M&C Saatchi appoints former Ikea eco chief to front new consultancy

A colour photo of Joanna Yarrow and Tom Firth
Joanna Yarrow and Tom Firth: co-founders of M&C Saatchi Life

Launch clients include Mayor of London and Kenwood.

M&C Saatchi has appointed former Ikea sustainability chief Joanna Yarrow to front a consultancy that aims to make "sustainable living mainstream".

Dubbed M&C Saatchi Life, the global consultancy places emphasis on environmentally low-impact, data-driven communications planning and creativity, "to help brands and businesses inspire and enable people to live healthier and more sustainable lives, and in doing so build value".

It is part of the agency group's bid to diversify its services and follows M&C Saatchi's recent launch of Thread, a digital innvoation agency founded by a duo from Accenture Interactive.

Life will be led by and has been founded by Yarrow, who is currently a strategy director at M&C Saatchi London, and Tom Firth, the agency's managing director.

They become chief strategy officer and chief executive, respectively, of the new venture and will relinquish their previous responsibilities to focus on the consultancy.

The pair will be supported by strategic advisors who include Sue Garrard, a former executive vice-president of sustainable business and communications at Unilever, and Hilary Berg, former head of sustainability and social responsibility at Iceland Foods.

M&C Saatchi told Campaign that it is working with several clients – both existing agency advertisers and standalone brands. These include the Mayor of London, De'Longhi Group's Kenwood and a large unnamed US "consumer corporate".

The agency said that Life will work with businesses that are looking "beyond just supply chain and operational improvements to consider the role their products, services and brands can play in helping people live better lives within the planet's limits – and how this can build trust and drive sustainable growth".

Life will be an international business, run out of London, and M&C Saatchi said it has built a network across the group globally that includes people from different disciplines and geographies. A sustainability director will join in May.

Yarrow was global head of sustainable and healthy living at Ikea between 2017 and 2020, having led sustainability for UK and Ireland at the Swedish retailer for four years prior to that.

She has worked at M&C Saatchi since 2021 as a strategy director and is on Procter & Gamble's sustainability advisory board, on which she will continue to sit.

Firth is a 21-year M&C Saatchi veteran. In his current role as MD, he has been instrumental in prominent behaviour change and social impact campaigns with commercial and public sector clients.

M&C Saatchi has previously announced 12 sustainability commitments, including setting a "science-based emissions target to do out part to limit global warming to 1.5C".

"Avoid ecological catastrophe" 

Moray MacLennan, M&C Saatchi's chief executive, said the launch of Life fitted with the group's strategy to "deliver meaningful change".

"There is nothing more meaningful than creating positive impact for the societies we live in and the environment we rely on, which is why we've established Life, which will sit at the heart of the group," he said.

"Our experts have been instrumental in accelerating the sustainability journey for some of the world's leading brands, which, combined with the capabilities of M&C Saatchi Group, means that Life can offer clients unparalleled support in mainstreaming sustainable living."

Yarrow said: "The scale and pace of change needed to avoid ecological catastrophe means sustainable living has to become mainstream, now. People worldwide want to be part of the solution, but they don't see ways to have positive impact in their everyday lives.

"Meanwhile, whilst many businesses and other organisations are focusing on their supply chains and operations, few are clear on the most meaningful role they can play to help their customers live more sustainably. And, importantly, how to do so in ways that are distinctive, competitive and compelling. M&C Saatchi Life sets out to address these needs."

Firth said: "Sustainability needs specialist expertise in understanding the nuances and technical issues, of course, but it also needs creativity. Leaps of imagination to help find lateral solutions to the problems we're dealing with as businesses and as a society, as well as creative ideas and stories that make sustainable living aspirational and desirable.

"That's what we're doing with Life – bringing sustainability and creativity together to put brands at the heart of the transition to a more sustainable and equitable way of life. No-one else is offering that combination right now.”

Many brands, agencies and media owners are keen to improve their environmental impact and have signed up to an industry-wide UK initiative, Ad Net Zero. M&C Saatchi said it is the first global partner of Ad Net Zero to roll out the training programme worldwide.

However, some investors have raised doubts about the behaviour of advertisers when it comes to environmental commitments. Terry Smith, founder of Fundsmith, recently claimed Unilever had "lost the plot" over its sustainability messaging.

The launch of Life comes as M&C Saatchi faces a takeover bid from Vin Murria's investment vehice, Advanced AdvT, which wants the company to focus on digital, data and analytics and to ramp up M&A. The agency group has rejected three approaches since the start of the year but the two sides extended negotiations for a month, until 3 March, under City takeover rules.

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