Why I have mixed feelings about our MSQ Sustainability Report

A few weeks back we proudly launched the 2022 MSQ Sustainability Report. It was created as a low carbon website and outlined our progress and learnings as we embark on our mission to cut carbon emissions by more than 50% per employee by 2024, plant one million trees and achieve approved Science-Based targets.

So far, so good. Ever since becoming the first international marketing group to be carbon negative, it’s been important to all of us at MSQ to continue to lead the way in this area, sharing the knowledge we’ve picked up on our journey so far and being transparent about our emissions and processes.

Plans, promises and projections that businesses make are great, but alongside those commitments its vital that we all take our overall sustainability process seriously, tracking our progress and understanding the direction in which our Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions are heading.

That’s why ‘The Numbers’ was the cornerstone of our report. We’re really excited by the staff commitments we’ve made, the developments in providing more sustainable production processes and the advice we’re giving clients through MSQ/Sustain, but if we’re to achieve our target of Net Zero, it’s the data that really needs to be detailed.

The Cannes wake-up call

We launched our Sustainability Report the week of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. We knew Cannes would be a fascinating platform for discussion about the industry’s sustainability progress, and boy was that the case.

On the one hand, you had agencies making commitments and work being awarded to help make the planet a greener place. On the other you had Greenpeace making their presence known with (peaceful) protests that pushed the industry as a whole to go a whole lot further.

And it’s true – a lot of the pledges made in Cannes barely scratch the surface of what agencies and networks of the size they are should be doing to solve the climate crisis. They’ve certainly been made far too late. And most of the discussions at the festival were (inevitably) far too simplistic for a topic that’s multi-faceted and full of nuances.

The whole industry needs to have deeper conversations about sustainability. We all need to make more transparent commitments. We need to have more detailed plans in place – at the very least, every agency and group needs Science-Based targets.

But it wasn’t just that that left me feeling a little empty post-Cannes. Because even as a group that’s leading in this space, we have a hell of a long way to go to truly change behaviours.

Plane pain

When you count those from MSQ agencies as well as those from MSQ’s central team, 17 MSQers went to Cannes. And 16 of them arrived by plane.

That method of transport is probably understandable for our US contingent (who were actually judging and presenting at the festival) and you can perhaps give the benefit of the doubt to our team from Belfast too. But of those from our London contingent, just one took the train, and that was decided last minute due to doctor’s orders.

Now I want to stress that none of that London contingent actively shunned the train option. it just never really occurred when things were booked last year.

Don’t worry, their trips have still been offset. As a carbon negative organisation we’ve accounted for their travel and will be working with our partners to offset all emissions from the trip. And because it’s important that we go further than simply offsetting (as anyone who’s heard me speak will testify, offsetting in general is not the magic bullet we’d all like it to be, it’s a stop-gap, we need to go further and focus on removals), MSQ will mark Cannes Lions by planting an additional 10,000 trees in our forest, which will massively outweigh the emissions generated by all our flights.

But that’s where the ammo for writing this article really lies.

Changing behaviour

My role as Chief Sustainability Officer at MSQ so far has been to establish a clear, transparent and effective sustainability strategy for the group. Identifying offsetting partners, developing Science-Based targets, ensuring sustainability remains on the boardroom agenda so that it gets the funding and commitment required to actually succeed.

The Sustainability Report is an example of a start well made. But the next stage is to truly instil a behavioural change within the group as a whole. So that sustainability is front of mind for everyone.

We know our staff care about sustainability. That’s shown in the number of people signed up to our Staff Carbon Offsetting scheme, our Staff Renewable Energy scheme and those embracing our Giki app.

But if we’re to succeed in making genuine change. We need a behavioural shift. I mentioned the train option to our Cannes goers after the event and every person seemed keen.

It’s not only an incredibly greener choice – did you know that our combined taxi emissions from Nice airport to La Croisette were greater than the total emissions of the one individual who travelled by train from London to Cannes?! – it’s probably more comfortable and enjoyable too. The MSQer who did take the train said it was a pleasant experience and allowed him to get a lot more work done. The MSQers who battled Gatwick Airport and spent 4 hours sitting on the tarmac at Nice airport… didn’t have such kind words to say about their journey.


I wish creating a more sustainable future was easy for businesses to accomplish. That a few rich network heads could throw money at the problem and it’ll all go away. But we know it’s not as simple as that. And even those – like MSQ – who I’d consider to have more detailed sustainability strategies, cannot rely solely on internal schemes and external partners to make it happen.

We all need to change behaviours across our businesses. We need to have grown-up conversations to ensure sustainability is at the forefront of all our long-term and day-to-day decisions. My aim is to plant sustainability as the number one issue in every MSQers’ mind – when they’re sourcing products, planning trips, booking venues, creating content – and keep it there.

And at the very least, we can take the train to Cannes next year.

James Cannings is the Chief Sustainability Officer of MSQ