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What’s Next for Sustainability in Advertising?



Questions of climate ruled the roost at this year’s Advertising Week APAC, with many discussions delving deep into just where marketing stands when it comes to the climate crisis, reports LBB’s Delmar Terblanche

What’s Next for Sustainability in Advertising?

Sustainability was the keyword at this year’s Advertising Week APAC. With the event finally back after two years of COVID-forced postponement, there seemed an energy to the in-person proceedings – one matched by the urgency with which ESG was discussed.

Multiple panels and keynote speakers circled back to sustainability, describing the climate crisis in stark, realistic terms, while also offering hope and congratulations for the industry’s increased climate responsibility.

A panel on the advertising industry’s sustainability strategy, led by Alexandra Sloane, director of marketing at Meta, explored the private sector’s game plan in the wake of the Paris Climate Accords. The panel included: Stephen Connor, MD of Volvo Australia; Aimee Buchanan, CEO of GroupM AUNZ; Mary Lou Ryan, co-founder & director of sustainability and supply chain at Bassike; and Kimberlee Wells, CEO of TBWA\Group Melbourne and Adelaide.

Beginning with reference to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the panel outlined strategies adopted by their various brands – from Meta reaching net zero by 2030, to Volvo being fully electric by the same year. They then went on to discuss particular corporate strategies to avoid some of the more common ESG pitfalls that can afflict marketers.

Kimberley took a firm stance on greenwashing, labelling it the result of a failure to integrate sustainability across the board. She emphasised the need “to make sure that when we are creating work, we really understand what we're creating, and also hold the clients that we're talking to accountable”, with the aim to avoid greenwashing. The alternative, she noted, was “creative tactics” which “really didn’t work”.

Stephen, in turn, praised “authenticity” in climate responses, and outlined how Volvo’s proactive strategy came from a place of responsibility. “We’ve been part of the problem”, he explained, “so we want to be part of the solution”.

There was general agreement that such honesty was an important step when dealing with consumers more literate than ever in the realities of climate change, and in the language of greenwashing. Mary Lou recounted Bassike’s (successful) search for B Corp certification, and described it as proving this very point – a demonstration of a “whole organisation” developing a “really strong environmental and community presence”, and “bringing [its] customers on that journey as well”.

The final major point of discussion was cross-industry coordination, with Aimee outlining the need for common methodologies when it comes to measuring emissions. With 55% of WPP’s emissions coming from the advertising supply chain, the failure to track emissions in unified terms was a major contributor to what Kimberley later termed “perfection paralysis”. In essence, the panel agreed, without coordination across the industry, there would never be agreement on either the precise causes or scale of pollution, or on which sustainability targets mattered the most. 

The discussion remained hopeful, with all contributors outlining clearly the various strategies they have and hope to implement, with a general note of success and optimism. But it closed, nevertheless, on a call to action. “We cannot look any longer to anyone else to solve this problem”, said Kimberlee.

“Everyone in this room has agency. So it's up to all of you when you leave to think about what you're going to do with your own sense of agency to drive this agenda forward, in your personal and professional lives.”

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 03 Aug 2022 05:10:56 GMT