Can the industry get to Net Zero greenwashing?

As sustainability raises higher up the agenda further action and regulation is needed to prevent greenwashing

Stuart Archibald

Founder and CEO CA.5


Last week’s Guardian article ‘ASA to ban ads making unproved eco claims’ is an important step in the effort to stop industry greenwashing. Adverts that claim products are carbon neutral using offsets are to be banned unless companies can prove they really work. There will be a stricter enforcement over the use of terms such as ‘carbon neutral’, ‘net zero’ and ‘nature positive’.

For some time, I have been concerned with the credibility of carbon off-set programmes as well as companies using it to mask a lack of climate action.

The analysis ‘Greenwashing era is over’ whilst encouraging, hit home why the advertising industry and clients will continue to fall foul of regulators and consumers. A key paragraph stated, ‘Creative teams at agencies are having to work closely with their lawyers when advising clients on their climate claims.’ It’s common practice for agencies operating in heavily regulated markets to check claims. However, leaving it to the creative brief, teams and lawyers to address the most complex brief of all will not stop the greenwashing.

Climate action is a journey and one that needs more hands and commitment than any advertiser or agency has ever had to answer.

Stuart Archibald, Founder and CEO of CA.5

A number of years ago, I worked on the communications launch of The Climate Group (TCG) with Tony Blair and a bunch of very bright people who understood the science behind climate change. TCG was born to collaborate with business on climate action and help companies transition to greener technologies. After a successful launch I was invited to be a Trustee (certainly not for my scientific brain but to advise on communication). At the time, I was passionate to get member companies to communicate their green credentials. However, most weren’t ready. Members knew that climate action and a path to net zero meant a change to manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing. And, a commitment to reduce, re-use, recycle and off-set. A need to get their house in order before involving an agency or writing a brief.

Why are we now seeing a proliferation of greenwashing headlines, regulation and PR disasters? Are companies insincere on climate action? Are the easier steps all that can be taken? Has the unregulated off-setting industry given business an easy way out? Have marketers and agencies jumped to service the rise of the climate conscious consumer without valid product claims? Is it blind passion to do the right thing without knowledge?

I’m afraid there will always be people and companies who don’t wish to do the right thing. For them we have regulation and Greenpeace.

For everyone else, there is a path to avoid costly mistakes. Firstly, climate action must come from the top down. The commitment is companywide and, has to have a C-suite who want to create change. Secondly, the climate brief is bigger than any marketing department or agency can address. My advice is to make organisations like The Climate Group and NGO’s part of the fabric of the company. I am not saying this as an Ex -Trustee. I am saying it as a communication strategist who had their eyes opened to the complex nature of moving to net zero emissions. I have seen the scientists convince, challenge, and help companies to make commitments and turn them in to action. To bring industry leaders to the table and show companies the way.

No person or company is perfect. Climate action is a journey and one that needs more hands and commitment than any advertiser or agency has ever had to answer. Greater rigour will bring better results for clients, agencies, consumers, and the planet.

And that, has to be the best brief of all.

Guest Author

Stuart Archibald

Founder and CEO CA.5


Stuart Archibald has delivered creative thinking in APAC, US, UK and LatAm for over three decades. In the UK, he developed and launched the Tesco Clubcard (the world’s most successful loyalty program), Microsoft’s Windows/Office 95 (the biggest retail launch in history) which led to developing in the US their first web-based program for IT specialists. He founded archibald ingall 1998 helping it to grow from three to over 200 staff in London, Barcelona, Madrid, Mexico, New York and a production facility in India working with clients such as O2, Skoda, Santander, EDF, The Body Shop, The Economist, AXA, Sky and Cindy Crawford. The agency was famous for a number of digital world firsts and it’s creative and effectiveness awards across every type of media. For six years, Stuart was a trustee of The Climate Group (a worldwide environmental group launched by the Rt Hon Tony Blair). This involvement led to ais…becoming the industry benchmark on environmental issues and achieving carbon neutral status. He ended his relationship with archibald ingall stretton…in 2011 and established the independent agency Archibald / Williams Sydney with Bram Williams in 2012. The agency works with some of the largest clients in the market; NewsCorp, The Australian, Mastercard, Cancer Council, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Brisbane Broncos and with Citi across APAC. Stuart regularly appears across the globe in the marketing press and on the speaking circuit... especially in sunnier climates.

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