World Environment Day: do's and don’ts for adland
Anna Lungley, chief sustainability officer at Dentsu International, offers advice for industry leaders who want to be part of the movement to Net Zero
Climate change is radically reshaping our world – businesses and brands have no choice but to respond. While few players in the media and advertising industry grab climate change commitment headlines like consumer brands, the industry can't escape the planetary boundaries we all operate within.
We need to take an active role in enabling and accelerating long-term emissions reductions for our clients and our own businesses.
For too long, our industry has made incremental changes, stirred up social media or offered up well-crafted soundbites in lieu of real deliverables.
Now, as our clients come under pressure – from governments and consumers alike – to make the transition to sustainable and inclusive practices, the media and advertising ecosystem needs to do likewise.
In the build-up to World Environment Day (5 June), we will see a plethora of announcements and commitments from ad agencies to brands joining or accelerating in the "Race to Zero".
At Dentsu, we know we’re not alone in our desire to decarbonise. The industry wants it, our clients want it, and employees want it. Increasingly, policymakers are considering demanding more of everyone. So, we have to get specific, go beyond words, and start to embed commitments in actionable and measurable ways.
All players across the media and marketing world must channel our talents, in tandem with our clients, to help drive forward the Net-Zero journey that will come from behavioural shifts.
In the UK, the Committee for Climate Change in 2019 forecasting work shows that 59% of the changes the UK needs to make will also come from wider human and societal behaviour change.
As an industry, we have a unique opportunity and the capacity to make sustainable living easier and more rewarding for people around the world, while supporting our clients’ commitments.
It’s our bread and butter to come up with campaigns and ideas that speak to what consumers need and want; we can make sustainability irresistible.
Here are my do’s and don’ts for industry leaders who want to be part of the movement to Net Zero:
Do lead by example
For us, we know we can play an important consultancy role with clients, fusing our expertise with theirs. But, we must also show that we are contributing to this shared mission. This begins with making changes close to home.
In 2020 we became the first in our industry to be powered by 100% renewable energy, and we are committed to be powered by renewables in all countries in which we operate in support of our transformation to Net Zero.
Consumer attitudes research shows that by 2030, two-thirds of UK consumers won’t buy products with a negative environmental impact.
Equally, once a government has made a climate target, it must draw up a carbon budget to understand what it needs to do to achieve that target. From this comes legislation and policy to which companies must adapt and respond to and in turn brands pivot their behaviour.
We are already seeing this in the UK, from car manufacturers prioritising the promotion of electric vehicles, to traditional fossil fuel producers identifying their transition and route to a hydrocarbon-free future.
As heavy industry transitions, the impact will be felt not just in manufacturing: it will create a ripple effect on the speed and scale of change in other sectors, nationally and internationally.
Do set bold targets and stick to them
Learn from the brands that are walking the talk: Microsoft’s drive to become carbon negative by 2030 and remove its historic carbon emissions since its foundation in 1975 by 2050 is inspirational.
So too Coca-Cola, which has made notable environmental commitments like reducing the carbon footprint of the drink in your hand by 25%.
It has set bold, quantitative, KPI-driven commitments with relatively short time frames in which to achieve them, and made significant investments to make this happen.
Dentsu international was the first of the global holding companies to set defined and audited science-based targets to achieve Net Zero by 2030 – going through that process means we know that we must cut our avoidable emissions by 46% and go further to eliminate any residual emissions through certified offsetting projects in the next nine years.
Don’t be an island
Transformation towards Net Zero requires deep, multi-stakeholder engagement and coalition building among the willing.
Networks like AdNetZero, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and We Mean Business are prime examples of cooperation amongst competitors, and a wide range of industry players, all collaborating around a shared goal.
Our industry’s potential to support society in making meaningful and measurable lifestyle changes means there’s power and pay back in working together.
Do embrace the challenge, act on the opportunity
Climate action can be complex but “business-as-usual” is simply no longer an option.
Quantifying and measuring the emissions associated with serving up digital media content is complex, but it’s time to look at them more closely.
As awareness has grown about the huge amount of power that data centres consume, 24-hours a day, so too has the need to grapple with this issue.
In partnership with Bristol University’s Department of Computer Science, along with some of the world’s most innovative media companies, including Sky, ITV and BT, Dentsu is piloting an online carbon measurement tool - DIMPACT.
It takes the complexity out of calculating the carbon emissions of the downstream value chain of digital media content, including transmission. Even more must be done on this front to help shape and influence decision-making.
Ultimately, the extraordinary changes brought about by Covid-19 have shown us that anything is possible when we all gather around a shared goal.
The transition to Net Zero requires a similar focus with investment, planning and scale like never before. With society increasingly viewing silence by brands on social issues as a sign of complicity or, worse, negligence to act, adland must set about redefining our value to society, and demonstrating how we can help be catalysts for a better future for all.