How dentsu international is Championing Meaningful Social Impact

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Dentsu International is in the process of changing mindsets and actions within its ranks and beyond based on the results of its comprehensive Social Impact report. The advertising and public relations company's study not only focuses on sustainability, but also fair and open societies as well as digital citizenship.

The huge initiative was overseen by Anna Lungley, the company's Chief Sustainability Officer. Under her guidance, 194 volunteers, acting as so-called Social Impact Reporting Champions, worked for three months gathering data and case studies.

The results went through an external audit and were presented to a team of three people who wrote the narrative. According to Lungley, from there it was "really a question of connecting the dots" to come up with actionable steps for the company to take.

Why this report, and why now? "There's a basic lack of understanding about the comprehensive nature of sustainability," Lungley said. "[It involves] everything we need to do to thrive without compromising the needs of each generation, and that includes tackling climate change, growing renewables, strengthening healthcare and education and tackling inequality." She noted that all those moveable parts are "deeply interconnected."

The pandemic added another element and accelerated the sense of urgency, as well. "From a sustainability perspective, people have realized the fragility of our global economic system and how events in China can have a ripple effect on everything else that we do," Lungley asserted.

"It has also made everything harder, in the sense that it has further exposed and contributed to rising inequality, which is a threat multiplier on global challenges including climate change," she added.

At the heart of the report are a series of actionable steps for dentsu to take internally. A good part of that required a change to their communications narrative that relates to the critical importance that the company plays in society and the real value that they can add to the world. Wendy Clark, dentsu's Global CEO, has made this narrative essential.

The Sustainability report lays out a series of long-term goals that the company would like to achieve by 2030. To develop them, the company interviewed over 300 different stakeholders, including employees, investors, and clients. It also interviewed activists to challenge the company's vision.

What was interesting, Lungley pointed out, "was this unifying theme that the biggest change we can make is our ability to inspire human and societal behavioral change."

Dentsu's 2030 Social Impact Strategy encompasses three areas where the company believes it could make the biggest difference:

Sustainable Growth

A sustainable model, according to Lungley, "is about decarbonizing our business, but really importantly, recognizing the much bigger impact we have on society, and our ability to help accelerate the shift towards sustainable behaviors." For dentsu that means encouraging people to eat more plant-based food and reduce resource use -- to recycle and switch to renewable electricity.

Fair and Open Society

As part of creating a diverse, inclusive workforce, dentsu seeks to achieve a 50% gender balance in its leadership team levels. The company is committed to progress for all underrepresented populations and has also set goals for U.S. ethnicity (announced in the dentsu Americas Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report this spring) at 25% BIPOC in the leadership team by 2025, with at least 30% BIPOC in total employee population. Lungley notes that as dentsu transforms its business, it will change how it is viewed by society, as well.

Digital for Good

This pillar recognizes that a healthy world needs healthy digital media. Dentsu is focused on using the power of media and advertising to challenge perceptions -- tackling misinformation and hate speech to make sure that it is operating in an ethical ecosystem, along with ensuring respectful and accurate portrayal and driving equity with its media partners. The staff is also working to equip and empower young people with the skills they need to recognize and manage the media environment in which they live.

Dentsu's biggest goal for 2030 is achieving net-zero emissions. It has a long-range plan, developed with stakeholders from across the business, that includes its so-called Future of Work strategy. This has been a collaboration between people in HR, finance and facilities, as well as from external consultants.

The company is working to make its plan open source, so that anyone can easily calculate their major emissions at no cost, and without technical expertise.

Dentsu settled on the actions laid out in the report because it believes they will make the biggest difference to society. "A lot of organizations don't fail on this agenda because they lack passion," Lungley said. "They fail because they don't know where to focus."

She added: "If we remember one thing, it's the incredible capability we have as human beings to come up with solutions that can change the world and give everybody optimism for the future."

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