Edelman sets out new climate requirements for clients, stops short of ending work with fossil fuel majors

Image: Edelman PR

Edelman last November published an updated global ESG strategy, Edelman Impact, and kick-started a 60-day review of its climate-related requirements for clients. The moves coincided with COP26, at which firms including Edelman, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group faced increasing pressure from activists over their ongoing work with fossil fuel firms.

With the review now complete, Edelman has confirmed new sustainability-related requirements for clients. It has pledged to only work with organisations “committed to accelerating action to net-zero, in compliance with the Paris Agreement”, and with organisations that “put science and facts first” on all ESG matters, including climate. Clients must also have robust diversity and inclusivity policies and be committed to a just transition to net-zero.

Edelman has also confirmed that it has undertaken a review, internally, of its “relevant client portfolio and the work it does around the world to assess whether it is consistent with our climate ambitions and values”.

The company has not, in the first instance, cut ties with any clients. Its chief executive Richard Edelman has published a new blog post stating:  “We anticipate that we may have to part ways in a few instances. We cannot comment further on relationships with individual clients or client assignments, for confidentiality reasons.”

Edelman has also committed to “advance best practices and standards for climate communications” and will require all staff to complete a new climate communications course this year. The course will be developed in partnership with academics. Similar moves have been taken in recent months by firms including Deloitte.

To help ensure that the new principles are upheld, Edelman will form an independent council of climate experts, comprising entirely leaders from outside of the business.

However, campaign organisation Clean Creatives, which had been calling on Edelman to cut ties with all fossil fuel clients, says the firm’s new commitments are still not strong enough.  A Tweet from the organisation, published on Friday (7 January), states: “Edelman is on the path of branding itself as the agency only polluters can trust. It will do damage to their reputation, their clients with genuine sustainability goals and their staff who came to the company expecting to work with a forward-thinking agency.”

The UN-backed Race to Zero campaign notably excludes all fossil fuel firms from participating under its membership criteria.

Edelman is not the only major B2B firm facing climate-related pressure. Clean Creatives has also ranked WPP and Dentsu as laggards on ending work with big polluters. Separately, McKinsey & Company last autumn received an open letter, signed by more than 1,000 of its employees, calling for the firm to disclose the emissions generated by clients and to introduce stricter climate-related requirements for clients.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie