Rahul Sachitanand
Dec 1, 2021

Is adland in APAC ready to roll on sustainable campaign production?

With plans evolving on building a localised version of Ad Net Zero, brands and agencies in the region are doubling down on their sustainability commitments, but are racing to keep up with peers in Europe and North America.

(Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

A year after Ad Net Zero was introduced to compel the ad industry to adopt more sustainable practices, Asia-Pacific seems to be belatedly moving towards clearing its climate conscience.

While industry executives recently told Campaign Asia-Pacific of their intent to become more sustainable (see "Is 'Ad Net Zero' possible in Asia-Pacific?"), industry bodies such as the Advertising Association in the UK seem to be ready to give marketers and agencies a leg-up with upgrading their sustainability capabilities, especially around sustainable production. 

The article linked above has prompted the Advertising Association to contact the people quoted. "We’re scheduling follow-up calls to share learnings with international colleagues,” Matt Bourn, director of communications at Advertising Association, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. “We are ready to scale Ad Net Zero with like-minded partners who want to drive ad operations to net zero by the end of this decade.”

Campaign was directed to the association's initiative by APR, a consultancy specialising in sustainable production.   

One of the people Bourn reached out to, Suzy Goulding of MullenLowe Sustainability, confirmed that industry bodies such as the Advertising Association, as well as APAC entities such as AAMS, are keen to introduce an Asia version of Ad Net Zero. She admitted that sustainability evangelists like her are "not seeing demand from clients yet for more sustainable production methods", but said this "shouldn’t stop us as an industry from moving forward on this".

Demand from clients, particularly from big MNCs like Unilever and Procter & Gamble, which have their own sustainability commitments increasingly front-and-centre in everything they do, is coming down the track. Agencies that are willing to explore and adopt more sustainable production methods will be giving themselves a competitive advantage as well as becoming better, more sustainable businesses, Goulding says. 

Mixed pace of change   

While these drivers would be welcome across the industry, executives Campaign Asia-Pacific reached out to admit the pace of change (and adoption) is mixed across APAC. While some markets such as Australia and New Zealand have been global frontrunners in the sustainability shift, regions like Southeast Asia have been slower to adapt. While Covid compelled the industry to reshape its production practices, increasing concerns at both a global and local level about carbon emissions and climate change is expected to spur further shifts.

“Sustainability in advertising and production can no longer be a 'nice to have'. Marketers, agencies, and production partners must move towards sustainable practices, both in front of and behind the camera, or risk being secondary to the brands that do,” says Jenni Doubleday, head of creative services at FCB New Zealand. “Consumers also care and look for this, as part of our journey with our clients we must ensure we are championing this with them and for them.”

Chloe Lane, chief operating officer at Hogarth Australia, details how the advertising industry is having its moment of reckoning and is especially conscious of the imprint of content production on the environment. "Content production, in its many forms, is responsible for around 15% to 20% of the emissions connected to the advertising process," she says. "Globally, we estimate that the work we do generates over 500,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. It’s simply a matter of time before sustainability stops being an option."

Industry executives say that while action is already taking place in the UK and Europe, it has taken a while for it to percolate to APAC. Now, however, agencies and brand marketers are rethinking and upgrading their sustainability goals, with a firm push from consumers only hastening the process.

“When it comes to sustainable production, usually the focus falls solely on waste management or renewable energy, which are incredible tools," says Jonathan Parker, APAC MD for APR. "But how often do you consider the carbon emissions that may be 'baked-in' to your creative? Each year the global production community produces thousands of tonnes of carbon along with thousands of tonnes of waste, especially on set. And this happens despite the fact that we already have the technology and the ability to make all productions both net carbon neutral and zero waste.”

This attitude is fast-changing, say industry executives. “We’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of briefs we receive where being ‘as sustainable as possible’ is listed as a key requirement,” says Olivia Warren, managing director at Initiative Studio Australia. “Sustainability practices are becoming more accessible than ever with huge innovations in the recycled products landscape so both client’s and producers should make it their goal to put sustainability at the forefront of all activity.”

Jonathan Parker, APR


But just how are agencies and production houses in APAC making ad production more sustainable? According to Doubleday of FCB New Zealand, the process of becoming more sustainable is taking shape in several steps. For starters, conceptualising ideas with a more sustainable lens (for example, one location, less talent, fewer lighting requirements) and being open to options around this is becoming increasingly common in the region. Then, the entire production process (from pre to post) is seeing increased use of recycled materials and/or compostable props, remote local production and T-shaped employees and crew—with people doubling up on roles such as stylist/HMU and gaffer/grip.

