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April 4, 2008

Ian Irving: Self-confessed petrolhead goes green

Having a pop at people from fellow agencies makes good copy. Five hundred sarcastic words dripping with vitriol can slide onto the screen with ease and make the writer seem incisive, fearless and funny. On the other hand, supporting some bloke who wants to save the planet is like jumping on board the fast train for the Tree Huggers Annual Convention. And as a self-confessed petrolhead who likes to prick the bubbles of pomposity, it’s easy to guess which side I’m going to be on whenever green issues are debated.

Well, I’m so sorry to disappoint everyone but last week Tim Waygood of MotivAction behaved in a way that in my opinion was totally admirable.

Sticking to your principles

“We are committed to help ease climate change by becoming a 'carbon neutral' company” reads MotivAction’s environmental policy. The cynic in many of us will say that talk is cheap and it’s easy enough to ‘puff up’ a firm’s green commitment. But Tim and his colleagues have actually stuck to their principles on climate change and have turned down a potentially lucrative offer to work with the oil giant ExxonMobil!

The commitment shown by MotivAction is rare enough these days and I admire it. They apparently took the big decision because of the oil company’s role in attempts to “undermine the scientific consensus on climate change”, as they put it, saying that “ExxonMobil helps to perpetuate the idea that global warming is a theory rather than a scientific fact”.

“We are very concerned about climate change, both taking action and the communication of the issue, and we are aware of many articles, information and evidence that ExxonMobil is funding climate change deniers,” wrote Waygood. “Given that this is the case, it would not be appropriate for us to work with a company whose ethics are so opposed to ours.”

Leading the process of change

Conference and event agencies can play a big part in creating awareness and engaging businesses in the environmental problem, and MotivAction is now asking other agencies to follow. But will they? It’s not enough to simply claim to be environmentally friendly and continue to take money from organisations that, according to information in the public domain, help to pervert the communication of climate science, thereby confusing the public and creating an illusion that there is a debate around it.

I see that Britain's leading scientific academy, the Royal Society, has accused ExxonMobil of misrepresenting climate change science by outright denial of the evidence and says that the company's public statements on global warming are "inaccurate and misleading". So it’s not just some bloke from an agency off on a rant. It’s real and it’s serious.

Nevertheless, maybe big money from big corporations can still buy off many people with well-meaning good intentions who are simply not as strong and principled as Tim Waygood.

I admire and fully support the stance that and believe it to be a positive step in agencies taking responsibility for both their own and their clients' environmental impact.

Tim’s industry should back him – he can’t do it alone.

Ian Irving is sales & marketing director at brand experience agency Sledge

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