Edelman’s sustainability review ends in no client changes … for now

Global PR agency Edelman has completed its previously stated “sustainability review”, resulting in no current changes to its client list. The firm did say that future discussions with clients may result in a parting of ways.

The firm’s global CEO, Richard Edelman, wrote in a blog post that its operating principles have been updated based on the review, which includes working “with those committed to accelerating action to Net Zero in compliance with the Paris Accords and “putting science and facts first”.

However for now, the firm continues to work with clients including Shell (Viva Energy) in Australia, as well as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Puget Sound Energy, and the API (Australian Petroleum Institute).

Edelman wrote: “We are initiating discussions with clients and account teams to confirm our findings and engage on pathways forward. As we’ve stated, we want to have a seat at the table with companies seeking change and to help them solve problems more powerfully through trusted communications. This includes rescoping our work to enable us to be in-line with our principles and collaborating to make changes.”

The agency was contacted for further details regarding the review, and its client list in Australia, however it had not responded at the time of publishing.

The initial review aimed to establish science and values-based criteria for client engagement, to formalise clear criteria for climate communications, and to create a taskforce for internal climate conversations.

In its next steps, Edelman said in some instances where values do not align, “we anticipate that we mat have to part ways” [with clients] in a few instances.

Shell, one of Edelman’s global clients

“We cannot comment further on relationships with individual clients or client assignments, for confidentiality reasons.”

As a result, the PR firm said that its “core review team will serve as the Internal Climate Review panel as we continue our journey”.

While the post does outline the plan the agency has to move forward on climate action, it is yet to take serious action.

Edelman also said that the agency has “undertaken a review of our relevant client portfolio and the work we do around the world to assess whether it is consistent with our climate ambitions and values.”

“This comprehensive internal review has identified areas where our principles will evolve the nature of the work and assignments we take on in the future.”

In 2014, following public backlash, Edelman stated publicly that it would not be taking on any campaigns that deny global warming. In 2015 the agency also dropped the American Petroleum Institute from its client list, which was thought to make up around 10% of its global revenue at the time.

Founder of Comms Declare, Belinda Noble, which published the F-List in 2021, said in response to the post: “As you might expect from the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman’s announcement makes all the right noises but fails on concrete, measurable actions.”

“We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 60% in eight years to have a chance to stay under 1.5 degrees warming. The time for discussions with coal, oil and gas corporations that are expanding operations or making hollow net zero promises is over.”

As part of its review, Edelman said it found instances where:

  • Clients have no public position on the Paris Agreement
  • Clients with no emissions data readily available
  • A few clients do not have net-zero ambitions or goals
  • A few examples of communications that were susceptible to challenge and criticism by others
  • Our review also found gaps in staff understanding of climate issues

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