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Getting Past the Greenwash: 10 tips for taking your sustainability strategy beyond skin deep

Businesses have a crucial role to play in combating the climate crisis and contributing to a more sustainable economy

Jake Dubbins, CAN and Media Bounty

Co-Chair and Managing Director

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Businesses have a huge role to play in solving the climate crisis. In a society that often places profit above people, we have the power to flip the narrative and use their businesses as a force for good.

At Media Bounty, we’re passionate about helping brands define their role and succeed in this space. We know that it isn’t always easy. Our latest webinar, Getting Past the Greenwash, was a masterclass in getting your climate strategy right. I’m sharing the 11 key takeaways from the event: from using your comms to combat climate misinformation, to connecting with audiences beyond the eco-engaged.

1. Learn and know your numbers

Impactful strategies come from facts, not feelings. Set yourself up for success by learning the facts, educating your team and collaborating with experts.

The Paris Climate Agreement commits the world to 1.5 – 2 degrees of warming. Currently, we’re 1.2 degrees and forecasted to hit 1.5 degrees by 2030. By the end of the century, we’re on course for 2.4 degrees if all pledges are met, or 2.9 -3.1 degrees and beyond if not. To put it simply, we’re not even close.

Bring the outside in. These issues are very big and very scary. There are some incredible experts outside of advertising that everyone can (and should) learn from. Here are just 3: Carbon Brief, The ECIU and the Grantham Institute.

In a society that often places profit above people, we have the power to flip the narrative

Jake Dubbins, Managing Director at Media Bounty / Co-Founder and Co-Chair at Conscious Advertising Network

2. Understand what this means

In the IPCC’s latest report, they said that there is a ‘rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future’.

What does an unliveable future look like? It is not just extreme weather- although this will become far more commonplace. It’s mass extinction, unprecedented migration and the complete inability of the environment to support our most basic needs.

This is big. It’s scary. But understanding the scale of the issue is vital in defining the urgency and scope of your response.

3. Don’t hide from the climate crisis

Brands that act radically and authentically, in alignment with the science, will be set up for future success. So be brave! Don’t be afraid to tackle the big issues. Bring experts on board to help you sensitively address more complex challenges. Brands have a real opportunity to differentiate by creating real impact.

Understanding the scale of the issue is vital in defining the urgency and scope of your response

Jake Dubbins, Managing Director at Media Bounty / Co-Founder and Co-Chair at Conscious Advertising Network

4. Participate wholeheartedly

What does the climate crisis mean to you?

For me, it means looking my now 7 and 10-year-olds in the eye. In 2030, when they are 15 and 18, I'll be answering their question – ‘Dad, you knew. What did you do?’ Whenever I think about this, it makes me cry.

All of us have to act to secure a liveable future. What is your role?

5. Positivity and self-care

These issues can be overwhelming. The numbers speak for themselves.  But there are a huge number of people working to solve these big problems. If you reach out, you will find a myriad of experts collaborating positively on the biggest brief of our lives.

Take breaks from it though. Switch off. Take time to recharge to maintain that positive approach to problem solving. 

6. Recognise advertising’s role

According to a ground-breaking report by the Purpose Disruptors, in 2019 the advertising industry added an extra 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK. That’s equal to the carbon footprint of Holland.

This is our responsibility. We have a huge role to play.

Calculate the impact of every campaign you work on. Tools and organisations like Ad Net Zero, Conscious Advertising Network, the IPA and AdGreen.

Check the companies you work with. Do they greenwash? Work with fossil fuel companies?

We are the ‘architects of desire’. Be conscious about the products, services and behaviours you promote. Your actions have impact.

7. Think beyond the green blob

Is your messaging converting, or just preaching to the choir? Most of the UK population are neither climate activists nor climate deniers. Reaching this ‘persuadable’ audience is key. Create inclusive comms that resonate with the issues diverse audiences face.

At Media Bounty, we’ve done the research to find out what this persuadable audience in Britain really thinks when it comes to climate. These findings are vital for creating impactful climate comms. Watch this space- we'll be publishing our report soon! 

8. Create a desirable future

There is a myth that fixing climate means sacrifice. People have had a great deal ‘taken away’ from them over the last few years with the pandemic and people fear the same with climate.

Brands need to build hopeful, desirable visions of a sustainable future, to combat this concept that sustainability means sacrifice.

Clean air, cheaper, cleaner energy and healthy food are not exactly sacrifices. The Purpose Disruptors Good Life Project is a fantastic investigation into the 2030 people really want. 

Climate comms also have a reputation of being pretty dry. It can be earnest, worthy, and boring. But it doesn’t have to be! We have found humour to be a fantastic lever to cut through in this space. 

9. Create ‘misinformation informed’ comms

Understanding your audience's relationship to topics beyond climate will help you understand the misinformation they’re vulnerable to. Create robust strategies by building this understanding into your comms.

Narrative frames that misinform and intend to delay climate action are also prevalent. Take these common themes, for example:

·       We can either fix the economy or fix climate change

·       Fixing climate change will put more pressure on consumers' wallets

·       Net Zero will leave us colder and poorer

Don’t fall into these traps. Be aware of these narratives and their impact on your audience.

It’s also important to ensure your media spend isn’t funding misinfo. Top brands sent $2.6 billion to misinformation sites every year. Be a part of the solution - CAN[GU1]  and Act Climate Labs have a wealth of resources to help you understand and combat misinformation.

10. Not all hate means you’re wrong

For some strange reason, climate is divisive. Any brand launching sustainability comms needs to accept they’re going to ruffle some feathers. Create a message you’re proud to own and prepare a strategy to deal with trolls.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. Ingenious responses to trolls can drive fame.

We have used this tactic in our work in an entirely different category for Bodyform. When we showed period blood in our ads on social channels, we had lots of backlash even though the response was overwhelmingly positive. The brand took a very brave stance. We reproduced the original ads with the comments from trolls alongside each scene. We were able to show how much misogyny there still is in society, stand up to the trolls and further the mission of the brand to live fearless.

11. Good people can greenwash too

It’s not just the fossil fuel companies' transparent attempts at CSR, or bogus Net Zero claims that can be swiftly deconstructed in court.

It’s probably not Alpro, Persil or Innocent, all of whom have had ads pulled for “woolly” or unsubstantiated claims. [GU2] 

Understanding the CAP and BCAP codes are key when creating campaigns.  Experts, like those at MB, can help you create robust, honest and effective campaigns without falling into the greenwash trap.

Remember that greenwash isn’t about the intent- it's about the impact.

Guest Author

Jake Dubbins, CAN and Media Bounty

Co-Chair and Managing Director

About

Jake is Co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN), a cross industry group that believe that the ethics must now catch up with the technology of modern advertising. As well as being Co-founder and managing director of Media Bounty, a creative social media agency with a conscience. Advising clients as diverse as Bodyform, method, ecover and The Meatless Farm on using social to drive long-term brand growth. Jake is a passionate advocate of business as driver of social good. Media Bounty has funded the purchase of nearly 700 acres of critically threatened habitat through World Land Trust and the agency team volunteer for environmental, homeless and social cohesion charities.

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