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Climate Change Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

Global brands unveil ‘Planet Pledge’ as CMOs fall behind on sustainability


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

April 20, 2021 | 6 min read

Some of the world’s biggest advertisers, including Unilever, Diageo, Mastercard, Dole and Tesco, have made a series of new commitments to act on the climate emergency, following research which has shown marketers to be lagging behind other business functions when it comes to sustainability.


Global brands unveil ‘Planet Pledge’ as CMOs fall behind on sustainability

The ‘Planet Pledge’ is being led by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). It will see brand leaders commit to championing a shift to a zero-carbon economy internally and externally, as well as using their own advertising to drive greener consumer behavior.

The initiative follows on from data garnered by the WFA from 650 top marketers, in which most conceded that while they believed brands could be a force for change, the marketing department was not as advanced as others when it came to sustainability drives.

For context: just 10% of marketers claimed to be ‘well advanced’ in their sustainability journey, compared to 29% who said that their wider business was already at this stage.

Marketing ‘lagging behind’ on sustainability

  • Many organizations and their marketing teams have made significant progress in the past decade in both adopting more sustainable business practices as well as increasing awareness of the world’s climate crisis.

  • However, this WFA study suggests that many gaps remain in brands’ collective journey to a more sustainable future.

  • For their part, global marketers generally acknowledged consumers’ expectations and perceived that the current pandemic will only accelerate the importance of environmental concerns. 95% of marketers said their department could make a difference to the sustainability journey and 92% of consumers agreed brands had a responsibility to change consumer behavior.

  • However, there was a clear gap when it came to how the marketing function was performing in this area, versus the performance of organizations as a whole. 50% of marketers said their team was ‘about to start’ or still taking ‘first steps’ when it came to their sustainability journey. This was in contrast to 67% who agreed that at an organizational level their business was ‘progressing well’ or ‘well advanced’ in the same journey.

  • When senior marketers were asked directly about the greatest challenges to realizing sustainability ambitions within their teams, there were many issue areas which resonated. 39% cited conflicting business priorities as a challenge, while 27% said a lack of dedicated resources was holding them back. 20% were worried about the risk of ‘greenwashing’.

So, how will a ‘Planet Pledge’ help?

  • The Planet Pledge aims to bridge these gaps by encouraging chief marketing officers to take action in four key areas.

  • As a starting point, marketers will commit to being a champion for the global Race to Zero campaign – a global corporate commitment centered on carbon neutrality – both internally within their organizations and to encouraging their marketing supply chain to do the same.

  • Those who sign up will commit to scaling up the capability of their marketing organizations to lead for climate action by providing tools and guidance for their marketers and agencies.

  • They’ll also pledge to harness the power of their marketing communications to drive more sustainable consumer behaviors.

  • Finally, they’ll commit to reinforcing a ‘trustworthy marketing environment’ where sustainability claims can be easily substantiated so that consumers can trust the marketing messages they are presented with as they seek to align their own consumption with their values.

  • Progress on all these goals will be reported annually by the WFA.

  • The WFA will also work with advertising standards bodies worldwide and other relevant stakeholders to deliver industry guidance that will preserve trust in the evolving language of environmental claims in a way that enables consumers to make sustainable choices with confidence.

  • The Pledge is designed to amplify existing efforts and direct WFA members and their value chain partners towards them.

  • Conny Braams, chief digital and marketing officer at Unilever said: “Just as marketing is at the heart of our business, so it must be at the heart of our response to the climate crisis. Our brands have the power to connect emotionally with people all over the world, to help them make sense of that world and provide solutions to the issues they face.

  • “With concerns around climate change at an all-time high, marketers have a unique role to play in communicating the benefits of making sustainable choices and adopting sustainable behaviors, truly becoming a force for good in the world as we collectively embark on the Race to Zero.”

  • The WFA’s initiative comes as marketers make an increased effort to recognize the role they can play in tackling the climate crisis. In the UK, the Advertising Association has its own Climate Action Group which co-ordinates industry efforts. While out in the US, the likes of S4, IBM and Iceland have joined Amazon’s ‘Climate Pledge’ program; committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

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