When will we stop letting Black Cab drivers put us to shame?
The carbon footprint of the media industry is huge, but too many advertisers don’t recognise their carbon footprint or don’t see it as their responsibility.
My late father had three careers, firstly as a lighterman on the Thames, then as a dock worker and crane operator and finally as a London Black Cab driver. In each case, he trained and then retrained, adapting to a changing economy and working incredibly hard to create a comfortable life for his wife and children.
He was very proud that myself and my brother had “office jobs”, but I was recently reminded of something he said to me about 30 years ago, in a banterous exchange, and ironically whilst I was getting a lift in the back of his taxi.
He accused us “office workers”, especially in industries like advertising, of being “non producers”.
This was his reference to the fact we didn’t really make anything. There isn’t really a physical end product. Seeing his point of course, but not willing to take this lying down, my quick retort was to say: “Well, at least I don’t produce carbon monoxide!”
Of course, it turns out we were both wrong. Because, as we now realise, the carbon footprint of the media industry and the campaigns we run on behalf of clients is huge.
Why aren’t we being held to higher standards?
There are lots of other toxic side effects that certain elements of our industry are indirectly responsible for creating and sustaining, but let’s focus on environmental sustainability for the purposes of this article.
It is also true that the Black Cab industry, and many others like it, are governed by strict emissions legislation, and are on the move to 100% electric. Plus, their workers are highly trained, professionally qualified and sign up to clear codes of conduct.
On the other hand, the advertising industry is still largely self-taught, and self-regulated. Which makes any involvement in schemes to make things better pretty much voluntary.
This is not new news, of course, and there is a huge amount of brilliant work going on in all areas to help change the situation. The Ad Net Zero project, the Conscious Ad Network, the IAB, the IPA, the WFA and other bodies are all working hard to give brands and their agencies frameworks, tools and direction on the matter.
Media owners, too, are striving to cut their footprint and give us sustainable options. Innovative companies such as SeenThis are using tech from other parts of our industry to help.
Utilising “adaptive streaming” (think Netflix), they eliminate the need for digital ads to download and therefore cut emissions significantly, while simultaneously improving the ad experience. Win-Win! Good-Loop is another great example.
All great, but all a bit optional. Why aren’t these things the law, or at least the absolute norm?
This is all our responsibility
Too many brands either don’t recognise their footprint, or don’t see it as their responsibility as it lays outside the boundaries of their environment, social and governance (ESG) commitments.
Too many agencies are making good noises, but have to be able to apply a policy to all the advertisers they work with and that gets complicated, as not all brands have the same agenda.
Put simply, if you pay for advertising to happen, and that causes an environmental impact, that’s your responsibility as an agency and an advertiser irrespective of the value chain between your financial result and the end result.
If your purpose, charter, ESG, or whatever other declaration include a commitment to be carbon neutral, or at least less carbon positive, then your advertising campaigns sit within that definition.
Only by taking responsibility will we tackle this actively.
Or to put it another way: when will we stop letting Black Cab Drivers put us to shame?
Danny Donovan is CEO of Build Media, a new media agency with a stated aim to be a positive force in the advertising and media industry.