Having been on the ground at COP 28, Sebastian Munden, Chair, WRAP & Chair, Ad Net Zero says the clients and challenger brands of the future will be offering sustainable solutions. With that, every marketeer must adopt a sustainable mindset, this means asking if what they’re promoting this year will help combat climate change and build a more sustainable economy. If not, they risk getting left behind.

The main message from the COP 28 “Global Stock Take” is that, despite many good actions, global greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing, and the effort to cap the rise of global temperature below even two degrees Celsius will be very challenging. There is no time to lose, and every tenth of a degree is worth fighting for. Marketing, and the promotion of a sustainable way of life, is central to this fight.

The UAE Presidency boldly claimed the event “surprised the doubters and inspired the optimists”.  If countries do triple renewable energy, accelerate the phase-down of coal power and “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just and equitable manner in this critical decade”, it will all have been worth it.

The transformation required is still only at the early stages – a lot needs to be done, now. Significantly accelerating what is working (triple renewable energy sources) and tackling large additional sources of emissions with the same systemic and scale approach (agriculture, food and consumption) are both essential.

The focus on emissions (CO2 and methane) beyond energy systems has increased in prominence and is rapidly rising up the agenda. The UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action racked up 159 signatory parties by the time the event closed, all committing to include these actions in their national 'To do' lists. Sustainable consumption is in the spotlight. The declaration identifies what needs to be done to mitigate both the impact of climate change on food resilience and livelihoods and the impact of food production on climate change through its emissions and impact on nature. Reduction of food waste is up there with regenerative agriculture and stopping deforestation as a priority to reduce the unnecessary emission of methane and CO2.

Creating impact

Many organisations came together to share best practices in tackling waste from farm to fork, including WRAP, where I chair the global board, and its partners from around the world. The importance of sustainable consumption and production was highlighted again in the final communique, referring to the transformational role circular economy business models can play.

I was struck by how many entrepreneurs and innovators there were at COP28 in Dubai. The solutions of the future and the gaps in the circular economy were being pitched to the financial community and shared in industry groups. Many of these will be the clients of the future, the next challenger brands, and the advertising industry will need to win them over from a position of scepticism.

There were more conversations this year about mobilising and supporting citizens in the changes they can make and the sector's responsibilities to frame better choices for everyone.  

Sustainability professionals, very concerned about the slow progress to scale net zero home energy, transport, travel, and consumption solutions, are desperate for ways to create more impact. This surely calls for the creative power of marketing and advertising to make a positive difference.

The super-power of marketing and advertising can rapidly reframe new behaviours and better choices, making them understandable and desirable at scale. It’s time for every marketeer to ask: is what I am promoting this year, whether it’s a product, service or behaviour, going to make a positive contribution to the battle against climate change, or a more sustainable economy?

Supporting a better future

As chair of Ad Net Zero, I connected with many groups looking to harness that capability. I believe that there are many briefs out there yet to be written. But there are still insufficient pathways and connections between the folks articulating the solutions and those who know how to create desirability and demand. Marketers and agencies must get stuck in to surface those briefs and unleash their creativity to realise the opportunities.  

For this reason, amongst others, Matt Bourn and I have co-written Sustainable Advertising: How Advertising can Support a Better Future, which will be published on 1st March, 2024. In this we set out – for marketers and agencies – the big sector shifts, the opportunities of a generation, and what the research tells us about customers and citizens and their propensity to change. You’d be surprised. There’s a lot of consistent evidence out there that shows how to make sustainable consumption an everyday reality.  

Sustainable consumption is surely one of the biggest commercial opportunities of the 21st century. Equally, unsustainable consumption is one of the biggest problems we all face. Companies that are slow or late will wither and those that are leading and driving transformation will leave the rest behind. Governments can paint the lines on the pitch, but it’s businesses and their customers, the public, who play the match.

The transformation needed will be driven by millions of people who will live differently and make better everyday choices. The biggest barriers to that happening include ideas of missing out, loss of opportunity and reduction of choice. These ideas must be replaced by the truth that sustainable products and services will be easily accessible and improve quality of life. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?  

For more on Ad Net Zero’s take on COP28, read: COP28: “It’s up to us” – how businesses can and must step up to support policy developments | LinkedIn