Beyond changing existing processes 

However, it isn’t just a question of tweaking existing processes, but also using new technologies and processes to refine production and make it more sustainable. Lane of Hogarth Australia says a switch from traditional digital asset management to an asset lifecycle view—which dramatically reduces waste by allowing AI-powered search to identify, recycle and repurpose work from all content captured throughout the production process—is a key part of this evolution. Then, measurement tools used under the ‘Hogarth Sustainability Index’ gives clients insight into the environmental impact of every asset, campaign and shoot, in advance. 

“As we navigate this new world, for marketers the bottom line is even more of a pressure point. More for less is now the ask,” she adds. “To continue to deliver more for less, more sustainable production methods will be critical, be it virtual sets, AR, AI, photographic technology, voice recognition or VR.”

McCann’s Craft Worldwide APAC has created a set of responsible production guidelines that “aim to ensure production practices across the industry reduce planetary impact while meeting content demand,” says Andrea Ferronato, executive producer for the unit in APAC. Some of these measures include using LED or natural light preferably, making sure wardrobes and sets are retained or reused, banning disposable cutlery and tableware (tricky during a pandemic), eliminating red meat from catering, limiting the number of people at shoots, using carpools and public transport, and integrating remote voiceover recordings. 

Andrea Ferronato, Craft Worldwide, APAC


According to APR’s Parker, several other innovations are afoot in the industry that improve sustainability credentials. He references remote video villages, where agencies/clients and even directors can work across geographical boundaries, and dropping kits to people’s homes. "We are now able to do so much more without the necessity of travelling multiple people to a remote location," he explains. "During the pandemic we learnt the benefits of utilising local cast, crew and [using] less remote locations, which are all huge contributors to the carbon footprint of a production."

There are also technological developments from the gaming and broadcast industries that are now finding their way into advertising content creation. For example, using gaming engines such as Unreal (used in Fortnight and The Mandalorian) and Unity (Cycles for Walt Disney and Childish Bambino for MediaMonks) and ICVFX/Virtual/Volumetric/LED wall studios to create environments in real-time, can eliminate the need to transport crew, provide support vehicles and build large-scale sets. “Combine the above with the increased attention on renewable energies across studios and post-production facilities, and there’s a measurable impact,” he adds. 

How it's rolling out

On the ground, the push towards sustainable production is coming together in different ways, says Lane of Hogarth Australia. For example, the production house has worked with clients to create assets that can remain in use for 18 months, where previously they stretched to just three. It has moved clients to virtual studios, reducing the need to travel to set. And it has worked with two major brands to reuse and remix existing assets rather than producing new ones.

In addition, Hogarth has worked with a client to produce all its global assets remotely, rather than travelling to locations across the globe, and a fifth of always-on content has been produced using greenscreens rather than on-location. The shop has also worked with a multi-brand client to piggyback all asset creation from one mega-shoot, saving on weeks of separate shoots across many locations worldwide.

For the moment some of these gains may be driven by survival rather than proactive business choice. “Here in Vietnam, I’d say it’s on its way but not fully arrived yet," says Neena Felizzi Gatdula, creative partner at Happiness Saigon. "Covid forced us to be efficient indeed, but perhaps with a different motivation than most. It’s more about survival than making the conscious choice.”

Ferronato from Craft Worldwide APAC agrees that Southeast Asia is behind when it comes to the development of sustainable production practices. “I think we are a far way off in SEA," she says. "Things like renewable energy or LED studios have not taken hold here. And although Covid has shown us we can produce remotely or not have so many people attend shoots, it has prevented us from doing small things that make a difference, like using real plates and glasses, due to the risk of contamination." 

Beyond the pandemic push

However, the pandemic has shown that agencies and production houses need to take a bold step and shift away from the old way of doing things. “We are aware of this reality and know we cannot go back to the way things were before Covid," says Ferronato. “We need to reinvent production to make a positive impact, offering more sustainable solutions for the industry.”

While Covid may have pushed agencies and production houses to adopt more sustainable measures to survive, executives are convinced the shift can be permanent. “Covid has showed us what is possible when you need to be inventive," says Felizzi Gadtula of Saigon. "We try to view these new ways of working as an opportunity that will help us embrace a more sustainable production. Remote shoots and limited crews allow for more focus and flexibility, and in the end, a better creative product.”

While APR’s Parker says regions like the US and UK are leading when it comes to setting out actions to fight climate change and achieve net zero emissions, with the guidance of organisations like AdGreen and Ad Net Zero, a change in mindset from consumers, brands, agencies and marketers means there may be a big shift towards sustainable production practices across APAC too.

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