Joining the dots: why doing the right thing on climate, people and digital is key to a healthy and sustainable media sector

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The recent IPCC report was another spotlight on the speed at which we need to convert net-zero commitments to plans, investment and implementation. The scale of lifestyle and behaviour change required can seem overwhelming, particularly when quantified as a 40 to 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. What role does your business play, and how do you communicate that to your employees, regulators, clients, industry and wider public? It can feel not so much an elephant in the room as several herds. Pinpointing the right issues to focus on is critical.

These days, we’re accustomed to seeing companies make bold commitments on issues like the environment, diversity, employment and communities. But too often I wonder whether these pledges are truly reflective of the value – or potential value – these organisations offer to society? In other words, do the leaders understand what’s important to their investors, customers, communities and wider stakeholder base?

They should. Businesses today are under scrutiny for their behaviour and impacts as never before. To show they’re striking the right balance between people, profit and planet, they need to explore the true value they create in society. And the first step is to ask one basic question: What matters, and is material, to our stakeholders?

Interestingly, while we’re always hearing about sustainability, the word “materiality” is hardly ever used. But, it’s pivotal. Materiality provides the foundations on which to identify not just risks, but opportunities.

Mapping out our sustainability journey

In 2019 we began work to create Dentsu’s 2030 Social Impact strategy. The first step was a 360-degree materiality assessment to define our ambition for transforming how we do business and redefine the value we create for society. It involved a comprehensive engagement programme to understand how all stakeholders view both our business and society and the relationship between the two. This assessment included key investors, clients, NGOs, activists and over 300 Dentsu colleagues ranging from our Chairman to our newest recruits. We also reviewed leading thinking and analysis including WEF Global Risks Report 2020, the WBCSD, Responsible Media Forum Materiality Index and Consumer Vision – our own thought leadership on trends for consumers to 2030.

The insight we gained into our stakeholders’ expectations and relationship with Dentsu sits at the heart of our social impact and sustainability strategy, guiding our journey, choices, and engagement every day. Every organisation faces its own risks and opportunities – that’s why understanding materiality is the first and most important step for any organisation planning and executing its sustainability strategy.

Crucially, our materiality assessment enabled us to challenge our own beliefs, biases, and ambition with fresh eyes. And it identified three strategic sustainability priorities, all reflecting our evolving role in society and stakeholders’ changing needs and expectations:

  • Climate Action – going far beyond reducing our operational footprint to recognise the true value we create in society: our ability to inspire human and societal behaviour change and accelerate the shift towards sustainable lifestyles.
  • Diversity and inclusion – creating diversity and opportunity within our workforce, and recognising the role we play in challenging perceptions, helping to create a fairer, more inclusive and equitable society.
  • Responsible Media – recognising that a healthy world needs a healthy media and increasing our focus on digital empowerment, wellbeing and responsible content, including eliminating fake news and hate speech.

The wider context of your industry is critical too. Unsurprisingly, our own materiality findings are not far off the research of the Responsible Media Forum, in this year’s Media Materiality 2022 report. It draws together detailed desk-based research and interviews across the media and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) fields to highlight the issues that matter to stakeholders.

For our wider industry – including advertising agencies, media owners and distributers – three issues top the list. First, climate change and other environmental impacts, including encouraging sustainable consumption. Second, people, including skills and diversity and inclusion. Third, digital responsibility in areas like content, and data privacy.

What have these issues got in common? They’re all material to achieving sustainable growth in the media and advertising sectors and in turn underpin our growth and social impact ambitions. It also demonstrates how clarity on what matters to all stakeholders connects the dots between sectors, business areas and regulations connect, for example on responsible media, ethics and free speech. No company acts alone on the transition to net zero.

Turning materiality into action

Having defined the material issues for Dentsu, we’ve translated the priority areas into three strategic pillars: Sustainable World, Fair and Open Society, and Digital For Good. And we’ve developed a strategic roadmap – with board-level governance – to guide how, over the next decade, we’ll affect wider positive change across our value chain, in collaboration with our employees, clients, industry and business stakeholders.

Work has already begun. We are proud to be one of the first companies to have our net-zero target validated by the Science Based Targets initiative, to achieve 100% renewables, and to begin the journey to implement real time internal data monitoring with Salesforce Net Zero Cloud[link]. We’ve combined our net-zero target with a goal to enable 1 billion people to make better, more sustainable choices by 2030 collaborating with our clients on new solutions and changing behaviour, and mobilising 10,000 young creatives to help cut food waste. We’ve set new targets to achieve gender parity at all levels of leadership by 2025 and champion diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of our business and supply chain. And we continue to roll out our global digital skills programme, The Code, reaching over 30,000 young people in 14 countries since launch. This is a board level commitment – from 2022 we’ve linked progress on carbon reduction and gender equality to executive reward. We can draw a line of sight between the issues our stakeholders identified and the actions we take every year.

Do we get it all right? Almost definitely not – show me who does, and our industry is not alone in being challenged to go further and faster. What’s key for us in terms of credibility and engagement, is that our sustainability journey started with understanding stakeholder materiality. It’s a journey that’s constantly evolving. As new material issues emerge, we’ll continue to address them. Because we know that’s what our stakeholders want and that’s where the opportunities lie – for our industry, for our business and for society.


edie’s ENGAGEMENT Week 2022

Brought to you by the award-winning edie content team, Engagement Week 2022 (28th April) is our themed week of editorial content and events dedicated to supporting sustainability, energy and resource efficiency professionals build personal engagement and drive meaningful change through the work that they do.

Throughout the week, edie will publish an array of insightful interviews, best-practice blogs from sustainability professionals and bespoke reports and live events tailored to provide our audience will everything they need to know to take their communications and reporting strategies to the next level.

The Sustainability Reporting and Communications Sessions

The 2022 Sustainability Reporting and Communications Sessions take place on Thursday 28 April combine three interactive sessions into an afternoon of online discovery. Starting out with a live Q&A with industry experts and businesses on the best way to communicate and dispel myths around net-zero, done to case studies showcasing how businesses are engaging different stakeholders on key sustainability themes.

Click here to register.

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