Wieden + Kennedy London’s Iain Tait Discusses the Agency’s Climate Change Initiatives

The shop is closing for the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20

Headshot of Iain Tait
Iain Tait, executive creative director at Wieden + Kennedy London, is leading the agency's climate change efforts. W+K London
Headshot of Minda Smiley

This story is part of a weeklong series on climate change and sustainability. It’s in partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global journalism initiative to cover climate change in the week leading up to the U.N. summit on climate change in New York on Sept. 23. Click here to learn more about the initiative and read all of Adweek’s coverage on how sustainability and marketing intersect. 

A number of companies, including Lush Cosmetics, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, are closing in some capacity on Friday, Sept. 20, in support of the Global Climate Strike.

Now, some agencies are getting in on the action, too.

More than 100 agencies have pledged to take part in Create and Strike, a global industrywide initiative that’s asking agency execs to let their employees take time off to participate in the strikes, which are happening all over the world. Additionally, the initiative is encouraging agencies to use their creative chops to make something meaningful that can help amplify the “climate emergency message” during the strikes.

A handful of agencies, including Wieden + Kennedy London and Mcgarrybowen New York, have made the decision to close on Sept. 20 in support of the Global Climate Strike, which is taking place just days before the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit in New York.

In a blog post, Wieden + Kennedy London said that, in light of climate change, the agency knows it has to “fundamentally rethink everything we do.” As a start, it will close its doors on Friday and encourage its employees to join the strike.

We spoke with Iain Tait, the executive creative director at Wieden + Kennedy London who is spearheading the agency’s climate change efforts, ahead of the Global Climate Strike.

How is Wieden + Kennedy London addressing climate change internally?

As an agency, our climate change wake-up came when we invited Extinction Rebellion in to talk to the whole agency about the urgency and scale of the emergency. It was a tough session. Lots of tears. Many people facing some very uncomfortable truths for the first time. Immediately afterwards we set up a bunch of workshops to look at the things we need to do as an agency.

Firstly, we’re in the process of addressing our own impact—how we make work, the lifestyles we portray, etc. Second, we’re figuring out what this means for our relationship with clients and how we should be talking to them about these issues. And thirdly, what else can we do with our skills? Should we be focusing on encouraging activism? Or redefining consumerism?

Internally, have you found that employees are eager for the agency’s leadership to address climate change and get involved with initiatives like Create and Strike?

For sure. But I think the bigger thing is that people are dying to do something. Inaction is the thing that’s killing us. And if you’re someone that’s aware of how much needs to be done and how quickly, you need to feel like you work somewhere which gets that too. It’s really easy to start to feel like a crazy person when everyone around you is in denial.

Do you think the industry as a whole is doing enough to address the issue?

I think some great things are starting to emerge. But not quickly enough. I worry that the current system has been so well designed to make us feel content and comfortable, that asking people to make the level of changes required is a bigger challenge than anyone has realized. Especially when many people are so distracted by the craziness of modern politics.

Client business goals often don’t align with curbing climate change. How do you go about addressing this tension with clients?

We’ve been finding more and more of our clients have interesting and ambitious plans in this area. Our job is to show them that making these initiatives front and center is obviously the right thing to do, people want to see it, and we believe that it brings competitive advantage. And, because we’ve been engaging with this issue as an agency, we can turn up prepared to talk sense and suggest positive actions.

This can’t be about blaming companies for where they’ve been historically. That’ll always be counterproductive. But now that we all know what we know, we should be looking at how seriously companies are taking their responsibilities going forward—and how urgently they’re acting to make the changes necessary. Getting the biggest, most-established companies to adapt rapidly to a zero-emission future is the toughest but most important brief in the world.

Is this an issue you’ve been passionate about for quite some time?

I’ve been aware of this since I was a kid. My parents are very eco-aware hippie types. But I think I naively assumed, as we all have, that someone else was looking out for us. That governments and institutions have our collective interests at heart. And that there’s no way they’d allow us to hurtle headfirst into an environmental apocalypse.

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.