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Picadilly Circus advertising billboards

We can’t be the only one that has been having a bit of an internal struggle about the business we are in. Pedalling brands, whilst we discuss the climate emergency and the projected world heating passes over 2 degrees, feels conflicting. In fact, we were surprised that the advertising industry didn’t feature more heavily during COP26, since our role in growing brands and influencing consumer behaviour, carries a lot of responsibility. During a panel on ‘Role of Advertising in Addressing Climate Change’ the findings from the new ‘Advertised emissions’ report from Purpose Disruptors were presented, which we believe opens this essential conversation.

Here are some bite-sized takeaways from the event.

The Problem

Put simply, ‘advertising exists to help a client sell more than it otherwise would have’. Greater demand for products from consumers means a greater need for suppliers to produce more. And, as key drivers of this demand, the ad industry shares responsibility for these emissions.

In the past, this negative environmental impact has been swept under the rug to appease big corporate clients, and because frankly, it’s more profitable and far easier to ignore. Until recently we’ve lacked the sense of wide-scale cultural urgency from institutions and consumers to act. The collective waking up to the reality of the climate emergency has created a pressing need for a metric that allows us to explore, identify and measure the greenhouse emissions associated with advertising.

Thanks to this new research by Purpose Disruptors, we’re now able to measure ‘Advertised emissions’ using the formula below. This provides us with a common currency for analysing the consequence of advertising on the environment, allowing for fact-based scrutiny and therefore more tangible potential for positive change.

Process for calculating the UK’s advertised emissions, ‘Advertising Emissions’ Purpose disruptors 2021

So how bad is it?

As you can see by the infographic below, pretty scarily bad. According to the research, advertising contributes more than 186 million tonnes of CO2. This is half the size of the UK’s territorial emissions. It increases every single Brit’s personal carbon footprint by 28%. And importantly, is 186X bigger than the operational emissions of the UK industry, where a lot of the conversation has historically been directed.

Advertised emissions for the UK, ‘Advertised Emissions’, Purpose Disruptors 2021

What can the advertising industry do about it?

The good news is our role of demand manufacturers also gives us a great opportunity to accelerate adoption of lower-emission alternatives. We have a unique part in the race to reduce global warming. As you can see from the graph below, the time for action is now. It’s forecasted that if there’s no improvement in the overall carbon intensity of what’s advertised, emissions will be more than 270m tonnes by 2030. To avoid this, we need to cut advertised emissions in half by 2030.

Two scenarios to 2030, ‘Advertised Emissions’, Purpose Disruptors 2021

So how do we deliver this target?

The report suggests in simple terms ‘promote fewer high-carbon brands and promote more low carbon-brands’. Just as financial institutions are reallocating money from high carbon industries to lower carbon alternatives, the industry should aim to reallocate demand to inspire more sustainable consumer choices.  

The report provides us with a traffic light framework to help us do so, categorising brands by their negative climate impact. Advertisers should be reducing spend on red brands, transitioning spend on amber towards lower carbon behaviours, and increasing spend to grow green brands. 

Red brands: 

Brands to reduce spend on. They sit within high carbon industries, and are either not sufficiently investing in low carbon alternatives (fossil fuel companies), or don’t have the technology available to achieve low carbon alternatives (airlines). 

Amber brands: 

These sit within industries that are ripe to drive the transition to lower carbon consumption through re-engineering demand. For example, we may be able to capitalise on brand trust to make lower carbon choices more acceptable (eg. Car companies promoting EVs). When advertising these brands, we should be accelerating the adoption of lower carbon offerings. 

Green brands: 

Where we should be focusing spend. Brands in low or zero carbon industries with a business model that gears to serving a 1.5C degree world. These brands are ethical, innovative, and offer a consumer choice with significantly lower impact. 

Proposed traffic like system to half advertised emissions, ‘Advertised Emissions’, Purpose Disruptors 2021

At Media Bounty, this has been the central focus to our business strategy. We take great pride in turning down briefs from red brands and focus our efforts on amber and green brands that are pushing for sustainable futures.  

Get in contact if you could do with some advice in the transition to growing greener brands, and avoiding red ones. 


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