A Practical Guide to Making Your Agency More Sustainable

Start with yourself, then empower your clients

Over the past year and a half, it’s fair to say we’ve all learned to find new ways to cope with unknown challenges. And we’ve seen firsthand how the power of digital technologies and services can change the world, the way people interact and how products and services are imagined, created, and delivered. As well as to make cities smarter, supply chains shorter and consumption more conscious.

Digitizing businesses in many cases leads to less waste and travel and more efficient processes. Digital products can help consumers reduce their footprint and contribute to a more sustainable and equal society. In short, digital is a transformative force to benefit both people and the planet.

I believe that the digital agency community has huge potential and a responsibility to use our expertise to help clients unlock their full sustainability power because we are experts at actually making innovation work. We need to help our clients to do better, build smarter and greener.

But how? Where do we start? Here’s what I’ve learned through our sustainability work at Dept.

Strike the right balance with technology

Agencies understand the downsides and risks of digital business and platforms, so we can help brands strike the right balance, be as transparent as possible and use these platforms for good. We can guide our clients to invest in more sustainable digital projects and processes to become more sustainable themselves.

One way to do this is through green hosting, because hosting the IT load and the digital platforms is often one of the largest energy consumers. At Dept, 50% of our systems run on green hosting infrastructure, and we have a goal of reaching 95% by the end of 2021.

Define your impact strategy and goals

It’s important to pursue projects and client relationships that will have a larger impact on our communities and our planet. Dept is aiming for 15% of our revenue to come from what we call “impact projects” by 2023. And we measure impact indicators, including reduction of CO2 emissions among our clients as a result of our projects, reduction in used resources such as paper, and the number of people reached in awareness campaigns via our impact work to hold ourselves accountable and make our impact even more concrete.

Cut down on emissions

We see the fight against climate change happening all around us. Reducing carbon emissions is a huge part of that battle. Companies of all sizes are working toward carbon neutrality, and agencies should be no different.

We should all be focused on reducing our carbon emissions and compensating for what’s left. Non-profit organizations like Climate Neutral offer certification frameworks to help you measure and offset your emissions to become carbon neutral while also working toward becoming carbon negative in the future.

Become B Corp certified

B Corp status validates that a company is creating a positive impact on workers, customers, the community and the environment. As consumers move more and more toward wanting to do business with brands that serve a purpose, are environmentally conscious and emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s likely that in the future all brands will need to be considered socially and environmentally conscious. And the same is going to hold true for the agencies that these brands partner with.

This is why B Corp certification is especially relevant for agencies (Dept recently became a Certified B Corporation). We can all become sustainably certified based on the impact we make with our work for our clients and how we care for and foster a diverse, creative force—our own people. Becoming B Corp certified presents a real opportunity to showcase how digital agencies can make positive moves toward healing our planet and society at large. It is by no means the end goal of the sustainability journey, but it’s a place to start.  

Activate your teams in a grassroots way

We are most proud of becoming the first global digital agency to achieve B Corp certification because it was brought forth and carried out by Depsters. It started as a suggestion from a few Depsters and turned into more than a year’s worth of work by a team of over 40 colleagues across every part of the agency. Important initiatives around sustainability, diversity and inclusion and impact work do not need to come from the top down. Empower your teams to lead the way and propose ways you can improve things like energy consumption, diversity, labor conditions, etc., across your organization.

As digital agencies, we have a responsibility to lead our respective markets. To come up with new ideas through educating and raising awareness to create a lasting and positive impact. There is a growing awareness and interest to do more. I hope we all continue to take meaningful steps to improve and invest our agency capabilities to act ethically and responsibly.

Amanda Schmidt is the chief people officer at Dept, a global digital agency. Previously, she was the global chief people officer at Essence where she played a critical role in helping the agency scale globally, quadrupling in size during her five years there.