencies on how to tackle the challenge of decarbonisation.


As world leaders head off to Sharm El Sheikh for COP27, it’s probably a good time to think about how the media industry is getting on with its own journey of tackling climate change and carbon emissions. Are media companies talking the talk and walking the walk?

If you are one of the big guns, you probably have the resources available to have a dedicated team to drive not only sustainable initiatives but also the “Social” and “Governance” behind the dreaded ESG acronym. There are legislative and financial regulations as well as share price implications of not having things in place; this is a major priority. More and more companies are looking at every aspect of what they do – I even heard that the Mail Metro Upfront and Centre Showcase a couple of weeks ago was completely carbon neutral.

All the big agencies are tangibly tidying up supply lines and helping to educate anyone willing to listen to what clients are thinking and doing. From a personal point of view, many thanks to WPP, Havas and Dentsu for taking the time to aid me in my own educational and sustainability journey. The networks are also helping to develop carbon calculators, which aims to change the future of the planning process. Let’s just hope they can all agree on an industry standard! There is, in short, a lot of thinking and doing going on.

Bravo, full marks, and big pats on the back to the big guns. But what about the smaller guns that don’t have the resources to have an ESG strategy, employ a head of sustainability, or, whilst they are keeping their heads above water, even have the time to think about how they will tackle climate change within their organisations?

Getting your house in order

If you are a smaller media owner that sells to the big agencies, you are probably already being asked what your sustainability plans are. Recently a WPP spokesman stated that “over the next three to five years media investment will move to publishers and platforms that decarbonise”. They went on to argue that “reporting and reduction will move from request to requirement”. In short, get your house in order. If not, you will not be part of media schedules.

If you are a smaller media agency, every pitch document and RFP will (if it’s not already) be asking you how soon you will be carbon neutral, and to substantiate how you are going to get there.

If this all feels daunting to you, you wouldn’t be the only one. Below is a simple guide as to what you need to do:

Firstly, get buy-in from all internal stakeholders, both senior and junior, and communicate why you are looking to decarbonise and how you are going to do it. Set up a task force to help drive progress.

Then, employ a specialist agency to audit your current carbon footprint. I know of at least 11 companies that are ISO 14064 accredited that can audit your current carbon footprint. They will take a deep-dive data collection from your company to build a picture of how much carbon you are omitting.

From this, you will receive a report and a roadmap telling you what you need to do to help reduce your carbon footprint (this is your carbon reduction program).

The IPA’s Ad Net Zero document states that 60% of a media company’s carbon footprint is business travel. With a Zoom account, do you really need to go and see Friedrich or Frederikke in Frankfurt face-to-face on a cold and wet Friday? The next biggest is your energy provider: if your current gas and electricity provider doesn’t use renewals, find someone that does.

Join Ad Net Zero, the industry-wide initiative led by the Advertising Association to reduce the carbon impact of developing, producing, and running advertising. It’s a statement to all that you care about the climate crisis, and that you are doing something about it.

Use of offsets should be aligned with company values

It is very difficult to become completely carbon neutral, as we will all have some form of footprint. However, once you reach the point whereby you have done as much as possible, you then employ a reputable carbon credit company where you can buy offset credits from credible organisations such as United Nations Gold, REDD+ and Verra.

This isn’t just growing more trees, but could be more aligned with your company’s vision, priorities, and values or with what your employees want, such as nature-based solutions, community projects or research into new fuel types.

From this, you will have your statement of intent that you can add to your website, your creds deck, and have a carbon statement that ticks all the boxes.

I hope the above has allayed any fears you may have. Good luck, and remember: if it is too tricky, or you are really struggling to know the difference between Scope 1, 2 and 3, then call in a media consultant that understands both sides and can hold your hand through the whole process.

Ian Tournes is the founder of Tournes Media Consultancy and was previously EMEA commercial director at Time Out Group.

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