What is a sustianable agency - featured image

A ‘sustainable’ agency – what on earth does that mean?

I’ve always been fascinated by nature. I think because I grew up right next to some woods. I would spend hours and hours in there, scurrying around and exploring. Then later I started birdwatching, travelling long distances to see rare and colourful birds. In my twenties my serious foraging and fungi habit got going. Then scuba diving came and now I’m chasing butterflies and bugs around trying to figure out what they are. Recently I’ve found that nature photography binds it all together and is, to be honest, great for the Gram – even if that does spoil the purity of the image a bit.

Outside of all that my career has been in digital marketing since my early twenties but starting a straightforward digital marketing agency has never appealed. It’s a saturated market, yes, but working with any old company – burly old banks etc. – for the sake of growth is not what I’m passionate about. How can you build something if it doesn’t make you tick? If it makes you feel smaller, then what’s the point?

The turning point for me came when working for more sustainable clients over the past few years and finding that work more rewarding and important. I thought, why not use this marketing expertise to help brands focusing on sustainability?

So I did. That’s why I started Akepa – an agency to help sustainable brands grow and succeed.

Because sustainability is something that I am passionate about. I guess in part it’s about protecting the things that I’ve enjoyed so much since I was younger.

What does ‘sustainable’ even mean, though?

‘Sustainability’ is the most popular enigma. I’m often asked what the word means when I explain what Akepa is. Often the question is put to me with the tacit suggestion that ‘sustainability’ is empty, some kind of snake oil or, in other words, bullsh*t.

I get that but it’s not so difficult to explain sustainability in simple terms:

Sustainability just describes things that can be maintained over time without harming people, society or the environment. So fast fashion, no, not sustainable. Biodegradable straws made from pasta. A bit odd sounding but, yes, probably sustainable.

We’re also using the s-word to brand the agency, so how does that work?

Akepa – a sustainable (marketing) agency:

There are two sides to Akepa as a sustainable agency.

  • Helping only sustainable brands to grow and succeed
  • Being sustainable

Well that’s the quick overview but whenever I mention any of that it tends to lead to questions:

Chief among them is ‘what is a sustainable brand?’ To that, I’d say a brand that offers a patently sustainable product / service – or a brand that is not so overtly sustainable but is focusing on becoming more so. In the second case there’s a caveat: the aspiring brand shouldn’t be so far removed from sustainability that its efforts are a bolt-on or a con. Shell might be trying to reduce its carbon emissions. But those carbon emissions have been so massive and so prolonged that I couldn’t ever consider Shell to be a sustainable brand.

Related, is ‘what kind of company can be sustainable?’ Some folk might think that the sustainable tag applies only to environmentally-focused firms. I take a different view, which is that sustainability can also be about people and society. One of our clients encourages healthy eating and that’s a sustainable approach to me.

And another thing I get asked is ‘how can an agency be sustainable?’ I might as well say what we’re doing to that one. We’ve neutralised carbon emissions via an official accreditation from ClimatePartner. Those carbon emissions have been kept to a minimum because we use a remote working model. We’ve matched our carbon commitment with an involvement in ocean protection projects. The people we work with are a diverse bunch from all over and we aim to work to a 4-day week so getting work done is sustainable. There are other ways to meet the mark (e.g. B Corp status) but so-called sustainable agencies should operate in a way that’s kind to the environment and people.

That and being transparent and admitting imperfection. Nothing we’re doing is perfect or even half way there. Sustainability is something we’ll work on and get better at.

Then with all the above, you need to be wary of the sleazy, slimy spectre of greenwashing but this article’s getting a bit long winded now. If you want to know more, here’s another blog post.

And remember, if any of that sounds a bit dogmatic then it’s my own take, which also puts Akepa into perspective. Of course there are other takes.

So are you / is Akepa a hippy?

The way I started this it might read like I’m a bit of a hippy. And I’m not quite sure what that means but the approach I want to take with Akepa is to be enterprising to protect the things that I care about. Akepa doesn’t meet the stereotype of sitting around strumming sitar, somewhat disengaged, dreamy and isolated.

But then that is a lazy stereotype, and stereotypes are hardly sustainable. So, on second thoughts, maybe I am a bit of a hippy. Maybe Akepa is. And that’s fine.

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Michael Wilkins

Birdwatcher, forager, scuba diver, butterfly watcher, mushroom expert, Founder.

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