How Clean Creatives Is Inspiring Creative Agency Employees (And Clients) To Drop Fossil Fuel Collaborations

Clean Creatives is a global initiative to end the creative, media and PR industry’s association with fossil fuel polluters. The movement has garnered support from over 800 agencies and 2,000 individuals in the creative field. The core mission of Clean Creatives is to expose the truth about fossil fuel companies. The motivation behind this initiative is clear: fossil fuel companies are the world’s largest polluters and the world’s most prominent greenwashers, and they exhibit no signs of changing their ways. I spoke with Co-Founder Duncan Meisel to find out more for their work.

The statistics are staggering. Meisel emphasized the urgency of the situation, “On average, fossil fuel companies spent just 1% of their cash on clean energy or carbon capture projects in 2022, and it’s just irresponsible to promote that kind of business model during a climate emergency. Historically, advertising and PR agencies have been a crucial part of their polluting business plan, whether by promoting climate denial or making the case that they have changed. The creative industry has the power to change that, and we are working with them to make it happen.”

Clean Creatives recently released ‘The F List,’ which spotlights creative and PR agencies involved with fossil fuel clients. This list is a powerful tool to shed light on the agencies that continue engaging with the companies responsible for the climate emergency. The 2023 F-List featured nearly 300 agencies worldwide that worked with one or more fossil fuel companies in the past two years, ranging from industry giants like Edelman, Ogilvy, Mediabrands, BBDO, and Publicis to smaller regional agencies that cater exclusively to fossil fuel clients. “Mind you, those are two years where we all experienced unprecedented climate disasters – drought, superstorms, massive fires, and smoke plumes – but too many agencies still chose to work with the companies responsible for the climate emergency,” Meisel added.

Interestingly, many agencies are becoming more discreet about their associations with polluters, choosing not to display such collaborations on their websites or portfolios openly. This shift suggests that larger agencies with diverse client bases are increasingly aware of the reputational risks of working with polluters – especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent.

Clean Creatives seeks to empower employees of the agencies with the information they need to advocate for change within their agencies. Meisel mentioned that the response from employees has been positive, as many are already thinking about the climate crisis’s implications for their lives and the future of the planet, “A lot of the details of fossil fuel work are hard to find, so by putting it in one place we can hopefully provide a jumping off point to conversations inside agencies about how to put an end to this kind of work. The reality is that if you had to breathe wildfire smoke on the way to the office this summer, you’re already thinking about this. If you’re considering what the future looks like for your kids, you’re already thinking about this. If you’re one of the millions of young people who participated in the global climate strikes and are now entering the workforce, you’re already thinking about this.”

For those looking to make a change and take a stand against fossil fuel collaborations, Clean Creatives introduced ‘The Clean Creatives Toolkit for Agency Activists,’ a valuable resource that distills the top lessons learned about being an effective advocate for climate action within your agency. The toolkit offers a detailed, practical guide to initiating and leading a revolution within your creative agency. To access the toolkit and learn more about Clean Creatives’ mission, you can visit cleancreatives.org and get involved in the fight to transform the creative industry and address the urgent climate crisis.

By providing employees with the necessary tools and knowledge, Clean Creatives is facilitating conversations within agencies about how to end collaborations with fossil fuel clients. This empowers employees to align their work with their values and interests, ultimately contributing to the fight against climate change.

Meisel also underscored the importance of the companies that DO prioritize climate action to engage in conversations with their creative agencies regarding their associations with fossil fuel clients, “Any company that sees climate action as a priority needs to talk to their agencies about their fossil fuel clients. If your goal is to reduce carbon pollution, you need to ensure that your agency is not working with fossil fuel companies that are trying to increase carbon pollution. It’s a conflict of interest and a conflict of values and purpose.”

The first step is simply asking agencies about their fossil fuel clients, allowing companies to evaluate potential conflicts and risks. “Just asking is powerful and can lead to real change. From there, you can include it as a line with points in your next RFP or procurement process or move towards making a pledge not to work with agencies that have fossil fuel clients, “ Meisel added. Asking about fossil fuel clients is a brand’s extremely high-leverage climate engagement. You don’t have to invest in new technology or new supply chain materials; you just need to ask some questions, and if you do, you can pull out one of the critical legs of support for the fossil fuel economy.

Clean Creatives recently took a bold step by challenging B Labs, the nonprofit organization responsible for the B Corps Certification. The challenge arose from the fact that some B Corps-certified companies were working with fossil fuel firms, a situation seemingly at odds with the core values of the B Corps community. Duncan Meisel explained the approach, “What we did is submit a request to B Labs to review the certification of agencies that work for fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel companies aren’t allowed to be B Corps, but agencies that promote fossil fuel companies are right now. The fossil fuel business model as it exists today wouldn’t be possible without marketing services, and providing those services is completely antithetical to the mission of the B Corp community.”

This move highlights an apparent contradiction, wherein agencies promoting fossil fuel companies operate within the B Corps community despite the fundamental misalignment with its mission. The response from other B Corps has been positive, reflecting a shared recognition of the paradox. Moreover, B Labs has displayed openness to the conversation, which Duncan appreciated. B Labs has a history of reviewing the certification status of companies, and this challenge presents an opportunity for them to scrutinize this issue and potentially refine their policies. It underscores the importance of ensuring that certified companies are fully aligned with the values and principles of the B Corps community.

Clean Creatives exemplifies the power of advocacy and awareness in addressing climate change. By shining a light on the creative industry’s associations with fossil fuel polluters, Clean Creatives is driving meaningful change and inspiring others to take action in the fight against the climate crisis.