From our CEO

More than a decade ago we were alerted to the need to account for our social and environmental impact by a group of ‘responsible investors’. They were the first people to question us in detail on these issues and they did us a favour. 


Their demands signalled a societal trend that has grown inexorably until today where we find it quite normal to discuss sustainability with investors, clients, potential clients, recruits and influential people in governments and non-governmental organisations. In 2011 at least $1 billion of our revenue came from clients who had checked on our sustainability performance. Being the early mover in our sector has benefited our business.


Since we first reported in 2002, there has been a significant shift in the minds of corporate leaders who now overwhelmingly view sustainability as a business imperative. Yet the global economic system still consumes the resources provided by one and a half planets each year. The economic miracle lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in Asia, Latin America and starting in Africa is in danger of being derailed by a lack of resources. Land, water, biodiversity, minerals and, most acutely, space in the atmosphere to deposit carbon dioxide, are all in short supply. 


But there is cause for optimism. We are in an era of remarkable human innovation. Biotechnology, nanotechnology, renewable energy and information technology are making it possible to achieve things we never thought possible in energy, health, nutrition and education. Companies hold the vast majority of research and development budgets and they are being deployed to develop greener and more socially-beneficial products in every category.


Today around two billion people have access to the internet. By 2020 that will be five billion. That’s an unprecedented increase in the intellectual resource available, and it will open new doors to education and social mobility. Previously a person’s geographical and financial circumstances determined the education they received. By 2020, five billion people will have access via the internet to an educational resource that dwarfs any university. We’re seeing social entrepreneurs such as Salman Khan, founder of khanacademy.org, launching online educational resources so that anyone anywhere can learn anything – for free. Already 130 million lessons have been delivered. The impact on individual lives can hardly be overstated and the net benefit to human creativity and innovation is difficult to grasp. 


So what is WPP’s role? We are advisors to an unparalleled group of companies and organisations. We have trained our own people in sustainability and recruited experts so that WPP now has a broad sustainability offering. This year we launched our Sustainability Navigator making it easier for our sustainability experts to find each other and direct our clients to the most appropriate WPP company. We increasingly work with leading companies on sustainability strategy and we aim to influence all our clients to view their operations in the light of sustainability issues.


As our clients work to reduce the environmental footprint of their products we will step in to ensure they win in the marketplace. Research by our companies (see What we're thinking) points to a new way forward for marketing sustainable products that will bring them out of a ‘green niche’ and into the mainstream. Our sustainability teams appreciate that transparency and technical accuracy are the route to building credibility for themselves and for our clients’ brands. 


Finally, we believe that the way we run our own company gives us credibility and strength in this changing world. We have an ambitious goal to cut our carbon footprint per head by 63% by 2020 which is challenging us to think differently about how we work and run our companies. We continue to invest in our people through high-quality training and through our efforts to increase diversity and, as ever, our companies made an invaluable contribution to charities this year through creative and inspirational pro bono work. 


I am genuinely interested in your comments and suggestions.


Sir Martin Sorrell

Group chief executive
msorrell@wpp.com

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