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Screenshot from WPP's video about it's "net zero" emissions pledge

Ad agency WPP released a video recently announcing its plan to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions by 2030, but the anti-greenwashing campaign Clean Creatives took issue with the company's pledge—considering it counts fossil fuel giants among its clients. (Image: WPP/screenshot)

Corporate Ad Giant WPP Targeted for Helping Big Oil Greenwash Its 'Net Zero' Hogwash

"The climate impact of an advertising agency is the work it does in the world, not the lightbulbs it has in its offices."

Julia Conley

The climate-focused Clean Creatives campaign released a mocking ad video Tuesday to rebuke the greenwashing of corporate advertising giant WPP, which represents some of the world's biggest polluters.

The satirical video is a send up of WPP's announcement ahead of Earth Day this year in which the ad agency claimed it was setting targets for its own greenhouse gas emissions going "beyond the required carbon reductions outlined in the Paris Agreement."

"For agencies, sustainability is about your clients, not just your company." —Clean Creatives

The problem with the pledge—a vow to reach net zero emissions within the firm's operations by 2025 and its supply chain by 2030—is that it makes no mention of WPP's actual biggest contribution to carbon emissions: the advertising and PR work it does for fossil fuel giants including BP, Exxon, and Shell.
 
“WPP's net zero commitment is just another empty promise if it doesn't include a pledge to stop promoting fossil fuel companies," said Clean Creatives campaign director Duncan Meisel. "The climate impact of an advertising agency is the work it does in the world, not the lightbulbs it has in its offices. If WPP is still polluting our airwaves with climate misinformation on behalf of clients like BP and Shell, they’re part of the problem, not the solution."
 
Climate Creatives' video mocked the stylized video released by WPP in April, with a voiceover introducing "a big ad agency that makes big ads" and that's "going zero" by cutting its net carbon emissions—before adding that its fossil fuel clients will continue emitting planet-heating pollution.
 
"But our biggest clients aren't going zero. They're going over two billion tons of CO2 per year," the voiceover says. "But we're going zero, and that's what matters, right?"
 
Clean Creatives called WPP's goal of zeroing out its current carbon footprint of 5.4 million tons per year "a welcome contribution."
 
"But it's nothing compared to the two billion tons of CO2 equivalent that WPP's fossil fuel clients produce every year," said the campaign.
 
WPP could easily cancel out its own net zero pledge by continuing to produce advertising content for fossil fuel giants, Clean Creatives said.
 
"If WPP's advertising helped just one of their clients, BP, increase sales by .3%, it would wipe out all the gains made by cutting their own emissions," the group said.
 
The Clean Creatives campaign was launched last year by Fossil Free Media to pressure ad and PR agencies and employees to stop working with fossil fuel companies. 
 
WPP's video and net zero plan offers a prime example of how the advertising industry can cut its own emissions but still help fuel the climate emergency by continuing to work with oil and gas giants, Clean Creatives said.
 
"By greenwashing companies like BP, ad agencies like WPP are doing real damage to the very concept of net zero and our ability to reach it," said Jamie Henn, Fossil Fuel Media director. "Our goal is to get agencies to take responsibility for the work they're putting into the world. That means making a commitment by this year’s COP26 UN Climate Talks to stop working with fossil fuel companies and only engage with clients who have verifiable plans to zero out their emissions."
 
Just last year, a WPP-produced ad for BP claimed it was focusing on clean energy investments, despite the fact that the company was still spending 97% of its expenditures on oil and gas instead of renewable energy. The ad was pulled from the airwaves after U.K. watchdog Client Earth filed a formal complaint. 
 
"WPP's work for BP was ruled to be an unlawful misrepresentation by the U.K. government," said Clean Creatives. "WPP's work for Chevron is the subject of an active Federal Trade Commission complaint for greenwash. WPP's work for Shell is the subject of a lawsuit by New York City for misleading consumers."
 
"For agencies, sustainability is about your clients, not just your company," the campaign said.

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