Advertising has the power to stimulate the behaviour changes needed for consumers to switch to more sustainable ways of living, says Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive, Advertising Association.

The climate emergency is brought to the top of the world’s agenda this week at COP26. But it has already been a primary concern for the advertising industry, which we have been addressing through an initiative called Ad Net Zero. This is our ambitious action plan from the Advertising Association, IPA and ISBA to help advertising companies achieve net zero in ad operations by 2030. 

We know advertisers, agencies, media owners and tech companies are concerned about how our operations affect the world we live in. Recent research by Campaign has shown that four in five ad agencies are prepared to reject work with clients that lack sustainability ambition. 

That is why over 80 companies across the advertising landscape have signed up to the Ad Net Zero initiative to look at how they can get their own houses in order first.

Ad Net Zero aims to curb emissions both from the ad production process and media planning, buying and distribution, as well as use an agency’s influence to include more environmentally sustainable messages in ads to change consumer behaviour.

We are proud to mark its first anniversary with a Global Summit this week.

In November 2020, we published a report on the industry and at the same time outlined a 5-step action plan, guiding organisations of every size in how to reduce their carbon emissions.

We have launched our first carbon calculator for ad production – AdGreen – which has seen over 2,000 brands inputted into the calculator, from 100 agencies. This tool is free at the point of use for the ad production community, funded by the AdGreen levy.

The IPA Media Climate Charter has led the way in the development of a world-first tool to help measure and reduce carbon from media distribution.

Ad Net Zero sets new standards for awards and events in our industry, and we can see this filtering into our work. The Data and Marketing Association has recently introduced sustainability criteria into its awards grading. Sky’s Zero Footprint Fund has set up a £2m advertising initiative awarding air-time to sustainable brands that drive positive behavioural change.

We’re addressing advertising’s positive influence to promote more sustainable consumer choices and behaviour by aligning with brilliant initiatives such as the #ChangeTheBrief Alliance. It inspires campaign-makers to ask themselves questions about every brief, to see if a more sustainable solution can be found in the messaging created and the behaviours encouraged.

If we keep asking ourselves these questions, these shifts in behaviour will be quickly worked into the consciousness of our audiences.

We’ve got to practice what we preach. And many brands are leading on the front here.

Around 29 million homes need “green-ifying” to cut down on carbon emissions. Big household names such as Nationwide and ITV are using ad-funded programmes to help people decarbonise their homes, and the likes of BT recently ran a campaign encouraging everyday environmentalism.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco are promoting meat-free meals and plant-based ‘meats’. Meat consumption has fallen by 20% in the last decade and this trend is likely to continue.

And, as part of its pledge to reach net zero in operations by 2030, Unilever is already powering its workplaces around the world with 100% renewable grid electricity.   

For members of the advertising community, our call-to-action to anyone who is concerned about the climate crisis is clear: encourage your organisation to join Ad Net Zero and as a professional find out how you can take positive action in the climate emergency.

We have a simple roadmap to do this.

This week, the first Ad Net Zero Global Summit – a free online event for the world’s advertising professionals – will take place. It includes thought-leadership sessions, workshops and panel debates to demystify sustainability and learn how to make a real difference in your day-to-day life. You can register to attend here.

In addition, we have launched the first professional sustainability qualification, the Ad Net Zero Essentials Certificate, to equip every professional across our industry with the knowledge, tools, and resources to act on the climate crisis. This 10-hour course also helps individuals understand regulatory issues such as greenwashing and how to actively avoid it in the work we produce.

Following these steps will enable the industry to deliver on our vision: that by 2030 ‘every ad will be a green ad’.

Ad Net Zero will provide you with the tools to transform your business into a sustainable one, produce and distribute your campaigns with carbon footprint front of mind, and present more sustainable produces and services to the audiences that advertising serves.

Join the drive to take positive climate action. Find out more here.