Mark Coad tells agency staff how to call out client greenwashing

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 30 March 2023
Mark Coad

Are you brave enough to call out clients with a shaky relationship with the truth?

Advertisers and their agencies, faced with consumer demand businesses to be sustainable, must keep a close eye on the accuracy of claims to avoid greenwashing, marketing spin which deceptively persuades the public that a business is environmentally friendly when it is not.
Mark Coad, chief executive officer at IPG Mediabrands, Australia, said media companies should be equipping staff with the tools and knowledge to have tough conversations about greenwashing.

“Most of your companies should be on this [sustainability] journey. If they’re not - ask about it,” Coad said on stage to 180 attendees at MFA’s 5+ inspiration series. 

The event, held in Sydney, highlighted how to tackle Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues and was the first of four events the MFA holds for its 5+ community (those with over 5 years industry experience).

“We [in the advertising industry] are in a privileged position where if we see greenwashing we have to have a conversation about what that means for the brand,” Coad said.

“There are many case studies that will support the success or not of brands who are disingenuous over time and all we can do is equip them with that information.

“They'll listen or they won't.

“And if they won't, I believe that as an industry enough of us won’t want to work with them," which will enact bigger change.

Simon Odisho, Mark Coad, Natalie Kyriacou and Nik Robinson at MFA 5+.

Simon Odisho, Mark Coad, Natalie Kyriacou and Nik Robinson at MFA 5+.

Also on the stage Natalie Kyriacou, My Green World CEO, suggested that a great way to flag concerns without being intimidating to your clients is to "very politely" point out that the ACCC is cracking down on greenwashing.

“That's one way to be direct and make sure [your client] has some sort of backed-up data. It's quite helpful because a lot of the time, people aren't aware of what greenwashing actually is,” Kyriacou said.

For example, one of the biggest learning lessons for attendees was the difference between recycled, products already used and then put through a process to form a new product and recyclable, products that can be placed in the recycling bin. 

These two terms are often used to mislead customers of good sustainability practices.

Nik Robinson, Good Citizens director, encouraged the audience to dare to build something better.

“As an individual, you can say I feel uncomfortable and you can absolutely make it better and educate without bashing them,” Robinson said.

“If you’re not good in this [sustainability] space I think you'll fail because we're a service industry. If we're not aligned to the values and what's important to clients, they'll vote with their important contracts,” Coad said.

The MFA proved its commitment to ESG at the event by replacing paper feedback forms and check-ins with digital forms on a newly launched app. And partnered with C2Zero to cover the residual carbon impact of each attendee at the venue, averaging 65 kg of carbon per person.


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