DeSmog

Advertising’s Top Prizes for ‘Sustainability’ Go to Agencies With Polluting Clients

Wins in the category for agencies owned by WPP, Publicis Groupe, and Edelman didn’t factor in the work these agencies do for the fossil fuel industry.
Ellen Ormesher
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Edelman has won a top ad industry award for a campaign promoting energy and emissions savings, even though it is notorious for its work with fossil fuel companies and trade groups. Credit: Edelman

Advertising agencies working with some of the world’s biggest polluters have been given sustainability honours at the prestigious Cannes Lions awards — despite their track records of working with major oil and gas companies and other polluting clients.

Agencies affiliated with the holding groups WPP and Publicis Groupe, along with the PR company Edelman, received awards in the “Sustainable Development Goals” category at the annual festival in mid-June.

According to the Cannes Lions website, this category “celebrates creative problem solving, solutions or other initiatives that harness creativity and seek to positively impact the world”. Judges evaluate submissions for how they have “contributed to or advanced the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development across people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships”.

The top prize went to the Paris-based ad agency Publicis Conseil and automotive giant Renault, for a campaign which saw the car manufacturer provide vehicles for workers in areas with poor access to public transport, or “mobility deserts”. 

A subsidiary of the French holding company Publicis Groupe, Paris-based Publicis Conseil has worked since 2015 with the French energy firm Energie, and previously held a contract with TotalEnergies, the world’s sixth largest oil and gas company, according to DeSmog research.

Edelman, the world’s largest private public relations firm, took home a gold medal in the sustainability category for a campaign with the shipping company DP World. The ad also received a Titanium Lion for “game-changing creativity” and a silver medal in the B2B or business-to-business category. 

The campaign, called “The Move to -15”,  describes how cold-storage temperatures for frozen food transportation can be increased safely from -17 to -15 degrees Centigrade. The change promises energy savings of “25 terawatt-hours and 17.7M tons of carbon [emissions] annually” according to Edelman’s website.

In the ad, a voiceover states that “in a warming world, every degree has a significant impact.”

However, Edelman  has long boasted a number of climate-heating clients. The agency recently renewed its global PR contract with Shell and — according to the campaign group Clean Creatives — has ongoing relationships with oil and gas majors Chevron and Sasol.

The Climate Investigations Center has described Edelman as “the dominant PR firm for trade associations that promote an anti-environmental agenda”. 

A Cannes Lions award is the most sought-after honour for advertising and PR professionals. The annual event draws in thousands of industry workers from around the world. Credit: Jovan Vasiljević (Unsplash License)

Other gold medal winners in the sustainability category included AKQA and Ogilvy Columbia, both owned by the London-based global media group WPP. AKQA currently has a contract with Saudi Aramco, according to Clean Creatives, while DeSmog research has shown that Ogilvy has longstanding ties to a number of oil and gas clients that include BP, Shell, and Chevron.

Ogilvy also received a Grand Prix award at Cannes Lions for a recycling advert created for Coca Cola, the world’s biggest plastic polluter. 

It’s not the first time advertising’s “sustainability” awards have honoured campaigns created by agencies that also work with the fossil fuel industry. In January, DeSmog reported that three-quarters of the  UK’s top sustainable advertising awards went to agencies with polluting clients.

Just a few weeks before the Cannes Lions ceremony, United Nations General Secretary Antonio Gutteres urged governments to ban fossil fuel advertising, and for agencies to cut all ties with the industry.

Speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on June 5, Guterres called on the ad industry “to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction”.

Ellen Ormesher
Ellen is a reporter with interests across climate, culture, and industry. She was previously a senior reporter covering sustainability at The Drum. Her work has also been featured in The Guardian.

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