BfG News Issue 6 - Expert's View: Corporate Responsibility

06 Nov 2007|Added Value

Each month News invites an expert to give us their view on a topical issue.  This month, we ask Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP and keynote speaker at our ‘Branding for Good’ Summit in March next year, for his view on climate change and corporate responsibility.  Sir Martin Sorrell has been CEO of WPP, since he founded the Company in 1986. Over this period, WPP has become one of the world’s leading communications services companies, employing nearly 102,000 people in over 2,000 offices in 106 countries.

It seems pretty certain that 2007 will be seen by historians as the year the world finally woke up to climate change. Scientists, politicians, business leaders, investors, pressure groups, and the public are now deeply concerned about the potential consequences.  There has been a remarkable shift in attitude.  Climate change is no longer seen as the fanciful risk of marginal changes in weather based on scant evidence.

Three events in the last year or so have made sure, in my opinion, that climate change will continue to be a dominant business trend.  First, the deal between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to absorb Microsoft stock into Berkshire Hathaway to enable the Gates Foundation to do greater charity work.  Second, Richard Branson’s decision to donate up to $3 billion of profits from his Virgin companies over the next 10 years for climate change initiatives.  And finally, the carbon neutrality stance by the likes of Rupert Murdoch & his son James of Newscorp & BSkyB respectively, probably stimulated by Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth”.  This has been followed by high street retailers, like Marks & Spencer with its ‘Plan A’ commitment and Wal-Mart’s ‘Sustainability 360’, its strategy for reducing their environmental impacts. None of these has been done for altruistic reasons; they make commercial sense.

At WPP we too have sharpened our senses.  We have committed to becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2007 and more significantly, to cut our carbon footprint by 20 per cent over the next four years and to continue to offset our remaining CO2 emissions.

Early this year, I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and was asked the question “do you ever push back on clients that want to communicate a product or activity that can be deemed greenwash”.  My response is simple:  you may be able to fool people once but not twice.  You will be found out if your green claims do not stand up to scrutiny. If you want to build a brand for the long-term, no company should ignore government, society, NGOs or the environment.  Long term brand building depends critically on an understanding of the needs of all constituencies.”

Sir Martin Sorrell

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