Why brands are lost when it comes to measuring sustainability

Why brands are lost when it comes to measuring sustainability

Businesses do not need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ to measure sustainability and inspire sustainable behaviour changes.


The desire to become a more purpose-driven business is one of the positive trends to emerge from the pandemic and brands are becoming increasingly more progressive in their outlook.

This month’s Advertising Week Europe had a whole track dedicated to Purpose & Practice, and while purpose can encompass many things, it’s clear that in today’s climate, any purpose-driven business strategy must have sustainability high on the agenda.

The World Media Group’s members have been covering climate change and sustainability for years and continue to play a critical role in holding companies to account as organisations chase Net Zero ambitions.

While ‘Profit, People and Planet’ is high on the agenda at board level, the question is, how is the media and marketing industry doing overall, and can we do more to effect change?

79% don’t measure the sustainability of their marketing

Earlier this year, the World Media Group conducted a small survey amongst 14 CMOs of big-name brands to get a sense of where their organisations were on their sustainability journey.

While they were all actively communicating their brand’s or business’s sustainability successes, measuring their own marketing programmes was a different story.

More than three quarters (79%) said their business does not currently measure the sustainability of their marketing or advertising programmes, although 28% said they do review all marketing suppliers for sustainable processes.

So why are marketers so behind when it comes to monitoring their own behaviour?

It’s not that people don’t want to measure their marketing processes. The main issue appears to be that they don’t know how, or in what ways to measure them.

There’s a gap in knowledge; a gap that the World Media Group is trying to close by bringing experts together to define best practice. This in turn can support industry-wide sustainability initiatives that will enable us all to do better.

Solitaire Townsend is chief solutionist and co-founder of Futerra, an international agency working with the likes of Google, Ikea and Mars to help them set targets around sustainability issues.

When I broached the subject of lack of measurement in marketing, Townsend told me that there are already some good measures in place, such as Purpose Disruptors’ Advertised Emissions framework which helps businesses measure the impact of advertising.

Townsend also recommended implementing client disclosure reports, which allow agencies to calculate their clients’ advertising emissions.

While these measures are still relatively new, she believes we will soon see more clients demanding them.

As more companies, agencies, clients and media brands start to implement some of these frameworks, Townsend is confident that they will become standard practice, and eventually become fully regulated.

How to make 5% difference immediately

In addition to implementing consistent measurement, what other ways can marketers make a difference?

For the first time, this year’s IPCC report included demand-side reductions, covering not only how we create carbon emissions, but how we can reduce demand for carbon-causing activities, behaviours and consumption?

Townsend points out that by reducing consumer behaviours, we could save 5% of carbon emissions almost immediately through three impactful changes:

1) changing to a more plant-based diet and reducing food waste;
2) changing the way we use public transport, walking and cycling more frequently; and
3) changing our consumption of ‘stuff,’ i.e. reducing the amount of material items we buy, particularly those that aren’t easily recyclable.

The UK Climate Change Committee cites that 59% of Net Zero transition is dependent on behavioural change.

Anna Lungley, chief sustainability officer at Dentsu believes that influencing this change is where we, as marketers, can make the biggest difference.

With advertising spend averaging about $130bn USD per year, we have considerable influence, so how can we help to drive sustainable consumption?

Harnessing the industry’s ‘superpower’ to effect change

Lungley says that we should focus on helping businesses to pivot, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel around sustainability measurement.

We should use what she describes as the industry’s ‘superpower’ – the ability to influence consumers to buy one brand over another – to encourage true behavioural change.

Marketing, she says, is the only industry that is capable of effecting behavioural change at the pace we need it to happen.

This is reflected in Dentsu’s approach to sustainability. While their strategy is very much to achieve Net Zero, they have a complementary goal of driving sustainable consumption and tracking it through the client work they do.

For example, in Automotive, one of their biggest sectors, they are challenged with helping GM to pivot from diesel to electric vehicles – and then convincing consumers to buy them.

Lungley believes we need our best and brightest innovators to be focussing on next-generation ideas that can really change consumers’ buying behaviour.

She uses the example of an app in Taiwan that allows you to scan fish in the market to tell whether it comes from sustainable fish stocks to show how we can create a very strong demand signal.

If it shows green, you buy the fish and if it’s red, you don’t.

So, going back to our 14 CMOs, I’d say that while measurement is clearly important, let’s make broader use of the current methodologies and resources, because they do exist!

Trying to develop new tools is not only unnecessary, it may also distract from the bigger issue – changing human and societal behaviour.

As an industry, we are surrounded by talented people making amazing strides in sustainability every day and we need to shine a spotlight on these experts.

The World Media Group is committed to playing our part by raising awareness for and demystifying the subject by sharing best practice through our events, podcasts and other resources. You can watch experts discussing the latest topics on the sustainability agenda event and more on our website.

Belinda Barker is chief executive of the World Media Group.

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