Belinda Noble
Sep 21, 2023

'Havas, you’re only as green as your clients': Belinda Noble

A B-Corp on the one hand and Big Oil on the other? No matter how Havas and others justify the tango, can dirty alliances live beside clean credentials, questions Comms Declare founder.

'Havas, you’re only as green as your clients': Belinda Noble

Remember when Havas became the first major agency in the world to announce its B-Corp certification? Becoming a B-Corp is a rigorous process, involving sustainability practices in all areas of operations and many are justifiably proud of their B-Corp status.

But perhaps, less so today.

Because apparently being a B-Corp doesn’t rule out promoting Shell, one of the largest greenhouse gas producers in history. A company that just scraped its carbon offset plan and reneged on promises to reduce oil production. A company that is planning to increase fossil gas production and that is appealing a Dutch court decision forcing it to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. A company that loudly proclaims it will be net zero by 2050 in its marketing, but then adds in the small print that 2050 is "currently outside our planning period."

In making the announcement in 2021, then Havas New York CEO, Laura Maness trumpeted, “The decision to become a certified B-Corp was made based on our desire to become not only the best company in the world, but the best company for the world.”

Reconciling that ambition with taking the Shell media account is cognitive dissonance on an Olympic scale.

There is no doubt that Shell’s marketing could be improved. It has recently had ads banned in the UK and is being investigated for alleged greenwashing by Australia’s corporate regulator.

But better marketing does not reduce petroleum and gas production, especially in a company that has made it extremely clear it is prioritising short term profits.

And we need to reduce petroleum and gas production. To reach net zero by 2050, the International Energy Agency says we must have a “massive clean energy expansion” this decade and a “huge decline in the use of fossil fuels” from around four fifths of energy today to one fifth in 2050.

Sadly, Havas is not the only agency to recently take up a new fossil fuel account. Coal, oil and gas companies are reinvesting record profits from the Ukraine war in marketing and lobbying. Comms Declare and Clean Creatives F-list investigation found a jump in fossil fuel contracts this year to a record 500.

We found 92 agencies in Australia now represent fossil fuels—nearly double the number last year.

Havas and others may argue their engagement with big polluters will result in better business practices and it allows them to influence corporations from within.

The best minds in climate change and social sciences disagree. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) most recent report called for an end to fossil fuel marketing and PR. The United Nations Secretary General told the UN that the “massive public relations machine raking in billions to shield the fossil fuel industry from scrutiny” needs to be held to account.

For those of us in the communications industries who care about global warming, the Havas news has been a shocking blow. The group had seemed to be a front runner in ethical advertising and its UK agency won the ‘Sustainability Best Practice Award’ at last years' Ad Net Zero Awards.

However the bosses at Havas may have rationalised their decision, and whatever positive steps they have taken in the past, my message is: You can’t be a green company while promoting dirty clients.

Belinda Noble founder and president at Comms Declare. 

Campaign Asia

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