Media’s vital role in a sustainable future

Media’s vital role in a sustainable future

A new book, Sustainable Advertising, looks at how brands and agencies can help create a better future for all. Its authors discuss some action points.

Nothing is more visible than the media chosen for a campaign — and nothing will be more visible in the future than the greenhouse gases emitted.

We hope the continuing need for highly visible media and the competitive instincts of responsible media owners will drive the innovation to reduce the carbon footprint as close to zero as possible.

When GroupM launched its methodology for calculating the carbon footprint of the advertising supply chain, end to end, emissions from media made up 55% of the total carbon footprint.

What struck us when writing Sustainable Advertising was just how vital every part of the media landscape is going to be in fulfilling a vision of a sustainable economy, how much progress is already being made and how much of an opportunity there is still to deliver on the media industry’s full potential.

Media owners are being asked on all sides for slightly different calculations of data — everyone is tying themselves up in knots trying to account for media plan emissions.

Very soon, there should be clarity, as the work led by the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, World Federation of Advertisers and Ad Net Zero will present a standard set of calculations and data points for the world’s media plans.

This should offer the reference points for every media channel (and the media owners within it) to enable consistent tracking, measurement and reporting.

Media owner engagement

What also became clear to us was just how many media owners are engaged when it comes to understanding and accounting for sustainability.

This can be boiled down into three themes:

1. How media owners are accounting for their carbon impact.

2. How media owners are using their influence with audiences to raise awareness and drive positive climate action.

3. How media owners are identifying whether the advertising they carry is in support of a sustainable future.

Risk and opportunity

Let’s start with the latter. It’s a matter of risk and opportunity. The questions to ask internally right now are:

1. Do we know how much of our advertising inventory is at risk from climate change?

2. If we don’t know, how quickly can we put a tracking system in place?

3. If we know, how can we put year-on-year incremental targets in place to replace that inventory and de-risk our position?

4. How quickly can we get to a place where 100% of the products and services we advertise are in line with a sustainable future?

Imagine if every media owner sales operation was incentivised to account for and accelerate the percentage share of ads it sells to future-proof the business and to increase the share of the products and services proven to support a sustainable future and reduce those that don’t.

Action before 2050

If you follow the logic that every pound of advertising in a net zero economy by 2050 will be spent by a business promoting a sustainable product or service, we can say now that the most successful media owners will be those that grow their ad inventory in line with that logic way ahead of 2050.

Moreover, all kinds of related government, regulatory and investment pressures will be colliding to accelerate this change.

There is great work being done in this area. The team at ITV presented an advertising revenue breakdown at LEAD 2024 — this is exactly the type of thing all media owners could (and should) do if they want to start assessing their income against the risk of climate change.

And there is risk, too, for media owners that don’t do this and, whatever the intention, become embroiled in claims of greenwashing through work that doesn’t stack up under scrutiny.

We are already seeing examples of that being reviewed by the Advertising Standards Authority, which is rightly showing its teeth to ensure all advertising remains legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Innovation and inspiration

And so we return to the other two themes.

The first one is about the innovation of future-facing sustainable media business models. OOH would be a strong contender, with its spend on public infrastructure and its opportunity to be a renewable energy provider through solar screens. Imagine an advertiser buying ad inventory that could include truly incremental carbon offsets helping to power the energy grid.

The second theme is about using the public’s trust in media to provide inspiration to live more sustainably. All media channels can do that and Sustainable Advertising features a range of examples, whether that’s in magazines and news brands, on air in cinema, TV and radio, or through influencers on social media channels.

Check out the impact of cinema’s “Don’t choose extinction” campaign if you need more inspiration for what media can do.

Sustainable Advertising sets out a manifesto that we hope everyone can aspire to and make a reality. The initiatives and tools are there to help make it happen (with more developing fast). The checklist in the final chapter sets out what we think needs to be done.

It’s a critical decade for climate action. And the economic opportunities for leading are clearly there.  If every person in our industry gets behind this, we can help to make the most fundamental shift in everyone’s lives a healthy and sustainable reality.

Matt Bourn is director of communications at the Advertising Association and Seb Munden is chair of Ad Net Zero

Sustainable Advertising is out on 3 March and available via Kogan Page

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