How can the ad industry reach net zero?

Adah Parris, Ellie Stamouli, Stephen Woodford, and Lucy von Sturmer offer advice

The UK advertising industry launched Ad Net Zero in November 2020, but how’s it going? Plenty of brands pledged their support at the time, as the industry loves to do with good causes. But what progress has been made? As recently as November last year The Guardian reported that the marketing industry is grappling with the role of selling consumption in a climate crisis. So we decided to ask a handful of smart people in our network what they think is going on, and what needs to be done.

Initially, we spoke to Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, who advised us by saying ‘every business in the advertising industry should engage with Ad Net Zero. It provides guidance on how to align your business with the latest climate science, decarbonise the advertising supply chain and produce work in support of a sustainable future.’ Stephen went on to say that people should read the book, Sustainable Advertising, and engage with its manifesto to help build a sustainable economy.

We then turned to our network for advice…

Adah Parris — Visionary Keynote Speaker and Consultant

Adah Parris

To reach net zero the advertising industry must adopt regenerative practices, beginning with immediate actions like donating to initiatives such as 1% for the PlanetEarthPercent, or becoming members of Creative Conscience to foster sustainable creativity. These initial steps mark a dedication to shrinking carbon footprints and enhancing CO2 removal. In the medium term, the focus should focus on crafting campaigns for eco-friendly brands and endorsing sustainable advertising, prioritising digital efficiency, using recyclable materials, promoting sustainable products, fighting overconsumption, and ensuring truthful environmental claims. These efforts, essential for net-zero progress, are complemented by long-term investments in renewable energy and eco-friendly materials for ad productions. Supporting organisations like Creative Conscience further motivates the creative sector towards environmental regeneration, driving sustainability innovation. By adopting these strategies and backing environmentally sustainable causes, the advertising industry can significantly contribute to the global push for a net-zero future, demonstrating a comprehensive conscious commitment to actions that reduce emissions and foster a healthier planet.

Ellie Stamouli — Director at Aenae

Ellie Stamouli

To get your emissions to zero, you first need to calculate them — accurately. And at the moment there is no standardised methodology for the advertising industry. That’s about to change, however, with the Global Media Sustainability Framework expected by June 2024. By all measures, the current industry footprint is big. When thinking about digital advertising specifically, the emissions emitted will be further inflated with the recent addition of AI tools, which have an incremental big footprint. Despite initial concerns that emission reduction might compromise revenue goals, there is initial evidence that improving the efficiency of programmatic advertising (for example streamlining the amount of DSPs and SSPs connected to the same inventory) not only decreases the environmental impact but also benefits the bottom line. Some great initiatives that make me hopeful are Clean Creatives, a coalition of agencies that refuse to work with fossil fuel companies, and #ChangeTheBrief Alliance a partnership of agencies and clients who vouch to promote sustainability at every opportunity.

Additionally, there is currently an effort across the biggest ad agencies to educate employees about making ads more sustainable, which is an essential step towards achieving net zero.

Lucy von Sturmer — Creatives For Climate initiator, and Founder of The Humblebrag

Lucy von Sturmer

The climate impact of the advertising industry, like all service-based industries, comes down to the clients it represents, rather than tweaks to decarbonizing agency operations. The biggest challenge I see for the ad industry is to confront and take ownership for its role in both growing and legitimizing the world’s worst polluters — for example fossil fuel companies — and to implement a ban on working with these clients.

What we see are the real frontrunners, who are genuinely committed to this mission, willing to sign the Clean Creatives pledge and join the Creatives for Climate Ethical Agency Alliance, whereas the laggards are busy working on certification, standards and awards that don’t challenge their fundamental impact and in the end, will rob the hope of a liveable planet for us all. Building on this, the ad industry can reach net zero by implementing a ban on representing high carbon clients starting with fossil fuels, confronting its greenwashing problem through courses and trainings, and actually banding together through alliances such as ours to walk the talk on collaboration.

Featured image: Tobias Rademacher / Unsplash