BITE Focus

Incentivising change: The launch of Iris’ Carbon Kickback

Iris is encouraging clients to sign up to a new climate charter to put action on the climate crisis at the very top of the marketing agenda.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


In 2019, $1.4 trillion was spent globally on business travel, an occurrence that feels more like a luxury than a chore in our pandemic-stricken world. The thought of flying across the country, let alone the planet for a meeting or two feels like an extravagance that, if there is to be a silver lining, the last year has proven doesn’t need to happen.

The new world of work we are existing in has proven the efficiency of the technology that was at all our disposal, but that we had yet to fully engage with. While the way we work has been forced upon us, it has also demonstrated that we can work better, smarter and more efficiently at the benefit of both people and the planet. The opportunity to build back better is equal parts unique and precious.

This belief is at the heart of the work that Iris has been doing inside the agency, to revolutionise the way its staff both work and travel, and the impact the company has on the environment.

It's our job to empower clients to take bold action in the fight against climate change.

Ben Essen

Carbon Kickback 

To tackle these issues the agency has launched a new global initiative, Carbon Kickback. It encourages clients to sign up to a new climate charter, incentivising those who do with free access to the agency’s sustainability experts. While the agency is doing its own work in-house, including a pledge for its entire 15-office network to be Net Zero by 2025, it wants to invite clients to take the climate crisis just as seriously. It has announced that Starbucks is the first agency-client partner to back the initiative.

The climate charter encourages clients to take positive climate action by committing to five key principles that are expressly designed to help marketing departments contribute to the overall reduction of their company’s carbon footprint. For example, they look into reducing international travel, which prior to lockdown made up for 55% of Iris’ global emissions.

As Ben Essen, Iris’ Global CSO wrote in an earlier piece for BITE, “marketing will need to take responsibility not just for driving growth in sales and profit but also for driving reductions in environmental impact.” The kickback scheme is an example of Essen and his agency walking the talk.

Reinvesting time 

As to what clients will get from signing up, any time saved will be reinvested back into the business through free consultancy sessions with sustainability specialists in the Future Strategy team. The agency has also developed a proprietary remote working product that is also being used by Iris’ clients.

The agency is determined to take a digital-first approach that it believes will come with a twofold outcome, both to improve the performance of the business and its people whilst simultaneously working to minimise the impact on the environment.

Travel is just one of five key principles underpinning the climate charter. Others include commitment to sustainable production processes; promotion of sustainable behaviour in creative work produced; commitment to reporting and measuring the carbon impact of campaigns through ‘Ecoffectiveness’, a new measurement tool created by Essen and Elvis’ Caroline Davison, that encourages return on Co2 to become the new measure for effectiveness in advertising.

Finally, the initiative is focused on propelling progress through participation, by encouraging other agencies within the global advertising industry to adopt similar models, a move which is backed by The Purpose Disruptors.

Iris worked closely with the Purpose Disruptors in 2020 to create The Great Reset which set out to use the creative industry’s talent and influence to help ensure the positive environmental behaviours developed during lockdown become a long-term shift in society.

Essen explains: “It's our job to empower clients to take bold action in the fight against climate change. The carbon kickback is a tangible way for us to start making a difference immediately, for both Iris and our clients.”

In a year which has seen perhaps the greatest human behavioural shift in centuries, initiatives such as this are a vital reminder that to make these behaviours stick, action is needed. Not by a few select individuals but by every single business.