Thought Leadership

Should marketers be taking more personal responsibility for addressing the climate crisis?

Now is the time for marketers to take meaningful action to make businesses more sustainable for our planet.

Georgie Moreton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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The climate crisis is the single biggest issue that the world is currently facing. Yet the danger is that it becomes viewed as too big a problem to solve. As with many overwhelming issues, conversation and policy-making lead to decision paralysis. Yet many progressive brands believe that now is the time to move from awareness to action. 

The advertising and marketing industry holds the unique ability to instigate behavioural change on mass and so instead of shying away from the issue, the industry has an opportunity to use its superpower to enable consumers to make more sustainable choices.  

Whilst it may seem that it is businesses and organisations that have the ability to make the most impactful change, individual decisions and actions are what contribute to societal shifts. Where there will be no need for advertising and marketing on a dead planet is now the time for businesses to take a stand and say no to work that does not show commitment to sustainability?

With leaders joining together to make tangible change at events like COP, Ad Net Zero and even Cannes these discussions must now work toward actual change. We asked industry leaders should marketers be taking more personal responsibility for addressing the climate crisis?

Seb Munden

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Chair of Ad Net Zero and former EVP

Unilever UK & Ireland

The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ but I wouldn’t limit this responsibility to marketers – it applies to everyone! Especially everyone working in advertising and marketing, using our professional skills to help tackle the climate crisis.

Ad Net Zero asks the industry to change the way it works and change the work it makes, to decarbonise advertising operations and promote sustainable products, services and behaviours. While it is supported by organisations in the UK and around the world, it requires action from each of us to make its goal (“all for none”) a reality.

But what does personal responsibility mean? I would say become familiar with the 5-point Ad Net Zero Action Plan – including resources such as Change The Brief. This outlines how we can put advertising’s positive influence to work, promoting more sustainable choices and behaviours.  Encourage the organisation where each of us works to become Ad Net Zero supporters, join or set up a company green team, and get going on the action plan.

There’s also the Ad Net Zero Training - sign up to understand climate fundamentals and which tools are available to improve the way we do our day jobs across the creative process. It also helps us understand UK rules and regulations around making environmental claims – essential knowledge for every ad professional.

What could be more fulfilling than being a force for good in promoting the green economy and more sustainable behaviour change?

Find out more at adnetzero.com

Shaun Maamari

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Senior Consultant

Frog Design

Obviously! We all have a personal responsibility to do our bit for the planet. But from a business perspective, marketing can and should play a key role. As the core connection between the C-Suite and the consumer, we're uniquely positioned to drive the kind of creative collaboration that can help make change.

The focus of majority of today’s marketers is to connect consumer heads and hearts to drive business metrics. But this equation brushes over a key stakeholder: the planet.

Marketing impacts the masses through good design that works to influence and change behaviours. Getting that equation above right needs to be about understanding what positive behaviours we actually want to shape to help brands deliver. Only by thinking from a top-down, bottom-up perspective can we start to become sustainable by default.

Perhaps the responsibility of marketers in this new measurement environment should be about finding a balance between promoting consumption, shaping positive behaviours, and executing in a planet positive way. Reluctancy comes with the unknown – ‘are planet positive communications as effective?’ Les, Peter, over to you.

A key step would be shifting gears from ‘passive’ to ‘active’. A recent study showed that advertising-driven consumption adds an extra 32% to annual carbon footprint of every person in the UK. Maybe it’s time to stop talking about those Net Zero goals and do something about them. Marketers have the ability to drive change, let’s stop talking the talk and start walking.

Aimee Luther

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Managing Director

The Liberty Guild

Net Zero Fucks Given

We are the masters of behavioural change. We have been practising for decades for our moment in the (blistering) sun. We have persuaded people to wear seatbelts. Stop smoking. Eat more healthily. Exercise more. Look after our heart. But when it comes to a real, end game, planetary crisis. When it comes to something that is even more crucial to our health. Our very existence. Where the fuck are we?

