WPP Rallies $60 Billion in Client Spend to Hit Net Zero Goal

Advertising giant WPP Plc pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain to net zero by 2030 in an industry-leading push that will mobilize billions of dollars in media spending.

The London-based firm said its emissions were estimated at 5.4 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2019 -- comparable to the annual emissions of Uganda. Only 2% of that comes from WPP’s own operations, with most of the rest from media partners such as broadcasters and publishers that display ads on behalf of WPP’s clients.

WPP plans to bring its own emissions to net zero by 2025 and will use its annual media spending of more than $60 billion to push those partners to do the same by 2030, Chief Executive Officer Mark Read said. Partners’ emissions could become a factor in deciding where to buy ads.

WPP Rallies $60 Billion in Client Spend to Hit Net Zero Goal

“It will absolutely impact where we place our advertising over the next nine years,” Read said in an interview. “Those companies that move more quickly will have a competitive advantage.”

WPP’s target covers its operations, work production for clients and media buying. The company will reduce its footprint by cutting down on travel and building more energy-efficient buildings. Read said he expects business travel to return to two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

While the companies that WPP buys advertising from will be included in the target, its clients won’t be. Read said most of the group’s top clients have set their own net zero emission goals.

He said the company will continue to work with the energy industry. The ad agency network has worked for decades with oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc. Last year, BP withdrew an advertising campaign, following accusations of greenwashing from ClientEarth, a non-profit group of environmental lawyers. CEO Bernard Looney, who is seeking to transform BP’s image, said the ads wouldn’t be replaced under a new policy to end “corporate reputation advertising.”

Read said WPP is striving to avoid greenwashing -- the use of misleading labels or advertising to create an undeserved image of environmental responsibility. He argued that being transparent is increasingly important when there is so much scrutiny of claims on social media.

“We’re absolutely against any form of greenwashing, but we do think that energy companies that are taking steps should be able to communicate what they’re doing,” Read said. “In the age of social media it’s very hard to greenwash effectively. It’s much better to take steps that you need to take and communicate them in the right way.”

Earlier this year, Shell came under fire on social media after running a poll asking consumers to change their own behavior to reduce their carbon footprints. The post backfired, with users including activist Greta Thunberg accusing the energy giant of greenwashing.

WPP plans to submit its emissions reduction goals to the Science-Based Targets initiative, which requires signatories to transform their businesses rather than simply buying offsets. Read said he expects the push will help bring more business to WPP as clients evaluate their own environmental impact.

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