The Greening of PHD

LOS ANGELES As consumers adopt a more environmentally conscious view of the world, it was only a matter of time before agencies followed suit. Although such green strategies might not reap huge financial profits yet, the boost in public perception could be a virtual gold mine.

Early out of the gate is New York-based PHD. In January, the six-year-old agency embarked on an effort to decrease the environmental footprint made within PHD’s offices and to offer greener media options for its clients. The initiative, dubbed PHD Sustain, is being spearheaded by the shop’s senior strategic planner, Mary Floracruz.

The agency plans first to research the environmental footprints associated with the range of media options pursued by most advertisers. To assist them, PHD turned to Arpad Horvath, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, who has done extensive work in the field of environmental footprint analysis.

Although Horvath’s research for PHD is still in its infancy, he hopes to quantify the environmental emissions relating to a wide range of ad-supported media including online, mobile phones, magazines and newspapers, radio, TV, billboards, bus shelters and direct mail.

For Horvath, understanding the life cycle of something as standard as print media is relatively simple even for non-scientists — from the cutting down of trees for paper to determining how a publication is distributed. Of course, understanding the environmental cycle associated with electronic media, particularly TV, may be more complex. But that’s what intrigued him. “This field is ripe for original work,” he said.

Horvath and Floracruz said in determining the life cycle of electronic media options, they would start at the point of post-production, when, for example, a 30-second spot is ready for air. The life cycle of a commercial might include sending that spot to a network sales unit, airing it, archiving it and, ultimately, discarding or reusing the tape on which it was recorded.

Horvath said perhaps the greatest unknown in that life cycle concerns data surrounding network operations in broadcasting commercials, which will require him to evaluate the energy generated by, say, a local TV station. That evaluation will require him to determine how much of that energy comes from non-renewable sources such as coal and how much comes from renewable sources such as hydro or solar power. Converting that data will enable him to create a formula that can approximate the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the broadcast of a spot.

“We want this to be a dynamic software tool … that PHD will develop and distribute to its media planners,” Horvath said. “It can help them suggest green options to their clients or ways to improve upon their current media strategies or ways to reduce, eliminate and possibly switch into greener options.”

Floracruz stressed that PHD is not trying to create some sort of ecological dictatorship. After all, if a client’s media strategy includes a print campaign in magazines that have greater reach and frequency than more ecologically friendly publications, Floracruz said the client’s strategy needs still would come first.

Horvath also believes that the work he and PHD are pursuing could enable advertisers to persuade their media partners to pursue greener options. “A client like L’Oreal, [which] advertises in Vogue or Cosmopolitan, might want to say to those magazines, ‘We have five or 10 pages of ads in this publication and we’re looking to clean up our own image,'” he said. “Which, in turn, could suggest to those magazines to switch to more recyclable paper.”

Greening a business also requires that its own employees view their jobs in environmentally sensitive terms. For internal assistance, Floracruz turned to PHD operations manager Thomas Kiedrowski, who helped determine what improvements could be made to PHD’s offices. Kiedrowski, in turn, looked to a PHD client — and a media pioneer in the green field — the Discovery Channel.

“Everything they do is toward functioning in a greener mode,” he said, noting that the lights in Discovery’s New York offices shut off at 8 p.m., for example, and the bathroom toilets have two flush modes. Such research offered Kiedrowski enough data to help him begin to determine how best to green PHD, which he found was to be in pretty good shape. For example, its New York shop was housed in a relatively new building that already used energy-efficient lightbulbs, and the agency already had embarked on a copy toner recycling program.

Still, change was needed. For one, the office’s bottled water provisions were not efficient. So filtered water was introduced, as were non-leach aluminum bottles that can be washed and reused. The office also began ordering 100 percent recyclable paper. And PHD switched all of its accounts to Office Depot — which is not a PHD client.

“Office Depot is a company that already is environmentally friendly, even providing consumers with a green catalog,” Kiedrowski said. “Switching to one supplier, from which we can order online, enables us to cut down on our use of paper, as well as on our use of oil and fuel by reducing the number of trucks that deliver these supplies.”

“We’re not trying to force anyone to do things they’re not comfortable with,” said Matt Seiler, president and CEO of PHD North America. “But in my experience, when there’s a reason to change, people start to pay attention. When the fuel crisis first hit, suddenly people were willing to drive small cars. You start with those clients who are most receptive to these types of ideas. And once you have a couple of cases that you can share with other clients, then it snowballs.”