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From our CEO

Stars Birds

In a world preoccupied by urgent, short-term challenges, the longer-term problems can easily become neglected – particularly when they’re so complex and so apparently intractable.

So while scientists, governments, those of us in business and citizens everywhere are increasingly concerned about the slow build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we continue to be confused and distracted. Our levels of concern, though higher than they were just a few years ago, still vary wildly across the world and remain worryingly low.

As a result, changes in consumer behaviour, though welcome, remain marginal in their effect. Those fortunate enough to have lived in strong economies have come to take warm houses, travel, high-performance cars and plasma televisions for granted. They will not easily forgo them. Levels of guilt may be on the increase but they’ve yet to be translated into significant changes in behaviour.

Eventually, we believe, the huge changes that will be necessary will be driven mainly by price and the rationing of carbon. At some point, the cost of using carbon will drive the markets to develop more efficient products.

And it will be the role of marketing, working as always hand-in-hand with product development, to accelerate this transition. The option of a return to a pre-industrial society is not a realistic one; we need to make the new low carbon choices as desirable as the old – and as a bonus, guilt-free.

So if the marketing industry has been unwittingly complicit in causing the problem, it’s now confronted with an historic opportunity: to shape and encourage consumer demand for sustainable products and lifestyles; to restore the true value of durability; to reject the superfluous in products and packaging; to make much of what has passed for fashion deeply unfashionable.

WPP companies are already helping clients to plan for this new strategy. Above all, such strategy must be genuinely rooted in a company’s daily behaviour. Any organisation tempted to wrap itself in superficial greenwashing will not only be ineffective; it will also be cruelly and deservedly exposed by the environmental movement. The internet makes the dissemination of information and the mobilisation of protest swift and virtually cost-free. The penalties for adopting a cosmetic approach to environmentalism will be commercially extreme.

At WPP, we’re all too conscious that we can be credible as an advisor only if we practice what we preach. In this, our sixth Corporate Responsibility Report, we chronicle the work of our CR Committee, chaired by our Chief Financial Officer, Paul Richardson.

In 2007, we measured and part estimated our carbon footprint to be in the region of 244,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. From this we set a target to reduce our carbon footprint by 20% over four years; which in turn has led us to make fundamental changes to the way we select our real estate portfolio, to our IT specifications and to our travel arrangements. As a result, we are both saving money and learning valuable lessons which we can share with our clients.

Since we cannot of course, eliminate our carbon footprint, we’re purchasing carbon offset for what remains. We’re well aware of the questions raised about offset but we believe that by choosing only renewable energy projects, we’re helping to provide Western finance for cleaner development in the emerging economies. We currently fund seven projects including wind farm and hydroelectric projects in China and wind and solar generation in India. These can be viewed at www.wpp.com.

This report describes both our CR successes and our CR failures – from WPP companies in 106 countries and over 2,000 offices. The work, of course, is continuous - reducing inefficiencies and building on strengths. We will continue to report on a regular basis. In the meantime, I will greatly welcome your comments and suggestions on any aspect of our CR program.

Sir Martin Sorrell
Group Chief Executive