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Whilst events like COP26 rally leaders around a shared vision of a more sustainable future and investors begin using Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria (ESG) to identify material risks and growth opportunities, it's safe to say sustainability is on everyone's mind of late - including CMOs.
More brands are signing up to Ad Net Zero, a project that aims to achieve carbon net-zero by 2030. Some, like Mastercard’s Priceless Planet Coalition, have already taken action. Others are considering changes - Warc data shows 38% of marketers are “rethinking marketing communications to encourage ‘greener’ consumer behaviors.”
82% of shoppers told Google that sustainability is more top of mind now than pre-pandemic. And a global study of 10,000 people found 85% of them indicated they are making more sustainable purchasing choices in the past five years. Are consumers actually buying ‘greener’ though?
Despite 50% of CPG growth from 2013 to 2018 came from sustainability-marketed products (according to HBR’s analysis of 36 categories, 71,000+ SKUs - accounting for 40% of CPG dollar sales), some say there is still a disconnect between what consumers think 'green' purchases are. James O'Keefe, commercial director at Legal & General points out,
“There is a disconnect between what consumers understand and our brand’s sustainability objectives. 25% have never even heard of net-zero, while 3 in 10 can’t explain or don’t understand the connection with their pension pots.”
The impact? A say-do gap emerges around consumer attitudes to climate, where increased intent is not followed by increased action.
Advertising is arguably the biggest engine of societal change in existence – it's a good place to start. Here are three ways brands can help lead the way to create demand for green products:
A recent analysis finds 40% of 'green' claims on business websites could be misleading - highlighting the land mines brands have to avoid when producing sustainably led communications.
The UK’s advertising body, ASA, issued a new warning to “crackdown on misleading and socially irresponsible environmental advertising”. This year alone they have tripled the number of adverts banned for ‘greenwashing’. For those interested, Gov.uk has a 13-part checklist to help prevent greenwashed claims. Check out Think With Google for five ways brands can successfully use sustainability messaging without greenwashing.
Greenwashing is compounded by ad fraud and misinformation. Incredibly moving and powerful creatives will be haunted if they appear on misinformation sites. A 2021 study by Newsguard and Comscore found big brands were spending up to $2.6 billion on sites that published misinformation through programmatic advertisers. To fight misinformation, Nandini Jammi & Claire Atkin have built checkmyads.org. Check them out.
Grace Kite called advertised emissions “the most important metric in marketing.” It allows advertisers to track the climate impact of additional sales generated by advertising. The work found advertising adds an extra 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK. Kite says “It’s 186 times bigger than the operational footprint of the UK’s advertising agencies.”
Similar research by Good-Loop found a “typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tons of carbon dioxide – a third of what an average US consumer produces in a year.”
There's plenty of help for advertisers thinking about sustainability. For example, The Good Life - a contributor-led platform built by a variety of marketing practitioners - challenges marketers to reframe materiality and consumption and redefine what a ‘good life’ is.
Warc too recently launched a new Sustainability Hub. Created in partnership with LIONS and the UK’s Advertising Association, it helps marketers find “innovative ways to implement more sustainable actions to address the climate crisis.”
Another learning program, Changethebrief.org is a not-for-profit partnership between agencies and their clients. Google has a great piece on how CMOs can take an active role in driving sustainable growth.
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