When the pandemic swept through the world, grinding an industry reliant on movement to a halt, conversations around climate and sustainability became impossible to ignore. In an effort to keep this positive momentum going, UK production company Presence has partnered with LBB to support The Sustainability Channel for essential discussion around green practices and knowledge sharing.
LBB’s Alex Reeves continues this pressing conversation with Barratt Mistry, head of project management at dentsuMB London, a creative agency that’s been focusing on its impact on the climate ambitiously. We discuss Barratt’s involvement with AdGreen and how he and the agency have been working with clients to incorporate carbon calculations into production. He also shares his thoughts on training on sustainable practices, the digital revolution we are in the midst of and the importance of weighing up work with people’s wellness.
Barratt> As someone who’s always been passionate about nature and conservation, it’s been interesting to see the sustainability issue rise higher and higher up the business agenda over the last decade – and to see that filter down to the production department too. As a result, sustainable production has become a much bigger part of what I do in recent years, and that’s particularly been the case since joining dentsuMB in 2020.
The agency has a very ambitious strategy, which it’s following as part of the overall dentsu target to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. This is a comprehensive and carefully structured plan to radically decarbonise our entire value chain over the next decade. dentsu is one of the first companies in the world to have this target formally validated by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) – a sign of how we’re taking a real lead in the industry.
Production is an important part of the plan, so I’ve been working closely with James Morris, dentsu’s CEO for creative in EMEA and UK, to prioritise sustainable production and make it central to how we work with clients. It’s also why last year I joined the advisory board of AdGreen, the ad industry body focused on eliminating the negative environmental impacts of production. That’s been a huge step for me in helping me drive change in both dentsu and across the industry.
Barratt> I would say that in most cases the spirit is willing, and sustainability is certainly becoming a bigger factor in those conversations. At the same time, it’s inevitable that practical issues will arise that need to be faced as we get into each individual production. The challenge is how we deal with those practical issues in a way that’s reactive, cost effective but also sustainable. In general, I think clients are starting to think that way too. A small percentage of the full production cost is added to each production estimate which in turn is passed on to AdGreen as part of the [voluntary] levy.
Barratt> Travel is a big part of the equation, so we work closely with agency teams to minimise the amount of personnel travelling for any given job. It’s an ongoing process and our approach to sustainable production is evolving all the time.
For example, as remote working practices develop and we have more tools and technology at our disposal, we can review job by job how to make remote attendance easier and more feasible. Script permitting we will always explore different ways of working. Remote unattended production where practical and virtual production will be in the forefront of our planning. We are always weighing up alternatives. We have a worldwide network, and tools developed specifically to tap into and take advantage of our partners worldwide. Again this is a digital efficiency that is now a part of our regular thinking, allowing for the right people in the right places to contribute to our output.
At an oversight level, we work with the production company to make sure that an AdGreen representative or equivalent is always on set to oversee processes and provide input (in some cases that will be me!) and we draw on AdGreen resources and reports to keep track of our footprint and see where we can continually improve.
LBB> To what extent do you think the advertising and production world will retain and build on the lessons learned during the pandemic?
Barratt> This is the true beginning of the digital revolution. It has shown how we can work remotely in ways we might never have thought of before, and that’s having far-reaching consequences for creative and production. But it’s also highlighted the importance of people meeting in real life and how teams work together. Now, we are learning the lesson of how to build a model that makes the best of all worlds.
Barratt> The AdGreen Carbon Calculator is a really valuable tool for tracking the emissions from production activities, so we’re proud to be taking the lead in how it can be used in the industry. The tool enables production teams to collaboratively log their activities and see where practical changes can be made to reduce a project's carbon footprint. It also generates reporting data that clients can use to inform company-wide reporting on their social impact and sustainability. We’re having more conversations with clients about how we can make the carbon calculator an integral part of their productions – not just to police the carbon footprint, but to give us an overview of how collectively we can get better as an industry.
LBB> How is sustainability being built into your training and development for members of the production team?
Barratt> As mentioned earlier, sustainability is a core priority for the whole of dentsu, so leaders across the network receive training and development on how we can do better on sustainability and work towards our targets. In production specifically, we’re shaping our recruitment and training to ensure there is much greater awareness of sustainable production and the measures we can take to drive it across the department.
Barratt> To be honest, it’s a big statement and hard to analyse. The truth is that it’s not the footage so much as the set ups. So, if you shoot in one place and only use 3% of the footage, I’m not sure this is overly damaging – other than time spent and potential wastage on the set. But if you shoot in 100 places and only use footage from three of them, that is a fearsome waste! Creatively we will always strive for maximum efficiency which in turn informs the wastage.
Barratt> To a lesser extent the impact of digital design, rather than materials, makes a difference, such as by limiting the need for face-to-face meetings for review. That said, sometimes there is less of a waste of time, effort and ultimately resources if meetings are well managed – whether that be face to face or virtual. It could be that one journey solves a problem that 20 calls would not get to the bottom of. It’s also worth noting that video calls also create significant emissions in themselves versus camera off calls, so we have to consider everything in the round.
Barratt> That might be the case with some agencies, and certainly production is an obvious area to focus on given the physical resources and travel involved. But from dentsu’s perspective, we’re looking at our entire value chain and not just production. For example, our Net Zero target includes a commitment to procure 100% renewable electricity across our global operations, while in media we’ve worked on industry initiatives like DIMPACT to help advertisers calculate the emissions associated with digital media content.
There’s no simple fix to the climate crisis and we know that production is just one part of the picture for dentsu – albeit an important one.
Barratt> I’m a big believer in looking after the wellness of your people. Ensuring that resources and people are not getting burned out or overused is another route towards more sustainable practices. That includes giving people flexibility in their roles, so that they have the opportunity to work together both virtually and face to face.
Barratt> Aha, I just answered this I think! It has to be factored in, otherwise you won’t get the best work and it could be damaging to people’s wellness. The idea is to find the best balance, to be aware at all times of the impact that decisions made during a production are having on the people involved.
LBB> Can you share some examples of projects you’ve worked on where you feel that the carbon footprint and sustainability were tackled in interesting or effective ways?
Barratt> A recent car campaign required the product to be seen in various locations, but the creative treatment gave the visuals a sense of heightened reality, thus allowing the shoot to take place in a studio. This gave the assets a great look, without compromising the intent – a creative solution that solved the desire to show the product around the world, without having to go anywhere. It wasn’t completely carbon neutral as we did have people travelling for the shoot, but significantly less than if we’d shot in multiple global locations.
Barratt> Do your best to normalise. Clients know that sustainability is an essential issue for every business today – you just need to show them how it’s done. Establishing some best practice guidelines is key, so drawing on the resources and tools of organisations like AdGreen is a great place to start when you’re getting that initial buy-in.
We have a worldwide network, and tools developed specifically to tap into and take advantage of our partners worldwide. Again this is a digital efficiency that is now a part of our regular thinking, allowing for the right people in the right places to contribute to our output.