Sustainability hot topics in the advertising industry

07 March 2024

While the increasing shift from print to digital marketing has already allowed ad agencies and their clients to drastically reduce paper waste, online advertising involves significant energy consumption. It has been estimated that 1 million digital ad impressions generates 1 metric tonne of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to the carbon emissions generated by one passenger flying round trip from Boston to London. And with sustainability becoming ever-more important to organisations, investors, and consumers – do advertisers with extensive online reach have a responsibility not only to reduce their own environmental impact, but also to positively influence people’s behaviour?

Measurement is the first step towards improvement 

Businesses aiming to reduce emissions and boost green credentials must first establish the current state of play, by measuring and reporting on the emissions that they generate. And while many companies are already reporting on their direct emissions (scope 1 and 2), indirect (scope 3) emissions from advertising campaigns can be trickier to measure. 

Different media types, formats and partners will have varying environmental impacts. As digital advertising becomes more complex, the electricity required (and therefore the carbon emissions produced) rises. Identifying the points in a campaign’s supply chain where carbon emissions are being generated is a key first step for advertisers and agencies interested in meaningful emissions reductions. As your clients look to reduce their own scope 3 emissions, the ability to provide them with a measure of their campaign emissions can also help to set you apart from others.

Understand the claims your ads are making

The pressure on advertisers to promote sustainability is growing, and not only from a moral perspective. In November 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two Toyota ads, ruling that the adverts ‘condoned the use of vehicles in a manner that disregarded their impact on nature and the environment’. 

The ASA also announced plans in 2021 to launch a series of investigations into environmental claims in ads, including claims that products or services are ‘carbon neutral’, or that companies are ‘net zero’. To provide organisations with support when making claims, it published guidance that draws on principles from the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) ‘Green Claims Code’. It's important to check these guidelines and ensure that you fully understand any claims your ads are making, to avoid facing financial penalties and reputational damage from unintentional greenwashing.

An emerging concept: advertised emissions

Coined by advertising climate network Purpose Disruptors, the concept of advertised emissions is gaining traction. It refers to the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the 'uplift in sales generated by advertising’ and mirrors the concept of ‘financed emissions’, which is already established in the finance industry. Purpose Disruptors’ 2022 temperature check found that advertising has responsibility for 32% of the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK when taking advertised emissions into consideration. 

Increasing ad spend on ‘green brands’ that have lower-carbon intensity products is one way to reduce your advertised emissions. While this concept is still emerging, people are starting to take notice, with organisations beginning to provide its employees with training on how to inspire positive behaviour change through media.

Send a clear message that you support industry decarbonisation

Ad Net Zero (ANZ) is the advertising industry’s drive to decarbonise the production, distribution, and publication of advertising. It is mandatory for ANZ supporters to set public, science-based net zero targets by June 2024, and to report publicly against this target annually (except SMEs who are not required to make this data public). 

Becoming an ANZ supporter would send a clear message to your partners, investors and clients that you are committed to taking action to reduce your carbon impact.

How can we help?

Whether you are at the start of your sustainability journey or are looking for ways to enhance existing activities and amplify positive impact, our dedicated ESG advisory team can help. We have a broad service offering spanning emissions measurement and reporting, net zero transition planning, sustainability strategy and report development, and strategy and governance reviews.

Rich Hall
Partner, Head of Sustainability
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Cathy Faria
Senior consultant, Consulting services
AUTHOR
Rich Hall
Partner, Head of Sustainability
Avatar Gender neutral person
Cathy Faria
Senior consultant, Consulting services
AUTHOR