Sustainability doom-mongering leads to paralysis: let’s change the narrative

Sustainability doom-mongering leads to paralysis: let’s change the narrative

In a new column, the Responsible Marketing Agency’s founder wants to deliver some home truths and help to debunk some myths about sustainability in media.

Picture the future.

Now, what are you seeing? Dystopian scenarios? Collapsing economic and environmental systems?

You’d be forgiven for doing so — the science tells us we will miss the 2015 Paris agreement target to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. This failure will be the central topic of conversation at the United Nations COP28 conference.

But we humans are nothing if not resilient, and there are other visions available.

Hope lies in innovation

For instance, rapidly advancing science suggests an opportunity to slow and even reverse global warming by refreezing the poles.

Other initiatives envisage us powering our lights through droplet energy from rainwater and ingeniously trapping carbon into concrete, or in fertiliser, or permanently in the ocean. None of this is guaranteed, of course — but we can’t be paralysed into accepting the demise of humanity, nor give up on attempting to rescue our planet’s rich biodiversity.

Where sustainability is concerned, we all know we’re living in a troubled, challenging world — from the bleak evidence of human-driven climate change to the task of retro-fitting entire industries with modernised sustainable practices.

Our industry is not immune.

The horribly carbon-hungry media and advertising business also needs to respond — both operationally and in using marketing as a force for sustainable behavioural change.

But instead of dreading our fate, why not divert our energies into finding solutions, breaking deadlocks, and spreading awareness of the progress that’s being made — as well as how we can take a leadership position, using marketing to accelerate our role as a driving force for sustainable good?

In this recurring column, I want to park the usual doom-mongering and take a positive, practical look at how our businesses can respond with urgency to the challenges that confront us, and how marketing can be a catalyst to drive us all towards the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals. We have a road map, outlined by AdNetZero — now let’s get to implementing it.

Attention, efficiency, decarbonisation, and behaviour change

There’s a lot to look into. In future instalments, I’ll be addressing attention metrics, and untangling the myth that campaign efficiency and sustainability are one and the same thing. I want to look at the importance of balancing a sustainable media supply chain with sustainable marketing messaging — because there is no point cutting media emissions if you’re not also driving consumer behavioural change.

And I’ll be looking hard at the implications of recent EU and UK greenwashing regulation of which all those in advertising need to be aware, which defines and outlaws misleading language and exaggerated sustainability claims.

There’s plenty of good news, by the way, in advertising’s decarbonisation effort.

As the WFA-backed GARM Guide to Sustainable Media explains, it is already very possible for brands to streamline and clean up their media supply chain in numerous ways, from sustainably-assured partners and low-emission technologies to streaming content and optimising creative assets.

I’m here to offer advice on how brands, technologists, publishers and agencies can future-proof their business by updating their creative and planning processes, work streams and wider operations, underpinned by measurable commercial and financial models. And I have plenty of thoughts about what individual employees can do if their employers won’t read the room and make sustainability a meaningful priority.

It is true that, where decarbonisation is concerned, there are already numerous sources of friction that owe little to a lack of technology or tools and a great deal to uncertainty, confusion and operational and strategic lags — as well as conflicts between sustainability, commercial priorities and competitive advantage.

Many brands still aren’t sure which steps to take when it comes to ESG, and often, marketers struggle to embody well-intentioned corporate strategies in their marketing efforts. Others haven’t yet computed the fact that bad sustainability practice is bad business: 76% of consumers are very concerned about climate change (up from 73% in 2021), and 61% of 21-34-year-olds are likely to avoid companies with a bad reputation [source: Instinctif Partners].

So I want to deliver some home truths and help to debunk some myths, while endeavouring to make the complex simple and actionable. Because unlike the past, the future is something we can change — and the best way to do it isn’t to deny reality, but to ensure we act together to make the difference needed. Hope lies in action, and between us, we will rewrite the narrative.

Hannah Mirza is founder and CEO of the Responsible Marketing Agency

Media Jobs