Once a relatively niche consideration for brands and consumers, sustainability has risen significantly on the agenda in recent years, following greatly increased public debate and awareness of environmental concerns. It’s fair to say that sustainability is now a mainstream concern, and one that brands and agencies can no longer afford to neglect.
This not only extends to “obvious” sustainability concerns like the carbon footprint of e-commerce shipping or the waste created by physical products and their packaging, but much less tangible things as well. While ad agencies, digital marketing consultants, and other virtual service providers might have felt left out of the sustainability conversation, or felt unable to take concrete action on environmental issues, the attention s is now focused on how digital and virtual services, such as digital advertising and marketing, affect the environment.
After all, even the virtual world is powered by energy and therefore generates emissions, and business activities associated with the advertising industry, such as travel, can also be tracked and their carbon impact calculated. As 2022 approaches, the industry at large is increasingly beginning to take this impact into account and take action to counter it.
In November 2020, the Advertising Association, together with the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), launched an industry-wide initiative called Net Zero Advertising which has set itself the goal of achieving “by the end of 2030 net real carbon emissions from the development, production and placement of media advertising”. On the occasion of the launch of the initiative, the Climate Action Working Group of the AA (created in January 2020) published a report in partnership with think tank Credos, which has estimated that operational CO2e (CO2 equivalent) emissions from the UK advertising industry alone exceed 84,000 tonnes per year. Based on this, she estimated that the industry as a whole could have a carbon footprint of over a million tonnes.
Another big undertaking to tackle the problem is Scope3, created by AppNexus founder and ad tech veteran Brian O’Kelley. Scope3 is a public benefit company aiming to assess and reduce the environmental impact of digital advertising production, and takes its name from Scope 3 carbon emissions, which refers to emissions not generated directly by a company itself. itself, but by entities in its supply chain. These types of programs are increasingly monitored, for example big companies like Unilever, Philips and Chanel as they strive to demonstrate their full commitment to sustainability.
Tools are also becoming available to allow organizations to calculate the carbon footprint of their advertising activity, such as a carbon calculator. published by Good-Loop in June 2021, and a created by AdGreen, another Advertising Association initiative, in September. AdGreen also offers services such as training on sustainable production, assistance in switching to renewable energy sources, a Creative Offsets program to offset unavoidable emissions, etc. While these types of measures are still far from commonplace, digital organizations are being presented with more options to demonstrate their commitment to environmentally responsible action and thus have the opportunity to raise the bar for the whole industry.
Rising public awareness of environmental issues has also led to increased scrutiny of so-called “greenwashing” in advertising, in which companies invest in advertisements that mislead the public about their ecological references. Last September, the Advertising Standards Authority announcement that it will launch surveys to analyze environmental claims made by companies in sectors such as energy, waste and transport, and that it will commission research into the promises of carbon neutrality and net zero made in advertisements . Google has also updated its ads policy prohibit the advertising and monetization of content that promotes climate change denial; and while this is definitely at the extreme end of the spectrum, it does not rule out the possibility that further action may be taken to crack down on organizations that misrepresent their eco-certificates. Advertisers need to make sure they do their due diligence on the posts they’re involved with, to avoid headaches later.
The conversation around sustainability and environmentalism is wide-ranging, and it might seem to organizations new to thinking about these issues that there is an endless list of things to consider. However, there are also a growing number of resources available to help, and companies that can show that they are at least beginning to tackle the problem and take meaningful action to deal with its impact will stand out accordingly – putting you in a better position. position to win business and, of course, be part of the solution to the climate impact of advertising.