A Q&A with Julien LeBas, SVP, Global Head of Sustainability and Executive Creative Director

Jack Blog

April 23rd, 2024 By Jack Morton

Julien Le Bas, a smiling man with a shaved head and short goatee, wearing a white button down shirt, set against a forest canopy sunset backdrop1. Julien, sustainability is a vast and complex field. Could you share a standout moment in your career that really underscored the importance of sustainability in experiential marketing?

A defining moment was when we committed to our global sustainability roadmap, aiming for Net Zero, Zero Waste by 2040 embedding sustainability deeply into our Experience Better vision. It was a bold step that highlighted the critical role of sustainability in experiential marketing, underscoring our dedication to meet and set new industry standards through innovation and circular economy principles. However, the journey started long ago when I was designing large exhibits around the world. The amount of material left behind was appalling, and I decided to check where all the waste was going. After standing in dumpsters to count brochures and pieces of wood, following trucks, and visiting landfills, it became clear that our industry was ignoring some inconvenient facts. In fact, the more we dug, the less we knew. This put me on a path of discovery, trying to make things better, educating myself and testing various ideas, solutions. Now I have the chance to systemize it at the formidable scale of Jack Morton.

2. In the world of experiential marketing, what innovative sustainability practice are you most proud of implementing at Jack Morton?

I’m proud of the work we are doing to implement the Circular Experience Operating System. This comprehensive framework revolutionizes the way we think about, design, and deliver experiences by focusing on circularity, reuse, and recyclability. It’s a testament to our commitment to not reduce our impact and redefine what sustainable experiential marketing can look like. But what I’m equally really thrilled about is the talented group of Planet Ambassadors that we’ve trained to bring our plan to life. We have a team of 30+ individuals committed to applying environmental sustainability to our work, offices, and communities. They are the heart and soul of our initiative. As access to information and guidance is critical, we also developed an AI-powered bot to help our teams ask the right questions and make decisions that matter.

3. Sustainability often requires a shift in mindset. What’s a common misconception about sustainability in our industry that you’d love to debunk?

Many believe that sustainability limits creativity or adds significant cost. However, our approach demonstrates that significant impact reduction can be achieved by making smarter, and sometimes braver decisions. Sustainability is not intuitive to a lot of us, measurement and data plays a crucial role in identifying the low hanging fruit. In some cases, it uncovers hidden costs leading to savings. Furthermore, by embedding sustainability and impact measurement into every project and leveraging innovations like our Circular Experience Operating System, we’ve shown that sustainable practices can enhance creativity by encouraging new ways of thinking, planning, and designing. Just check our award-winning work for HERE at CES. It’s a great example of how using system design, natural light and materials can create not only a sustainable experience but a beautiful one.

4. Looking into the future, what emerging trends in sustainability excites you the most, and how do you see it shaping the experiential marketing landscape?

Two things, first the trend towards complete measurement and transparency in sustainability practices is incredibly exciting. Everyone needs to be accountable. By 2027, we aim to measure and report on all projects, establishing internal benchmarks and best practices. This move towards full transparency aligns with our values and will inspire the industry to adopt more sustainable practices. The second is AI. It has only scratched the surface when it comes to sustainability. We expect AI to play a bigger role in collecting data and making it easier to track and record information with the optimization of impact drivers such as logistics, transportation, and design. AI also allows us to provide rapid access to a wealth of information to help our creative and producers make better decisions. AI does come with environmental costs, so we’re digging deep into the pros and cons of various approaches, but it’s a powerful tool for sustainability and can play a significant role in education to identify eco-friendly choices which can offset the carbon impact of AI itself.

5. Finally, for businesses and individuals alike looking to make a positive environmental impact, could you share one simple yet effective sustainability tip that often goes overlooked?

Adopt a holistic view of consumption and waste. This means considering the immediate use of products and service and their entire lifecycle — from production to disposal. We call it the “start at the end” approach which can be applied to everything from ideas, design, catering, production and much more. By thinking about the end life of what we consume, we can make choices that favor recyclability and reusability. This shift towards thinking in cycles, where everything has a next use, can significantly reduce our environmental footprint and is a crucial step towards a more sustainable future for everyone.

Equally important are information and education. The world of sustainability is complex and confusing. There are lots of facts, tips, and checklists available, but it is difficult to forge an opinion, a new set of habits, a sense for sustainability. Educating ourselves through the Carbon Literacy project for instance is a great way to start developing this sense.