The time for talking about sustainability is over. Now it’s time to act.

Our Global Chairman, Ian Priest shares his thoughts on  how demonstrating leadership in sustainability is fast becoming critical to both recruiting and retaining talent in teams with examples from leaders in agency, entertainment, tech on their sustainability journey, as well as useful insights from sustainable business practices.

The most recent COP27 summit marks the 27th time our nations’ leaders have met since their predecessors signed up to the 1992 original climate change treaty and subsequently the 2015 Paris Agreement which pledged to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. Much has been discussed and promised since, but this talk has not led to sufficient action, so the 1.5 degree aim is at risk of being surpassed – with increasingly dire consequences for us all.

We must do more and say less – at an individual, societal, and governmental level.

I attended the Ad Net Zero Summit on the 9th and 10th November in London where UK, US, European and APAC leaders representing agencies, advertisers, media owners, production companies and industry bodies discussed the Ad Net Zero 5 point action plan. I’m proud we’re the only recruitment firm to become an Ad Net Zero supporter, most recently helping the team with the appointment of its new US Director, John Osborn. You can read more about our sustainability mission.

The main challenge discussed at the summit is how we can bridge this “say- do” gap and what role marketers can do, not only as an industry, but also what we can do to use the power of advertising to change society’s behaviour. Leaders have a crucial role to play in this.

Research by the Advertising Association has shown 71% of people working in the advertising and marketing industry are worried about its negative impact on the environment. 91% agreed that knowing their organisation was taking positive climate action would improve their job satisfaction. What is clear to me is that demonstrating leadership in sustainability is fast becoming critical to both recruiting and retaining talent in your teams.

Given Grace Blue’s role in placing transformational leaders across our industry, and as an Ad Net Zero supporter ourselves, we’ve looked at what we’re seeing and learning from leaders in sustainable business practices, agencies, entertainment and tech to share. Hopefully, these examples will serve to encourage more positive action, with all the benefits that brings to the people working in your teams, to the businesses you are responsible for, and to the planet itself.

For example, James Hand is Co-Founder of Giki, an evidence-led B Corp that helps people and companies learn to live more sustainably and to take step-by-step actions to cut their carbon footprint. His advice is that ‘many people are engaged and concerned about climate change and sustainability but don’t necessarily know what to do or how to act. As a result, they are not bringing sustainability thinking into business decision making. We help people be confident about taking practical action to address climate change and help shift mindset to consider sustainability in across the business.’ More evidence from Giki too on why this is so important when it comes to the people in your business… 73% of respondents to their own study want to work for a firm with a strong environmental commitment. For 18-24s looking for a new job, this ranked higher than home working and flexible working.

While organisations like Giki offer advice and support to companies and individuals, another organisation, ESG Tech, based in Singapore offers a data exchange platform for the collection, management, and disclosure of material and actionable first party ESG data. Founder and CEO, Andrew Gazal, says the key challenge for companies is being able to make actionable insights from available ESG data to embed sustainability in a manner fitting of employee expectations. As companies start to make outbound communication regarding their sustainability commitments, the way in which ESG data is disclosed is key to building trust within an employer brand. ESG Tech’s mission is for the platform to provide the transparency and certainty required for corporates and individuals to trust the data and insights derived from it, and to act with confidence for future generations.

Toby Southgate, Global CEO of Forsman & Bodenfors, says its all about agencies being honest and transparent in order to bring about the most change to their sustainability mission. For agencies to truly have credibility in the sustainability space, they will need to be willing to act and showcase their commitment. It’s about making choices to ensure objectives are set and met within the agency’s strategy, rather than just a generic support statement or worse, contradicting evidence.

We have also been speaking to a UK-based senior HR leader at one of our global entertainment clients who confirmed that sustainability was now “front and centre” in everything they do.  Like many firms who understand the importance of taking a forward-thinking approach to sustainability, any office development / refurbishment must now use materials that are sustainable sourced, even if it meant additional expense and any supplier used, must demonstrate this.  This client had formed employee-led environmental groups that looked at all the ways the company can improve, from travel to paper consumption, through using compostable coffee cups in the café, to ensuring there was plenty of places for employees to park their bikes, as well as ensuring that lights automatically switched off after a period of non-activity in any given room.

As I reflect on events of recent weeks, I urge all leaders to implement Ad Net Zero’s clear action plan and make sustainability a priority in our organisations to do something about it today and every day thereafter. We are well into the ‘deciding decade’ – if we collectively don’t turn our words into actions, there will be increasingly serious effects for us and the next generation.

I’ll finish with the words of Keith Weed, former CMCO of Unilever. “We are in challenging and volatile times – but they are also times of powerful opportunities and the best time to lead for a better future. Marketers have a key role here – if we take the lead, we can create sustainable growth. But it requires us to think and act more broadly and make the sustainable, responsible growth agenda mainstream.”



Grace Blue is a global executive search firm specialising in transformational leadership talent. We help brands, agencies and sports, media and entertainment organisations future-proof their businesses. We combine the knowledge, reach and rigour of a global business with the empathy, integrity and values of a local boutique specialist. Our expertise spans the disciplines of media, marketing and communications, strategy, data and insight, creative, production, technology and automation and beyond.