WPP describes itself as a creative transformation company that builds better futures for its people, clients and communities. It provides its clients with an integrated offer of communications, experience, commerce and technology services through its network of leading agency brands. As a long-time discloser to CDP, the process helps the company advance its sustainability strategy and “keeps us on our toes” by constantly raising the bar, says Jess Hawes, WPP’s Sustainability Program Manager.
“One of the things we like about reporting to CDP is that it really pushes us,” says Jess Hawes.
For example, WPP’s renewable energy sourcing program is an area where CDP’s guidance and scoring has influenced the company to go further on sustainability. In 2015, WPP decided to radically expand its renewable energy sourcing in the US, committing to cover 100% of electricity purchased in the country from renewable sources by 2020.
“This had been a challenging market for us as many of our properties were landlord managed or did not have the option of a renewable energy contract” says Hawes. But when they assessed it holistically through the lens of the disclosure process it made sense as an investment despite these challenges.
Hawes explains: “we utilized the CDP questionnaire to benchmark the positive impact such a decision would have on our score, as well as to consider how we should approach things like quality control and reporting”.
Embracing best practice
Laying out industry best practice in a structured way is another key benefit for WPP: “By incorporating things like science-based targets and scenario analysis, CDP has really invested in developing the questionnaire as the consensus on corporate climate action” says Hawes, “But while it’s cutting edge, it’s spelled out in an easy to understand way with the guidance provided, so it’s accessible to businesses at all stages of their journey.”
The integration of the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) into the CDP questionnaire in 2018 has been a major advantage for WPP.
“By bridging together two separate strands of work, we have been able to integrate the TCFD requirements into our CDP response and plan things in a more coordinated and efficient way across the business,” says Hawes.
Catalysing tangible change
She also notes that CDP’s scoring system has been particularly useful for WPP, which has seen its climate change score improve from D in 2011 to A- in 2018.
The journey laid out in CDP’s scoring methodology, through disclosure to awareness, management and leadership, “helps us to benchmark ourselves because it’s all spelled out, we know exactly where we are” notes Hawes.
This also makes it easy to present the company’s progress to an executive audience. Hawes comments: “when building our carbon strategy, CDP’s scoring methodology is very useful in helping us get buy-in from executive audiences”.
“They like the fact that if we’re scoring low on one aspect, we can break it down in a clear way to see where the opportunities for improvement lie. Then next year, when our score improves, they can see the tangible output of those actions”.
The renewable energy program shows how effective this can be, with WPP’s CDP climate change score rising from B in 2015 to A- in 2016.
The CDP disclosure process has also informed and reflected changes within the business more widely, which Hawes thinks has helped make the company more competitive.
“The opportunity assessment and scenario analysis within the CDP questionnaire plays a role in informing our approach to monitoring the perception of climate change over time. As we have seen the demand for critical action on the issue grow, it’s prompted the business to integrate it even further into our offerings to clients.”
The ever-growing interest in climate action has led to WPP and its companies working on projects such as the recent UN People’s Seat campaign for COP21, and Wunderman-Thompson Intelligence Group’s report The New Sustainability: Regeneration.
Crucially, Hawes notes that reporting through CDP – supported by detailed guidance and wider engagement with carbon experts and the investor community – helps WPP be more transparent with its key stakeholders.
“We know that if we pay a lot of attention to our CDP response it is going to provide the information our stakeholders want to see. CDP puts a lot of care into asking the right questions, having consulted with the investor community”, comments Hawes.
And it’s also clients that are asking to see WPP’s CDP disclosure: “We get a lot of requests for our CDP score and 10-15 of our major clients send requests through CDP’s Supply Chain program” says Hawes, “They have a very clear understanding of what it means to have an A- relative to a C, B or A which allows them to target their engagement”.