Net zero marketing

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to net zero marketing.

The success of the WFA’s sustainability scheme reflects the vital role that marketing can play in transforming the way brands help us move to net zero, says Will Gilroy, Director of Policy and Communications at World Federation of Advertisers.

The road to net zero is about to take a sharp turn. To date many of the cuts achieved in C02 emissions have been driven by changes in technology, the shift of power generation from coal to gas combined with the increasing amount of wind power, for example.

In order to hit net zero targets, however, societies will need to add behavioural change to their action plans. That makes marketing and communications a vital part of the toolkit against climate change. It can deliver both internally as a champion for change and externally as a persuader of consumers to adapt to a new world.

Many marketers, however, remain cautious about getting involved given the risk of being accused of greenwashing. A recent straw poll conducted at a WFA member session looking at sustainable storytelling found that 56% of those attending were uneasy about communicating their progress, 12% were worried and 6% were ‘afraid or petrified.’

The WFA Planet Pledge is about helping marketers be more confident and be more proactive in this area by outlining how our industry can be part of the solution and sharing best practice.

It now counts 25 WFA corporate member signatories including Bayer, Danone, Diageo, Ikea, L’Oréal, Mastercard, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Pernod Ricard, Sanofi and Unilever, in total representing an estimated $43bn in global ad spend.

In order to reach smaller advertisers, WFA is also working with national advertiser associations in 31 markets, with a total annual marketing spend of $197bn, to create national networks of local champions to share learnings.

Being part Planet Pledge is not a simple commitment, however. The whole business needs to commit to being a champion for the UN’s global Race to Zero campaign something that requires C-Suite approval. But we think this is a critical first step to ensuring the whole organisation is onside and to avoid any potential accusations of ‘greenwashing’.

The ask of marketers is that they then:

  1. Ask their marketing partners to join them on the Race to Zero campaign;
  2. Scale the capability of marketing organisations to lead for climate action by providing tools and guidance for their marketers and agencies;
  3. Harness the power of their marketing communications to drive more sustainable consumer behaviours; and
  4. Reinforce a trustworthy marketing environment, where sustainability claims can be easily substantiated so that consumers can trust the marketing messages as they seek to align their own consumption with their values.

The WFA is already working on best practice guidelines alongside the UK Advertising Standards Authority, The European Advertising Standards Alliance and the International Council of Advertising Self-regulation, which we plan on launching in April.

One change that the Planet Pledge has already triggered is the acceleration of the vital conversations that need to happen across companies. We hear about enhanced relations between marketing, sustainability leads, corporate comms and the C-Suite.

Asahi, for example, recently told us that marketing is vital in translating the jargon of sustainability into meaningful messages. It can help identify real reasons to celebrate achievements with employees, suppliers, partners and consumers, keeping up the momentum for change when most corporate sustainability targets are decades into the future.

Unilever have told us how these conversations can bring marketers closer to the value chains that sit behind their products, helping them to shift consumer demand to more climate-friendly alternatives.

Ultimately, sustainability is a business opportunity. It can help brands identify growth opportunities to appeal to the increasing number of households who are environmentally conscious.

Kantar’s latest Who Cares, Who Does study estimates that this group – dubbed Eco Actives – will make up 56% of the global population by 2030. Right now, they are avoiding products with disposable packaging, preferring to bring their own drinks containers for on-the-go, and opting for refill packs, they are more likely to shop close to home and choose hand-made alternatives to shop-bought products.

For individual marketers, a passion for sustainability can also be a career-defining drive. There are huge opportunities to create powerful messages in areas as diverse as renewable energy, electric vehicles, cycling as well as climate-friendly diets, concentrated versions of household products as well as better insulation and low carbon home energy, to name but a few.

As with so many areas in marketing, sustainability doesn’t stay still and the pressure for more action will continue. Activists are demanding agency holding companies stop working with firms that contribute to climate change, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry, for example.

More widely, marketing’s role in driving consumption (even “good” consumption) is likely to come under pressure. Research by pressure group Purpose Disruptors and researchers, magic numbers in the UK, for example, has found that advertising adds 28% to the carbon footprint of everyone in the UK.

Even Sir David Attenborough now thinks that addressing climate change is a now a communications challenge. This is our opportunity to step up because marketing is a fundamental part of the solution required to address this challenge. It’s incumbent on us all to deliver.

For more information about the WFA Planet Pledge contact Will Gilroy at

Read more articles from the WARC Guide to net zero marketing.

Tackling media decarbonisation one plan at a time
Laura Wade and Susanna Pitts

50 Shades of Greenwashing
Oliver Feldwick

“Washed Green” or “Transparent Grey”? Understanding why honesty pays off in environmental communication
Giovanni Pino, Giampaolo Viglia, Rajan Nataraajan, Alessandro M. Peluso and Marco Pichierri
University of Studies, University of Portsmouth, Università della Valle d’Aosta (UNIVDA), Auburn University, University of Salento and University of Bari “Aldo Moro”

Why sustainability must embrace psychology
Andy Wilson and Paolo Mercado
Ogilvy Consulting, Asia

How greenwashing hinders net zero
Jake Dubbins
Media Bounty