• Transform magazine
  • July 01, 2022


Five minutes with Peter Reid

Peter Reid 1[2] Copy

Peter Reid, global chief executive of digital-first creative and technology company,MSQ, speaks to Transform about sustainability in brand design and the benefits of being a digital-first agency when designing sustainable brands.

What role should sustainability play in brand design going forwards?

A brand that isn’t putting sustainability at the core of its values is carrying a significant risk to its long-term viability. If you take the growing importance of sustainability as a driver for a consumer’s purchasing decisions, then add in the very real threat of climate change in general, there’s an absolute imperative to bring sustainability into the heart of brand design.

We’ve certainly seen less sustainable brands find it more and more challenging to sell their products and services – in particular as a younger demographic become their target market – as well as struggle to hire great people to work for them, since more people want to work for purpose-driven businesses.

The crucial thing about all of this is that the role sustainably plays in a brand must be genuine. This can’t just be a bit of token product development or some “Corporate Social Responsibility” agenda that’s managed by an HR department. This is a C-suite-led conversation that must sit at the core of a brand’s values, otherwise consumers will see through the stunt in an instant.

What are the benefits of being a digital-first agency in terms of creating/ designing sustainable brands?

The headline statistic our chief sustainability officer always reminds me is that the internet has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry – and is growing rapidly. So thinking about low-carbon digital footprints is clearly important.

One of the things that most excited me by Elmwood joining MSQ in December was their value and expertise in the critical role that design has to play in the modern digital world. That means we can bring in more innovative thinking about a client’s digital footprint, understanding how that supports the offline branding and operations of their business. Often a brand’s digital carbon footprint will have a carbon benefit in the real world, so we can look at how we talk to the brand’s customers both about the low-digital footprints that we help deliver, but also about how digital is helping reduce carbon footprints elsewhere.

Which are the main aspects to consider when designing an eco-friendly and green brand?

Our recent work with Xampla shows how multi-faceted the answer to that can be. But, from a broader point of view, you need to think carefully about every aspect of your brand’s values, operations and output. It’s unlikely these days that you’ll get away with greenwashing – your brand and your products and services do genuinely need to be low-carbon and designed and produced with the circular economy in mind. The brand shouldn’t just have a Net Zero commitment, but an open and transparent plan for at least the short and medium term. The world doesn’t need yet another meaningless pledge! 

How can brands avoid the risks of ‘greenwashing' ?

Consumers are becoming more and more educated and therefore far more able to call out “greenwashing” than they were a few years ago. Even being “carbon neutral” (or even carbon negative, as MSQ is) can become seen as greenwashing if that’s all that’s done and a brand doesn’t back it up with a significant carbon reduction strategy.

On a related note, we’re seeing the “we plant a tree for every product you buy” types of campaigns being met with growing cynicism too – brands are at risk of blow back if that’s all they’re doing, with no actual effort put into making the product more sustainable in the first place. It’s not that they are bad things to do – actually, offsetting and tree planting are great things to support – but they are the icing on the cake. Savvier consumers want to know how you’re making every aspect of your brand, from your products to your services to your internal operations, low carbon.

What is MSQ’s commitment to sustainability?

It’s a huge part of who we are. MSQ was the first global marketing group to become carbon negative, and last year we were one of fewer than a thousand companies worldwide to set a “near-term Science Based Target” to halve our carbon footprint by 2030. We have a clear strategy in place to move beyond offsetting to Permanent Carbon Capture programmes, and this year we’ll be one of the first companies to set a formal Net Zero target with the SBTi, who launched the world’s first official Net Zero standard at COP26 last year.

Those are important medium to long-term commitments, and go alongside a number of key short-term actions we have in place as well, which include halving our carbon footprint on a per head basis by 2024, moving to 100% renewable energy suppliers across our global operations by 2026, planting 1 millions trees over the next five years, and working with our own global supply chain with the aim of 50% of them having their own Science Based Targets in place by 2026.

Of course, we’ll be building on our existing range of staff programmes to support our people on their personal journeys too, such as widening our Electric Vehicle lease hire scheme, continuing our staff offsetting and tree planting scheme and further developing our staff renewable energy scheme. It really is about what you do, not what you say!