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The Ad Net Zero report: Five actions for a sustainable ad industry

The Ad Net Zero report: Five actions for a sustainable ad industry

Growing sustainability awareness has increased many industries’ focus on their environmental impact — and as the Ad Net Zero report shows, advertising has multiple challenges to tackle. Rough estimates indicate each IPA agency is contributing 84,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year; noting that the full figure could run as high as one million tons.

Greater recognition across the industry, however, is also driving eagerness to be part of the solution. Research cited in the report highlights climate action is a high priority across the board, with 91% of industry professionals stating they would feel higher job satisfaction if their company was involved in sustainability and environmental efforts. 

To harness this rising enthusiasm, the Ad Net Zero initiative aims to demonstrate that carbon reduction goals can be achieved by 2030 through enhanced collective action. Further benefits to this include not only greater employee fulfilment, but also a positive culture, stronger productivity and — crucially — future-proofed operations. 

The report details five different fronts on which the sector can collaboratively tackle climate challenges. Accessible in full here, we’ve also put together our slimmed down ‘cheat sheet’ overview of the key findings and insights.

1. Business operations

The situation: Currently, the average IPA agency worker emits 3.4 tons of CO2e per year. The vast majority (58%) derives from business travel – and flights account for 60% of this figure. Office energy use accounts for 39% of emissions, with almost one-third (29%) coming from gas and 13% from electricity.

The solution: As the report outlines, the key mantra for the industry is to “report, reduce and remove”. Businesses wanting to go green need to consider their environmental impact from top to bottom. This starts with building an in-house team that organises speakers, projects, and volunteering (such as tree planting or conservation) to keep the company involved and enthused for what is a long-term but worthwhile process. Efforts can continue with establishing sustainable operations and offices by using renewable energy and web hosting providers, eco-friendly office supplies (i.e., no single-use plastics or waste in landfills; think compostable), occupying certified green buildings, and working with green companies.

Resources: Try well-known options such as the Cycle to Work scheme, or the Flight Free UK movement, and the Giki Zero Pro programme to support employee and company sustainability. Businesses might also decide to go down the route of obtaining recognised environmental standards, such as ISO 14001, the Natural Capital Partners’ CarbonNeutral certification, or B Corporation status. Further organisations that might provide activities are Keep Britain Tidy and Trees for Cities.

2. Advertising production

The situation: Shooting ads on location inherently entails significant travel, hospitality, and supply costs. While exact estimates are difficult to calculate, numbers suggest international shoots could produce more than 100 tons of CO2e.

The solution: As the future heralds stricter emission reporting as part of the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures mandate, the industry needs to act swiftly. Carbon literacy training has driven some success: according to sustainable production company albert, broadcast companies with sustainable certifications have reduced their carbon footprint by as much as 15% on average. Further actions include switching to renewable energy tariffs and using sustainable supplies on set where single-use plastics are often in heavy use.

Resources: One obvious option is albert, an organisation dedicated to decarbonising the film and TV industry, alongside encouraging the adoption of renewables via the Creative Energy Scheme. Options are increasing, however, with players such as AdGreen developing sustainability initiatives specifically for the advertising production sphere. 

3. Media choice

The situation: Media owners across the ecosystem are already stepping up. BBC Studios became carbon neutral in 2020 and is now working on reducing emissions further, while Channel 4 has adopted 100% renewable energy sources across offices in London, Manchester, and Bristol. Similarly, the News Media Association is forging ahead with its green practices, recently announcing that 63% of UK newspapers now use paper with a blended recycled fibre content of 95%. 

The solution: The IPA Media Climate Charter will likely be the first port of call for all media agencies. The Charter will not only support agencies with practical guidance, but also act as both a space where experiences and knowledge can be shared and provide evidence of commitment to a common cause.

Resources: Carbon calculators are becoming increasingly valuable tools for bolstering understanding. As well as the IPA’s own calculator launched earlier this year, another exciting project on the horizon is the DIMPACT calculator, which strives to simplify the measuring process. As emissions data becomes increasingly important, the calculator provides a record for businesses and their sustainability credentials.

4. Awards and events

The situation: Although frequently important for networking, lead generation, celebration, and recognition, awards and events are a difficult challenge for the industry. While many are coming to understand the need for progress, there is some way to go to minimise environmental impact, as well as reward and incentivise climate-conscious work.

The solution: In terms of awards, Cannes has led the way by introducing the Sustainable Development Goal Lions. Following COVID-19 restrictions, more events are also making a move towards online delivery, which limits international travel – one of the biggest contributors to events’ emissions. The Ad Net Zero report also recommends organisers consider the whole chain: keeping events local, offsetting carbon emissions, and organising virtual attendance for international guests and carpools for those attending in person. Ensuring materials are recyclable, limiting food waste or donating surplus, keeping gift freebies to a minimum, and using renewable energy are also strongly advised.

Resources: Purpose Disruptors have begun developing a framework to help measure ‘eco effectiveness’ and businesses can find many ways to offset carbon emissions here, alongside further event planning guides here.

5. Advertising as a positive influence

The situation: With as many as 6 out of 10 consumers wanting businesses to be part of the climate solution, the ad industry is responding. At present, the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP) and The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) oversee the investigation of claims around sustainability, with reviews planned for the latter. When it comes to ad content, Purpose Disruptors have spearheaded some campaigns around shifting priorities, including  #ChangeTheBrief – initially created by Mindshare, it empowered agencies to highlight sustainability to their clients —  and The Great Reset, with more to come.

The solution: Advertising and media can actively influence public debate and behaviours for planetary good.  One way to do so is to collaborate with the Government to promote a ‘green recovery’ and help amplify wider structural and social guidelines around sustainability, as illustrated by successful COVID campaigns fostering safety messages during the pandemic. Further creative partnerships and pro bono work for green technology is also a possibility.

Resources: Purpose Disruptors are doing much to reshape the industry, but this last point requires a joint effort. Brands and agencies alike need to consider how they can change and adapt their messaging, encourage their clients to think green, and support sustainability-focused start-ups where possible. 

Advertising creative is a powerful engagement medium with the potential to not only enhance the reach of messages, but also motivate audiences to take their own action. Scaled up into a cooperative global movement, cross-industry green campaigns have the scope to inspire mass change. 

This sentiment of holistic activity sums up the core message of the Ad Net Zero report. Every component of the sector has great potential to achieve positive impact independently but focusing shared attention on key areas of change will make it happen at a faster pace.

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