The Sustainability Channel in association withThe Immortal Awards

Why Advertising Must Bake Sustainability into the Everyday

Production Company
London, UK
It’s time for agencies to use the power of creativity to save our planet, says Steven Halliday, business director at creative agency adam&eveDDB

When the pandemic swept through the world, grinding an industry reliant on movement to a halt, conversations around climate and sustainability became impossible to ignore. In an effort to keep this positive momentum going, UK production company Presence has partnered with LBB to support The Sustainability Channel for essential discussion around green practices and knowledge sharing.

LBB’s Alex Reeves turned to adam&eveDDB business director Steven Halliday for the next instalment of this conversation. Since joining the London agency in 2018, the imperative to preserve the natural environment has become a passion for him. Thankfully the creative agency he works at and its clients have a lot of room to make an impact. He discusses how he sees sustainability becoming integral to everything the company does, the challenges of resisting greenwashing and why advertising has so much potential to shift the dial on sustainable living.

LBB> Tell us a little bit about your personal relationship and journey with sustainability?

Steven> It’s been a short and fast-paced one to be honest. Growing up in a place like New Zealand I was always aware of the importance nature plays and the need to preserve and protect it, but it wasn’t until I arrived at adam&eveDDB that it became a passion I was able to pursue as part of my professional life. 

In fact, it was our first ‘Green Week’ in 2020 and the research we did amongst the team that helped me realise that building sustainability into our personal and professional lives is just the right thing to do. 

Like most people who embark on this journey I’ve tried to cut down our use of plastics and waste in the home, looked for better energy suppliers and bought from brands who are contributing towards a greener world. 

But the bit that really excites me is getting an agency the size of adam&eveDDB to bake sustainability into its business practices. Influencing and persuading our clients of the need to do the same, and ultimately telling those stories in an interesting and memorable way to impact consumer behaviours.

Ever since my first pro bono campaign for the Sir Peter Blake Trust back in Aotearoa I’ve believed in the power of creativity to make our world that bit better, now is the time for agencies to use that power to make net carbon neutral a reality.  

LBB> When it comes to the industry, how have you seen the sustainability conversation evolve from when you started to today?

Steven> Slowly. 

For years sustainability has been something that’s addressed with a policy full of good intentions, the occasional internal initiative and perhaps a day of tree planting. Only recently have agencies woken up to the commercial benefits of real action and the need to support clients in this space.  

Initiatives like Ad Net Zero from the Advertising Association and Change the Brief are a brilliant start, we now need to see widespread adoption and a bit of healthy competition amongst agencies to see who can lead in this space.  

LBB> What are some of the biggest sustainability issues to tackle within the industry? And what about production in particular? 

Steven> Production is obviously a massive one. While the pandemic has shown us all that remote shooting can work, for me this is just one tool in the toolbox. Our industry needs to evolve the conversation so that we’re talking about the challenge more holistically. We should be discussing upfront the amount of carbon we’re willing to produce to make the work, incentivising the use of greener travel options and production technologies along the way, measuring everything via the clever carbon calculators now widely available and working together with clients to reduce these emissions year on year. 

Of course, none of this is going to make a difference if the work we’re producing is not promoting a more sustainable product, service or behaviour. 

LBB> In your experience, how keen are clients to have the sustainability conversation? 

Steven> Very, it’s becoming business critical and a source of temporary competitive advantage. It’s a complex subject though and at a time when our clients are dealing with supply constraints and short-term economic uncertainty, they need us to simplify the challenge and provide them with clear actions to help keep sustainability at the core of their strategic plans. 

LBB> What’s adam&eveDDB’s approach to sustainability? What initiatives or actions have you undertaken as a company in recent times?

Steve> As with anything we put our mind to, we're aiming to lead.

Looking inward we have partnered with Green Element to complete our carbon footprint report against which we will set carbon reduction goals that get us to net carbon neutral by 2030. As part of this we will be implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS) to help reduce emissions and achieve ISO 14001 (2015) certification.  We’re investing in education and ensuring our team has access to training opportunities with the likes of AdGreen and the Ad Net Zero Essentials course. 

At an industry level we’re a founding member of AdGreen and a supporter of both Ad Net Zero and the Change the Brief initiative. We’ve also recently partnered with Purpose Disruptors to explore the concept of Advertised Emissions alongside two of our clients Quorn and Avanti Trains. 

LBB> Do you think the industry is currently doing enough to make itself greener, why/why not?

Steven> I don’t think we’re doing enough but it does feel like momentum is starting to build. It’s great to see widespread support for initiatives like Ad Net Zero and with carbon calculators available from the likes of AdGreen, ISLA and the IPA, there isn’t really any excuse not to be measuring carbon output going forward. The more data we have the better these tools will become. 

There’s also a number of great training resources available including the likes of AdGreen Production training and the Ad Net Zero Essentials Certificate. 

Perhaps the most helpful next step is to turn the smartest minds across the industry towards identifying the commercial benefits of sustainability. We’ve made a great case for the power of creativity over the years, quantifying the commercial benefit of sustainability would help our agency and brand leads make the case internally for more action. 

LBB> What current solutions do you think are the most helpful on this topic?

Steven> The good news is that there are a number of industry initiatives to help get to grips with the challenge. The Ad Net Zero programme is comprehensive and a great place to start while Change the Brief is a brilliant way of opening up the conversation internally and challenging the team to think differently. 

Helpfully there are a number of individuals and agencies creating their own pathway towards net carbon neutrality so there’s plenty of people you can just pick up the phone and chat to. The more we share information and learnings the quicker we’ll get there as an industry. 

LBB> How much of what the industry is doing today is sustainable versus greenwashing?

Steven> When it comes to the work this is perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face. In the same way we protect and fight for work we believe in, we need to be prepared to challenge when briefs are full of good intentions without much action to back them up. 

There is still a knowledge gap in this area with a recent study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) finding that around 40% of marketers admit to not having the necessary qualifications in sustainable marketing. As a first step marketers and agency leads need to ensure that sustainability training is part of everyone’s development, closing the knowledge gap and giving everyone confidence in the topic will help reduce greenwashing in the long term.  

LBB> What would you like to see the industry change in the next five years to make more progress on the issue?

Steven> In the short term it would be great to see agencies across the UK publishing their carbon footprint reports and action plans to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2030, making sustainability training a core part of career development plans and considering the green credentials of potential clients when asked to pitch. 

Beyond this our focus needs to be on the work and asking ourselves challenging questions like ‘Will this work increase or decrease carbon output?’, ‘Is this leading to more climate-friendly consumption?’ and ‘Will this work move our client’s brand and business forward in preparation for being the type of company that belongs in a 2030 net neutral world?’. 

‘Going green’ has always suffered from the perception it’s too difficult, too expensive, or that it’s not going to make a difference. It would be great to see leading agencies deliver work that bakes sustainable behaviours into the everyday, whether they’re talking about a more climate friendly product and service or simply showing people going about their day to day. 

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