Adland steps up urgency in climate messaging around COP27

Campaign asked ad executives and industry sustainability experts about how the messaging has changed at this year’s global climate summit—and whether adland has stepped up its role in fighting the climate crisis.

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

COP27, the annual global climate summit, kicked off in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt this week—and the urgency around the climate emergency has only increased since last year’s summit.

Not much progress has been made against goals set by major polluter nations at COP26 in Glasgow last year, putting the focus of this year’s summit on how rich nations will meet a $100 billion pledge to repay the damage they have caused to developing countries to benefit the whole planet. 

Climate has progressed on adland’s agenda, however, since last year’s talks. In the U.S., the industry has rallied around Ad Net Zero, a sector-wide pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions, which launched in the market in October. The group held a global summit in London this week tied to COP27 and focused on helping the industry better understand the importance of the climate talks and how the ad industry can play its part.  

Adland’s interest in sustainability and fighting the climate crisis isn’t just altruistic; it’s good for business. According to a Forrester survey adults in the U.S., U.K and France in May, nearly half (49%) of millennials said they choose to buy products based on sustainability claims, compared to only 14% of baby boomers.

As a result, three-quarters (76%) of CMOs said green initiatives are among their top five priorities for 2022, according to Forrester’s Q2 B2C Marketing CMO Pulse Survey.

With the climate change emergency only exacerbating, Campaign asked industry executives and sustainability experts: 

Has the sense of urgency in the messaging around COP27 increased since last year's summit? What role is the ad industry playing in shaping the tone? 

Stephan Loerke
CEO, World Federation of Advertisers

Sir David Attenborough told us before COP26 that climate change was “a communications challenge.” It feels like the industry is starting to finally get the message at COP27.

Through the Advertising Association-led Ad Net Zero, the ad industry is starting to get its own house in order to measure and reduce its carbon footprint. And through the WFA Planet Pledge, CMOs are starting to recognize the role they must play in driving behavioral change. This is critical; for the planet to be climate neutral by 2050, more than half of the carbon dioxide emission reductions will have to be achieved through consumer behavior change.

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that brand marketers simply cannot fail to grasp.

Mark Curtis
Global head of innovation, thought leadership and sustainability lead, Accenture Song

The urgency to achieve net zero commitments has increased, and focus has shifted from setting targets to taking action. The latest report from Accenture cites that 93% of companies will not reach their net zero goals if they do not accelerate emission reduction by 2030. COP27 has taken it a step further this year by emphasizing this point and expanding on the issues countries face in terms of time, cost, geography and more.

It's clear we can't make 1.5 (minimum degrees Celsius in temperature increases) in the targeted time scale, even though commitments to do so have risen to new highs. Developing markets are insisting that the global North fund them to help achieve goals that benefit the whole planet. While the solutions to achieving net zero might be overwhelming, giving up isn't an option.

We need humans to change their behaviors of consumption of resources, including actively turning to energy efficiency. This is a challenging message to deliver but one that brands must embrace if they want to play their part. Consumption got us here, and now we need to redefine with people, not for people. This is the role that agencies will play in this next phase.

Collaboration will be vital in driving action across the value chain. From shareholders to stakeholders, educating each group on these goals and how we can achieve them is critical. Transparency from the top down will need to be a priority.

John Osborn
Ad Net Zero, USA Director

The sense of urgency for more sustainability messages and actions is building, driven by multiple studies showing that Gen Z consumers’ preference to shop sustainable brands has increased by nearly 25%, and their willingness to pay more for sustainable products has increased by 42% over the past two years. According to First Insight, consumers across all generations are now willing to spend more for sustainable products.

Based on this data, and given the opportunity for brands to forge stronger emotional and rational decisions with consumers, it's more critical than ever that brands and retailers become aligned with the growing interest in climate action and sustainability before it’s too late. That means there will be more messaging that showcases efforts brands are taking, albeit under increased scrutiny around "greenwashing."

When it comes to their own business practices, more advertisers will be reducing their carbon footprint, including reducing carbon in the creation and distribution of advertising. Compounding the urgency, more creative and media pitches are asking questions about sustainability efforts. Further, Cannes Lions announced just last week that sustainability will be a new additional and important criterion for award entries next year. 

Jemma Gould
VP, chief sustainability officer, IPG

It’s more than COP27. There’s a growing sense of urgency as more people understand that climate change is one of the defining issues of our generation.

Brands must be responsive to this. They have to be authentic with their communications, reflecting pressure from consumers on the topic. There is an increased understanding of the intersectionality of climate issues with racial and socioeconomic inequality. Beyond this conference, our industry has enormous power to make real changes that can impact our world in a positive way.

John Gentry, CEO

The sense of urgency has certainly increased toward more sustainable advertising practices, but that is not specifically tied to COP27.

Some groups within the industry, especially major brands and agencies, have been accelerating the focus on sustainability for some time and we’re beginning to see movement. With that said, we would benefit from a tighter integration with the major organizations that manage global standards as well as the creation of standards for emissions measurement across advertising campaigns.

We are certainly at the point where the advertising industry and global climate science groups should be more deeply engaged, as the commitment to reducing global advertising emissions has never been higher.

Brian O’Kelley
Cofounder and CEO, Scope3

COP26 was seminal for the advertising industry, partially because it happened in Glasgow — effectively the backyard of the biggest companies in the space. Over the past year we have seen a huge amount of progress in the industry. Sustainability has moved from an issue that was likely to be important in the future to a critical issue to address today.

We have real solutions to measure and reduce the media and advertising sectors’ footprint from companies like Scope3, supported by trade associations like the WFA and ANA as well as organizations like Ad Net Zero.

Greenwashing remains a major concern for advertisers, but this isn’t stopping them from putting pressure on the industry to decarbonize creative production and the media supply chain. Overall, it feels like the industry is actually doing the hard work to do its part, and I’m both proud and excited to be a small part of that movement.

Amy Williams
Founder and CEO, Good-Loop

In the 12 months since COP26 president Alok Sharma gave his closing remarks, the world has been through further turmoil. With war waging and recessions looming the conversation around sustainability has taken on a new urgency. This year feels less celebratory and less ceremonious. Instead, we are seeing many smaller nations calling urgently for climate justice as the 'climate bill' continues to mount. We can't afford not to take action, but the cost of this responsibility is starting to loom large.

In spite of these economic and political headwinds, conversations around advertising's impact on the environment have increased tenfold since the last COP summit.  A recent Good-Loop survey of both U.K. and U.S. marketers found seven in every 10 (71%) advertisers are now tracking the carbon cost of their digital marketing campaigns. However, the tech currently used to track emissions is still quite nascent, with 83% still relying on estimated figures or calculations. The next 12 months will be about turning intention into action, building the tools and technologies for brands to track and reduce their carbon at scale.

Campaign US

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