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‘We must go further, faster’: 5 key takeaways from the Ad Net Zero Global Summit

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By Ellen Ormesher | Reporter

November 10, 2022 | 8 min read

One year on from its inaugural gathering at Cop26 in Glasgow, the Ad Net Zero Global Summit kicked off in London yesterday (November 9) to help advertisers and marketers address the climate crisis. Here’s what we learned.

Ad Net Zero

The Ad Net Zero Global Summit kicked off in London yesterday / Image via Ad Net Zero

Ad Net Zero is a UK ad industry coalition, founded by the Advertising Association (AA), the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (SBA) and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), to coordinate efforts to limit the emissions created by the industry.

In his opening statements, Ad Net Zero chair and former Unilever executive vice-president Seb Munden celebrated the progress that has been made within the last year, but warned it is the bare minimum required to curb emissions and halt the worst effects of global heating on the climate, demanding “we have to go further, faster.”

Here are the most important issues in the coming year.

1. Properly regulating green claims and offering guidance

We kicked off with presentations from the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), Advertising Standards Association (ASA) and the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) on the responsibility of trade bodies to tighten up the rules and guidance available to companies looking to promote their green credentials.

The CMA re-committed to its Green Claims Code that helps guide businesses on the legitimacy of their sustainable campaigns. Meanwhile, the ASA drew attention to the fallout from its increased focus on greenwashing, citing HSBC’s recent ad ban as setting a precedent for other companies that fall short of backing up their environmental claims.

Conscious Advertising Network co-founder Jake Dubbins emphasized to The Drum that in the absence of statutory regulation, the need for credible definitions and clear guidance on green claims is more important than ever.

“We’re already too late,” he says.

2. Adland needs to get its house in order

In line with the first four action points laid out by Ad Net Zero, the industry’s first port of call needs to be reducing its own carbon footprint at the most basic level, including re-thinking travel, property and production.

Speaking on a panel, Konrad Shek, director of policy research at the AA, highlighted key data points collected over the last several years, including how emissions went down during lockdowns when remote working and limited travel were the norm.

As a result, “I would recommend looking at things like your energy supplier and moving to 100% renewable sources. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said.

“Other things around offices include installing smart meters or thermostats, and for travel and production, creating an air travel policy to limit emissions created by flying.”

Shek also pleaded with agencies to collect and report their own data around energy usage and travel in order to best paint a picture of the total figure of adland’s direct emissions, so that it might be reduced going forward.

3. Media planning and buying accounts for the most carbon

Media agencies have come around to the fact that electricity-powered out-of-home (OOH) billboards, devices and even the internet all emit carbon, accounting for the largest slice of adland’s footprint.

Last year, WPP found that 55% of its carbon emissions came from the media it was distributing ads on, be it social networks, connected TV (CTV), billboards or the longtail of the web. Its 100,000+ staff and offices to house them only accounted for 1.7% of said emissions.

However, the first wave of media carbon calculators was “imperfect,” and panelists at the summit are now calling for an industry best standard practice to be set in order to accurately measure and subsequently reduce media’s impact.

“We have to establish a common way that allows our budgets to be crafted in the same way, and so agencies around the world are not getting different answers,” said Kieley Taylor, global head of partnerships and managing partner at GroupM. “We can’t be using a meter stick when someone else is using a yardstick.”

4. Awards could incentivize best practice

There was a general sense that if agencies are to pivot their models for the greater good of the planet, there must be a sense of reward for those that set a precedent for promoting sustainable products and lifestyles.

It was announced last week that Cannes Lions will add new criteria for growth, sustainability and diversity from its 2023 awards – a move that was celebrated by Ad Net Zero panelists.

“It’s inconceivable that we, as an industry, could give out awards without considering their impact on the environment,” said Munden. “It would be a disaster to celebrate creativity within a narrow range of climate trashing.”

It was also pointed out that a key benefit of awards is the ability to gather case studies that could be used as tools to inspire and set best practice standards across the industry.

5. Advertised emissions, the elephant in the room

There was much discussion throughout the day on exactly how to measure the impact of advertising’s entire supply chain – from the way it uses emissions to create and distribute work, to those that it drives through consumption.

In his opening statements, Munden outlined the five key action points the industry needs to take on board in order to reduce emissions and halt the increase of global temperatures by 1.5 degrees – the target outlined by the IPCC to limit the worst effects of climate change.

“Four of those points are around changing the way we work,” he explained. “They encompass energy and travel, production, media buying and planning, and looking at the way in which we manage events and awards. Action point number five is about using the power of advertising to make a difference. We want our industry to be a force for good and promote sustainable behaviors so that citizens can live sustainable lives.”

This is thorny territory. A recent report by activist group Purpose Disruptors found that the uptick in CO2 caused by ad-driven consumption adds 32% to the annual carbon footprint of every person in the UK.

According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG) Scope 3 emissions, or those created indirectly in the value chain of a company, are a crucial component of reducing carbon impact across the supply chain.

Attendees generally agreed that Ad Net Zero is doing a good job leading the industry pivot, but hungered for more guidance on how to promote sustainable products and lifestyles, as well as a better idea of what best practice looks like.

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