At home we recycle, we buy an EV, we turn the heating down by a degree, we insulate, we economise, but at work, we just carry on regardless. We don't seem to care professionally, where we do personally.  How can we not see that we have a responsibility, and also we have a unique skill that can actually help to avert this climate car crash.

Kermit famously sang that being green wasn’t easy.  If you wanted to be kind to Mother Earth, you had to make sacrifices in other areas.  Aesthetics were clunky, the price shot up, or efficacy was sacrificed.  But not now.  You can have it all.  And consumers, even in these gloomy times, are seeking out brands who are sticking to their moral guns and in return are reaping the rewards.  You could say, the only way is ethics.   So come on marketers, grab your levers of influence, hold your joystick of power and show you give a shit.

Tom Newton

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Strategy Partner

Hell Yeah!

I think it is a bit lazy to blame marketers for this over consumption hole that we have dug ourselves into. Ultimately marketing is not working if you don’t shift products (or services) for a profit and a marketer will be out of work.

That being said, there is a growing core of marketers that care deeply about the climate and want to use their brain, talent and time to have a positive impact on the future.

Marketers have great power, their work when done well forms an internal rallying call that impacts all departments and externally changes the way consumers behave. If they can prove that acting responsibly is good for business they can completely change the direction of an organisation and encourage other businesses to follow suit.

So to answer the question no, should is a very dangerous word. There’s no way you can mandate that people take personal responsibility. But if marketers decide they want to, they are ideally placed to make a difference.

Selina Donald

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Founder and Chief Sustainability Adviser

The Bulb

The marketing industry not only works with every industry in the world, but it has the power and platform to reach every consumer.  We’re an industry of influence, and we have to take responsibility for the carbon impacts of the products we promote, the behaviours we encourage and the stories we create.   A recent study confirmed that advertising influenced emissions have risen by 11% since 2019, despite our deepening understanding of the climate crisis.

The IPCC said that behaviour change could cut up to 70% of emissions by 2050.  It’s time that we changed the narrative, reducing consumption instead of promoting, using our client’s powerful platforms and brands to educate and empower consumers to make more sustainable lifestyle choices.  Having a positive environmental impact has to be at the core of every decision we make moving forward.

Nick Radley

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CSO

Forever Beta

In short, yes of course they should. But only in the sense that we all should. This problem isn’t going to be fixed by waiting for COP27, others or politicians to fix it.  It’s a shared problem.

But it’s more than responsibility (such a dull and worthy word) - it’s about a complete mindset shift - making acting for the good of the planet second nature.  It’s a bit like training your kids to turn the lights off when they leave a room - we all need to make being parsimonious with energy and being protective of waste a habit. It follows that if it becomes your natural way of thinking it will invade all your thinking. We need it to stop being an effort. 

From that shift, thinking about marketing, products and incremental sales will start from a better place.  Responsible consumption, responsible marketing, responsible businesses.  We can push them further with B Corps and other standards, but it has to start from each and every one of us rather than singling anyone or anything out.  So we all need to take more responsibility for us to address the crisis. It’s a bit trite to say, but as much as we are all part of the problem, we are all part of the solution too.

Anna Lungley

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Chief Sustainability Officer

Dentsu

The responsibility of marketers and decision-makers within the advertising and media industry to address the climate crisis is indisputable. It is our industry that promotes unsustainable consumption, but it is also ours that has the creativity, capability, and potential to shape human and societal behaviour. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, our industry is also behind on climate literacy. With increasing regulation designed specifically to combat greenwashing, compliance cannot sit with sustainability and marketing teams alone. Businesses will require all functions to upskill in sustainability - from legal to finance to technology. And greater understanding will enable agency teams to create the solutions clients need.

Businesses open themselves up to scrutiny when there is a lack of knowledge and initiative from individuals on the frontlines. Marketers have an amazing opportunity to drive the behaviour change we need to achieve net-zero emissions, and the importance of this role cannot be understated. Agencies and brands must place education and training at the heart of their sustainability strategy. This will enable marketers to come to terms with the role that they have played in the climate crisis so that they recognise and act upon opportunity that lies ahead.

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