Published 9 months ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Accurately measuring, tracking, comparing and reporting impacts for the process of producing, filming, displaying and running ads will be crucial for the industry to play its part in solving one of the big challenges of our time.
Adweek’s recent attempt at some back-of-the-envelope
to work out the carbon footprint of an average advertisement run during the
(13,860 metric tons of CO2 are generated by all Super Bowl digital-ad-related
impressions, in case you’re wondering) points to a growing interest within the
sector to finally get a grip on sustainability.
Of course, brands and their ad agencies have had to navigate finding the right
balance between selling their purpose, responsibility and climate activities;
and not overstating their
to be single-handedly solving the world’s problems. In France — where
fossil-fuel producers are banned from
altogether — brands connected to high-carbon industries, such as
must now carry tobacco-style warnings to indicate their contribution to the
climate crisis. Carmakers have to include a disclaimer stating that walking or
cycling are better for the environment than driving a vehicle. In the consumer
goods market, brands must include evidence to back up any ‘green’ claims made in
their advertising or face hefty fines.
But it is in addressing the actual impact of the creative process — producing,
filming, displaying and running adverts — that the industry is beginning to get
serious. With a huge carbon footprint, not helped by a complex digital ad supply
chain and the sheer volume of transactions, it’s no mean feat. As Brian
O’Kelley, CEO of carbon impact data
platform Scope3, told Sustainable Brands®
(SB), “Advertising may seem like an unlikely source of environmental issues.
But advertising powers the internet and ads fund and fuel the global economy; it
follows that advertising has a substantial impact on the
Since the turn of the year, a number of platforms — including Vox Media and
Yahoo — have made moves to help advertisers track and
the GHGs associated with their campaigns by using tech such as Scope3’s.
Meanwhile, media agency Assembly launched what it called its Clean Media
— essentially a series of tools to help its clients do carbon-footprint audits,
applying an emissions metric to track their omnichannel campaign impacts.
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Of course, the big industry response came in the form of Ad Net
Zero, a collaboration between many of the big agencies
— including WPP, Dentsu, Havas and Meta — designed to guide the
ad industry towards net zero. That means reducing the emissions associated with
developing, producing and running advertising to zero by following a five-step
Then, more recently, the Cannes Lions Awards — held every year to recognise
and reward the very best in advertising — changed their
criteria for entries. Now, each submission invites entrants to include
information on the carbon footprint and sustainability impact of the creative
project being put forward. Entrants are being asked to look at Ad Net Zero’s
action plan when making a submission and show how they have addressed
operational carbon emissions, curbed emissions from advertising production, and
harnessed advertising’s power to encourage consumer behavior
The criteria also ask for details about how diversity, equity and inclusion have
been considered in the creative process, and how that might have driven
Cannes Lions’ update to the submission process has been widely welcomed, with
some saying it reflects the organization’s status as an “agent of
Marketing activist and expert Thomas Kolster told
SB said he was happy with the development, acknowledging that the industry is
still trying to find a foothold in sustainability. “If something like this was
implemented earlier, it probably would have been too early in terms of the
maturity of the sector,” he said.
However, answering the sustainability-related questions is not compulsory at
this stage. Cannes Lions CEO Simon
Cook said it would have been
unfair to “spring it on people” and that this year is all about simply trying to
get a base — “because at the moment, we just don’t have any visibility.”
The other major question the development raises is how judges might be able to
assess and compare submissions based on the responses given. As with any
carbon-reduction process across any sector, the absence of a clearly defined
standard makes it tough to make comparisons between different projects and
agencies, and really tough to understand what ‘good’ actually looks like. The
likes of Scope3 and the Ad Net Zero initiative will help, of course. O’Kelley’s
to create global sustainability standards for the media and advertising industry
has gained serious traction. Tracking, measuring and reporting carbon emissions
in an increasingly granular way — which is absolutely necessary in complex
supply chains — will limit the ad sector’s contribution to global warming.
But for others, like Kolster, engaging the creative community in tackling
sustainability should go way beyond carbon — and the real winners will be the
brands that help others take sustainability seriously, rather than talk about
their own progress. “I’m a much bigger believer in brands that help all of us
rather than go out and do virtue signalling,” he says. “That’s not going to help
brands win hearts and minds in the long term.”
As we head into awards season, the virtue signalling will no doubt attempt to
drown out actual progress — especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion
in the creative
This year’s Super Bowl ads showed plenty of room for improvement on
sustainability storytelling too, as Kolster writes in his review for
Finding a way to measure, track, compare and report performance — on everything
from inclusion to climate action — will be crucial if the ad industry is to play
its part in solving the big challenges of our time. Watch this space.
Published Feb 21, 2023 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
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