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Media Media Planning and Buying TV Media Planning

Media accounts worth billions now calculating the carbon cost of their media buys


By John McCarthy | Opinion editor

June 8, 2021 | 7 min read

Top UK agencies have signed up to the IPA’s Media Climate Charter, a tool designed to help marketers measure and reduce carbon impact of their media plans. The Drum takes a look at who’s onboard and how it works.

wind turbine against a blue sky

Biggest media agencies now calculating carbon footprint

Who has signed up?

  • Agencies responsible for more than £7bn in 2020 media billings (Nielsen) have committed to using the IPA’s tool, including Carat, Essence Global, Goodstuff, Havas Media Group, Hearts & Science, Initiative UK, iProspect, MediaCom, MindShare Media, MGOMD, OMD, PHD Media, Spark Foundry, Starcom, The7Stars, The Kite Factory, UM, VCCP Media, Wavemaker and Zenith.

  • Members of the IPA Media Climate Action Group, which is driving the charter, include Mindshare’s Rob McFaul, The7Stars’ Anuschka Clarke, Mediacom’s Helen Brain and Pauline Robson, PHD’s Frith Hofmeester, Rapport’s Jack Monaghan, MGOMD’s Tim Pritchard and Havas MG’s Tony Mattson.

  • The calculator, available on the IPA website, allows media agencies to measure carbon footprint of media plans, with IPA president Julian Douglas saying it ”sets the pathway for sustainable transformation” to a zero-carbon future.

How does the tool work?

  • The project follows a line of thought gaining momentum in modern media, the Ad Association having launched its tool last year. Unilever’s executive vice-president and general manager for the UK and Ireland, Sebastian Munden, says: ”Our trials of the media carbon calculator have allowed us to make even more informed media choices and, equally importantly, have triggered constructive conversations with media owners and agencies on how we can work together to create a more sustainable media landscape.”

  • The tool will help the industry identify the worst offending elements of each media plan where carbon needs to be offset. It uses the five core areas identified by cross-industry Ad Net Zero initiative and provides additional guidance via reports, research and recommendations for industry initiatives, such as AdGreen and #ChangeTheBrief.

  • The IPA claims it does this by calculating the carbon emissions associated with a media plan based on the media mix and uses a range of data sources. That includes hard data on electricity emissions and device power. If they know a campaign will reach a certain number of mobile users, its impact can be calculated.

  • Group chair McFaul says: “There are multiple pressures on our industry regarding the climate crisis, which makes this Charter so imperative. Firstly, there’s client pressure with many clients having committed to climate action and set ambitious targets, including expectations from all of their supply chain to have similar targets, including their media agency partners.

  • ”Secondly, our industry talent is awakening to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. Young talent, born with a deep awareness of climate change, do not wish to enter an industry that is not fully directing its creativity and strategic firepower to make a positive difference, and more experienced talent also wants to contribute to a brighter future for their children and grandchildren. And crucially, our reputation is at stake if collectively our industry continues to remain neutral in response.”

Why now?

  • Douglas says ”the science is clear” and that the solution requires ”every single one of us to respond and transition”.

  • Jake Dubbins, managing director of integrated ethical agency Media Bounty and co-chair of the Conscious Ad Network (Can), says the scale of the problem can’t be truly known until everyone shares their results from the calculator. But he urges advertisers to think beyond simply auditing the carbon footprint of their buys. They should consider also what they are funding.

  • He adds: ”Currently, publishers and platforms do not have adequate climate science misinformation policies if any. This means that our advertising is currently funding content that claims climate change is a hoax. In the same way that the global community has united to counter Covid misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, we must come together to counter climate science misinformation.”

  • He points those interested to Can’s misinformation manifesto on the IPA Climate Charter site and concludes: ”I encourage all agencies to act now and encourage their clients and supply chain to join them.”

Building momentum

  • The coalition announcement follows further environmental developments this week. L’Oréal, Natwest and PepsiCo each signed up to the WFA Planet Pledge – a promise to make their marketing teams a force for positive environmental change.

  • The pledge – launched in April at Global Marketer Week – promises action in four main areas: driving sustainable consumer behaviors, reinforcing a trustworthy marketing environment, provide tools for scaling marketing capabilities to climate action groups and championing Race to Zero, a campaign rallying business support of the UN Cop26 summit.

  • Asmita Dubey, chief digital and marketing officer of L’Oréal, says: “At L’Oréal, our commitment is to ensure that our activities are respectful of the so-called ‘Planetary Boundaries’, meaning what the planet can withstand, as defined by environmental science. Alongside our own in-depth transformation process, we want to inspire consumers so they can take action with us. The more our consumers know, the better they can act.”

  • This week, Havas Group reported its progress on achieving goals of reducing emissions 32% in absolute terms by 2025. It says it has so far managed to reduce paper consumption 42% while 17% of its electricity consumption was from renewable sources in 2020. 28% of its staff worldwide is now operating under ISO 14001 certification and 15% of its global workforce have met the target of 100% renewable electricity purchasing.

  • In April, WPP committed to hitting net zero across its $60bn supply chain. At the time, chief Mark Read said media spend comprised about 55% of its total emissions and production about 14%. He posited the benefits of virtual production (cutting down on travel) and said: ”I’m surprised actually that more clients haven’t asked us about it and that more clients haven’t made it part of the media or production process. It has been part of our discussions with clients, but it hasn’t been as big a part of those discussions as I would have expected. When we did the math, 98% of the carbon emitted from WPP activities came from areas outside of our direct control.”

Additional reporting by Sam Bradley

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