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Advertising's responsibility to tackle climate change

19 Jul 2019  |  Michaela Jefferson 
Advertising's responsibility to tackle climate change

The urgency of the climate change crisis really can't be overstated. Unless action is taken across all levels of society over the next decade, we're looking at a near-future of droughts, flooding and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

And our consumer society - with its fast food, fast fashion and fast moving consumer goods - is taking a significant role in driving us towards that nightmare scenario.

So here's the existential crisis for adland: the more effective it is at selling products to consumers, the worse the climate crisis gets.

While every part of the supply chain has to take responsibility, the advertising industry needs to play its part - and it seems that it has finally reached a point where it is prepared to have some real, grown-up conversations.

Last month 50+ UK agency bosses signed an open letter asking adland to accept the role it has played in exacerbating climate change and to use its skills to promote sustainable ways of living.

Shortly after, 100 industry representatives attended a Climate Crisis Summit to hear from experts and discuss what can be done.

Jonathan Wise, a member of the purpose disruptors group which wrote the letter, says the response has been encouraging. And while some ideas raised at the summit may seem radical right now, "unprecedented change means radical ideas need to be considered."

Some of those ideas included action as drastic as ditching heavy-carbon emitting clients altogether.

But is this all a load of virtue signalling, or is adland committed to actually taking serious, urgent action?

Having spoken to a number of agency leaders to understand where the conversation is currently heading, there are some clear points of agreement.

Advertising has skills like no other industry to understand people and change their behaviour, so it makes sense that advertising should lead the way in helping consumers to kick their unsustainable habits.

Adland doesn't even need to persuade people to consume less, futurist Tracey Follows says. "Advertising could be used to maintain or increase consumption levels of the right things, as sustainability products and services explode."

However, when it comes to those radical changes, the general view is that industry-wide consensus will be essential, so cross-agency conversations must continue.

"It's not about individual agencies going off and doing a bit of work on their own," says Pauline Robson, managing partner at MediaCom UK.

"It's going to take a lot of cross-industry consensus to work on this as a challenge, and the way that we work with our clients, the way that we communicate with consumers, is going to have to be something adopted across the whole industry and not just one agency on its own."

The cynical perspective on that is that reaching cross-industry consensus could take a very, very long time. But there are a number of great initiatives already taking place across the industry - including eco-friendly alternatives to mainstream media models and carbon offset schemes - which agencies should take note of now.

The full article, featuring opinion from the UK chief executives of MediaCom, Mindshare, Blue 449 and Spark Foundry, Bountiful Cow and Grey Consulting, can be read here.

Michaela Jefferson is Mediatel News' reporter covering all aspects of the media industry.

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