Shell Shock for BCorps

If you haven’t heard about the recent controversy surrounding Havas winning the global Shell media account here’s a quick summary:

Global agency network Havas, who have made a lot of noise about being sustainability led and being the first major BCorp in adland, have pitched for and won global duties for Shell, one of the world’s biggest polluters and the opposite of a BCorp in intention and operation.

Yes, those are the acrid exhaust fumes of hypocrisy you can smell. There’s been plenty of commentary about it, none of it in support of Havas that we can find.

Various groups representing the ad industry such as Comms Declare and Clean Creatives have protested, and the very much alive Extinction Rebellion actually demonstrated at the Havas offices in London.

Less dramatically, our LinkedIn poll also recorded 92% respondents who thought that Havas should not remain a BCorp.

It’s easy to see why. Getting certified as a BCorp is hard and it should mean something significant in regard to BCorp’s stated aim of transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet.

Or it’s the equivalent of selling expensive ‘I heart trees’ stickers that provide a free pass for gas guzzling 4WDs to rip up endangered natural environments.

It’s worse than an individual act of greenwashing, it provides implied permission for whole industries to carry on ignoring the irrefutable evidence that they need to change.

BCorp’s response so far seems to have been relatively muted.

As a committed BCorp ourselves, we hope there are legal things going on behind closed doors that we haven’t yet seen the result of. If not, it will be an extremely disappointing blow to the value of being a BCorp.

As for Havas, they can try to make the argument that working with Shell is helping to foster change but it’s as token and hollow as a single solar panel on an oil rig.

Havas are not being paid to help Shell reach the BCorp goals for fossil fuel companies. Why would they be? That would be an absurd overreach for an ad network. Despite the supposed role that marketing has in supporting brand purpose (a subject for another blog rant!) Havas is being paid to promote Shell, not fundamentally change it’s operation.

At Circul8 we of course recognise that industry has to be part of the solution and that decisions have to be made on evidence of a real commitment to sustainable, beneficial outcomes – even if the current situation is not yet ideal.

But as their own educational film proclaimed, Shell knew about the dangers of climate change more than 25 years ago, and they did nothing. In 2021 they were ordered by court to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels.

Their profit came before our environment.

And ultimately that’s what it has come down to for Havas. The phrase ‘it’s not a principle until it costs you something’ surely shows that they have also been found severely lacking.

We hope that the genuinely sustainability committed clients of Havas are reviewing their spend, and we hope that BCorp will make it clear that promoting and enabling the world’s worst polluters is a black and white case for de-certification.

Finally, if you want to hear about what Circul8 is doing to live up to our promise of ‘enriching tomorrow’ get in touch about our CLIMATE POSITIVE CREATIVE offer. For any work we do for our clients we will measure the carbon emitted and offset double the amount.

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