Media: Russell Davies

If a group of alien anthropologists arrived from a distant planet and started to study advertising agencies, what do you think they'd conclude about our purpose?

I suspect they'd conclude that agencies are in the business of putting bits of polyboard in taxis and driving them around town. Or that maybe they exist as places for big, black cars to wait outside, engines idling. Or that they're machines for getting huge wodges of paper, putting very few words on them and binding them together so they can, again, be put in taxis and driven around town.

I don't think they'd conclude that communications agencies are at the cutting edge of sustainable practise.

And we're not, are we? We're happy to do alarmingly dramatic and award-winning ads about green issues and carbon neutrality; we're less inclined to make sure computers are switched off in the evening.

Frankly, all you hard-nosed business types could be forgiven for not caring less about my funny little morality parable if it wasn't for the fact that, just around the corner, your financial existence may depend upon your ability to get things switched off and your understanding of what kind of inks you're using in your Christmas cards. And it's all because of Marks & Spencer.

Its rather splendid "Plan A" initiative feels like a tipping point for sustainability practice in the UK. The other big retailers are bound to respond in some way. And then everyone else. Sustainable compliance will become a boardroom priority. Voluntary codes will be established and popularised. Government ones will swing in with the force of Health and Safety. And then this influence will swim up and down the supply chain, reaching factories in China and posh restaurants in Soho. Then you'll really have to worry about it.

Because it's not going to be long before most pitches will be accompanied by a Sustainability Compliance document and those nice procurement people will be poking around your photocopying room and visiting you at night to see how many lights you've got left on.

That's probably the easy stuff to fix, but I bet your production people have been trying to talk to you about your printers recently, mentioning things like ISO 14001. Have you been listening? You probably should. You should probably do what they say. It might make your new-business mailer a little more expensive, but it'll keep you from falling off the list for all those big fabulous pitches.

For a quick, readable primer on printing issues, you can go here: