Why Marketers and Agencies Have a Real Responsibility to Reduce Their Carbon Footprints

Creatives should feel the climate crisis more acutely

For just about every business worldwide, taking a cold, hard look at your corporate carbon footprint seems fairly de rigueur in 2019. Last year, Gradient achieved its first stated broad goal—to make our New York and Los Angeles agencies completely carbon neutral by the end of the year, which we achieved. Now we're aiming even higher by committing to offset all our client's Gradient-led productions by the end of 2019. 

Why is this important to us? Of course, everyone on the planet has an obligation to address climate change in whatever way they can for obvious, life-sustaining reasons. But for us, as a creative company, we feel it perhaps more acutely. 

From an ethical responsibility perspective, we believe creatives have inspirational leadership powers, and therefore responsibilities for positive impact. It is creatives who conceptualize ideas that unlock marketing budgets and motivate consumers. In this world of hyper-automated everything, creativity is still what gets us all jazzed up. We therefore have to think about the impact of our creative proposals. In an industry where we create temporary experiences for a constant marketing system, thinking of how all that impacts our planet is a necessity.

Moreover, for us, addressing this issue with more than just lip service is important to another important corporate constituency—our employees. Like most creative agencies, our workforce tends to be quite young, and millenials and Gen Zs have strong feelings of individual responsibilities toward protecting the environment.

So we know how important this is. The question, then, is how to implement something designed to have both a measurable impact on the actual problem, and also show our level of commitment as a company, and maybe inspire others to do the same. Clearly, this is about more than putting extra recycling bins in the break room. 

To do this right, we worked with a specialized consulting firm called co2logic, to parse through all of our corporate energy expenditures, from travel and commuting to electricity usage and more. It's amazing how, when you work with true experts, what seems like a daunting task turns out to be a smooth and enjoyable process. 

With their guidance, we evaluated what steps we could take to reduce our existing footprint, like reimbursing Citibike commuting for example, and then evaluated the amount we needed to reinvest in carbon positive efforts. 

We learned, we improved, and we ensured we had the impact we were looking for (a familiar approach for our strategically led agency). Now we are currently analyzing the impact of the various types of projects that we handle for our clients, ensuring that we can again learn, optimize and reinject a portion of our agency's profits toward offsetting all of the impact we will have had in 2019. 

Some of the changes seem obvious, like limiting air travel whenever possible. Some changes are instructional, such as researching the best partners out there to improve our recycling of production materials. Realistically we can't offset everything, some impact is inevitable, but we can take corporate responsibility and do things like fund carbon-positive projects, or invest in companies that manufacture non-polluting solar-powered stoves to replace deforesting wood units currently used in many developing countries. 

As for the actual impact our efforts will have, we remain realistic. Gradient is growing fast, but we are still a small agency compared to the behemoths that are our clients and other agencies in New York. But now they're hearing from us about how painless and rewarding the process was, while also hearing those same values echoed from their younger workforce. Maybe that becomes the impetus that propels the bigger changes we all need. 

As we are seeing in several social movements from gun control to LGBTQ rights to female body rights, major changes can be pushed through by corporation involvement. While individuals can start movements, companies can see them through, especially creative ones that have the power to persuade, and want to be on the right side of environmental protection history. 

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Anthony Coppers
Anthony Coppers is founder and head of innovation at Gradient.