Ad industry must fix gap between intent and action on climate

Campaign is launching a series of opinion pieces about sustainability ahead of Cannes Lions 2023. Here the leaders of Ad Net Zero, WFA and ANA issue a joint call about the need to move from talk to impact.

Ad industry must fix gap between intent and action on climate

Ad Net Zero launched in the UK in late 2020 to help decarbonise the advertising industry with a five-point action plan mapping out the essential steps to help drive the transition to a net zero economy.

That purpose has remained the focus in the two-and-a-half years since then, with a growing number of supporters in the UK, Ireland, and the USA, as well as in our global group (pictured on stage at Cannes Lions in 2022 – image courtesy of Cannes Lions/Getty Images).

As we look ahead to Cannes Lions 2023, it is important to see the festival as both a moment of both reflection and action for the industry where we can come together to recognise progress, identify the gaps and seize immediate opportunities.

Not taking appropriate action leaves businesses on the wrong side of history, and opens them up to significant business risks, with regulatory changes on the horizon, as well as pressure from both internal and external stakeholders.

Recent research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and Kantar suggests 64% of consumers say it is businesses’ responsibility to solve climate and environmental issues, 68% of employees say organisations should step up when governments fail to fix society’s problems and nearly half (49%) of investors would sell their investment if a company does not sufficiently address environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

While many companies in the industry are making steady, and some even considerable progress, establishing competitive advantage in the process, greater engagement in accelerating the end-to-end removal of greenhouse gas emissions from each sector of the industry is required.

Tackling greenwashing and green-bungling

Education and training are mission critical – lack of knowledge across the sectors is still a significant barrier to change. The WFA and Kantar saw 35% of marketers cite a knowledge and skills gap on sustainability, up from 20% in 2021.

This increase is concerning and something that needs to be addressed. The Ad Net Zero Training aims to do this, covering all the fundamentals every advertising professional needs to know, from greenwashing to initiatives like #ChangeTheBrief. But the truth is that stakeholder expectations are rapidly increasing, and green-bungling is viewed as dimly by the public as greenwashing.

Mainstream marketers and agency teams can no longer delegate to sustainability advisers but must own the integration of sustainability into their brand and business strategies. And these strategies need to rapidly drive behaviour change and new practices that remove the greenhouse gas impacts of everyday working. Implementing these changes to the way we work are the top priority.

Science-based targets in line with the Paris Agreement, as advised by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), are now mandatory for all Ad Net Zero global supporters. For local supporters, the setting of public science-based carbon reduction targets, as well as the calculation and reporting of annual emissions, is now also compulsory. These will be a matter of public record.

Tools to make progress and drive change

Ad Net Zero provides the pre-competitive forums and tools to enable supporters to make progress against their targets. Discussions have covered topics like travel policies and approaches to energy supply.

The first tool made available was AdGreen, which has provided one of the first data sets of its kind in the world via its annual report, aggregating production emissions and providing a strong knowledge base and benchmarks from which to progress.

On media planning and buying, Ad Net Zero has partnered with the WFA and GARM to create a recommended measurement framework.

All this has been funded by supporters, and especially our global supporters who have made international expansion possible.

Tackling greenwashing, and in doing so, building confidence in promoting sustainable products and services, should also be a priority. The "intent-to-action" gap, highlighted by the WFA and Kantar, demonstrates that whilst most consumers (97%) say they are prepared to take action to live a more sustainable lifestyle, only a small proportion (13%) are actually changing their behaviour.

There is an opportunity here for advertising to deploy its super-power to close that gap, reframing and encouraging better choices, supporting behavioural changes needed in a net zero economy. This is the business opportunity of a lifetime.

Correctly evaluating and celebrating behaviour-changing work will build knowledge further, with the introduction of sustainability criteria into award programmes such as Cannes Lions.

The Campaign Ad Net Zero Awards, now in their second year, also provide a wonderful and varied showcase of innovative ways of working and shifting mindsets and behaviours.

The Ad Net Zero Zone in the Act Responsible Hall at Cannes Lions will run for the week of the festival and provide a spotlight for this work, inspiring delegates to make rapid, positive changes within their own businesses. We are here to help you.

Let’s not make the discussion about the serious issues of decarbonising other industrial sectors a substitute for all leaning in to erase our own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Quite clearly, both need to happen.

Fixing the gap between intent and action

Who are we to preach to others about practices we are not fully embracing ourselves?

For most people in the industry that twin-track approach is sufficient to do the right things. But for some purposes, accurate and sound calculation principles are required. Oxford University’s Saïd Business School was commissioned to investigate the models of marketing attribution and carbon accounting, and a management summary and presentation of their paper is here. This piece of work will be explored in more detail on stage at Cannes Lions.

While the last two years have demonstrated a path to progress, this is our call to action to the global advertising industry for greater engagement and action across the Ad Net Zero action plan.

Change the way we work to remove greenhouse gases from everyday business and change the work we make to inspire more sustainable consumption.

As the climate emergency intensifies, everyone must act now.

Sebastian Munden is chair of Ad Net Zero. Stephan Loerke is chief executive of the World Federation of Advertisers. Bob Liodice is president and chief executive of the Association of National Advertisers.

The Ad Net Zero Zone will be running in the Act Responsible Hall at Cannes Lions 2023 for the week of the festival – with delegates invited to come and learn more about the Ad Net Zero Action Plan. More information available at:

Campaign Global

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