Industry insists climate dwarfs Covid in new rallying cry

green1Advertising and marketing companies are being urged to commit to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the end of 2030 in a new call to arms, with industry leaders claiming the Climate Emergency makes Covid-19 – which has brought much of the sector to its knees – look like a mere sideshow.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Advertising Association with the IPA and ISBA, and now supported by the DMA and IAB UK, has launched Ad Net Zero, an industry-wide programme to help UK advertising respond to the climate crisis caused by CO2 emissions.

Ad Net Zero’s mission is for immediate, collective industry action to help individuals and companies make a real change to address the Climate Emergency, and encourage them to sign-up at the Ad Net Zero hub.

To mark the launch, the AA has published a report by its Climate Action Working Group with Credos, UK advertising’s think tank, in which it estimates total UK agency operational CO2e emissions to exceed 84,000 tonnes a year.

Credos estimates 42% of that comes from energy usage and 58% from business travel, with the biggest single contribution coming from flights and, on the same basis, the industry as a whole could have a carbon footprint of nearer a million tons. However, this will be considerably lower this year due to the Covid-19 bans on business travel as well as people working from home.

The report sets out Ad Net Zero’s call-to-action through a five-point plan:

– Advertising businesses’ own operations: all companies commit to curtail their carbon emissions, principally by reducing travel, fossil energy use and waste.

– Advertising production: advertisers, agencies and production companies commit to measuring and reducing their impacts with support from AdGreen.

– Media choice: media agencies commit to the IPA Media Futures Group Climate Charter, working with their clients to develop lower carbon media plans.

– Awards and events: organisers build sustainability criteria into awards, and plan events to minimise their carbon footprints, especially from travel.

– Using advertising’s positive influence: agencies and clients harness the power of their advertising to promote more sustainable consumer choices and behaviours.

The report also recognises that concern over the Climate Emergency is shared across the advertising sector by individuals and companies alike. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of people working in the industry are worried about the sector’s negative impacts on the environment and more want their firms to take climate action. Meanwhile, nine out of ten people say that knowing their organisation is taking climate action would improve their job satisfaction.

AA president Keith Weed, whose former employer Unilever embarked on its environmental strategy more than ten years ago, said: “The Climate Emergency is the biggest challenge we will face in our lifetimes, dwarfing the current Covid-19 crisis. Action is needed now, and for the long-term, to change the impact we are all having on the planet we live on.

“We need every company and individual in our industry to join us and become an active supporter of Ad Net Zero. Every single one of us has a role to play in ensuring our industry fulfils its responsibilities to future generations and help deliver a sustainable way of life for the 21st century and beyond. It really is a case of All For None.”

Climate Action Working Group and Credos chair James Best added: “People across our sector want advertising to be part of the solution to the climate crisis, through the role it can play in influencing corporate policy and consumer behaviour, helping people make more sustainable choices in what they buy, use and do.”

Criticism over the direct mail industry’s environmental record led to the DMA – then called the Direct Marketing Association – signing a voluntary producer agreement with the Department of the Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra) as far back as 2004.

It committed the industry to ensuring 70% of all waste direct mail went to recycling by 2013; a target the DMA claimed to have “smashed” four years ahead of schedule in 2009, reaching an audited level of 76%.

In a further effort to cut waste, the Government also announced plans in 2011 to set up a centralised opt-out service for unaddressed direct mail. But this scheme has yet to see the light of day, although the “junk mail” issue fell off the radar years ago.

However, the BBC’s 2018 Blue Planet II exposé about plastic waste raised fresh concerns over the industry’s record. The sector is a major user of plastic, from polywrapping and plastic postcards to laminated mailshots and coated papers.

Even so, at the time the DMA said it was more concerned with helping companies comply with GDPR, conceding that the issue of plastic waste was not even on its agenda.

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