Climate Change Marketing

5 practical ways the ad industry can boost its corporate climate impact

By Mark Fallows, founder

August 21, 2020 | 8 min read

As the urgency to reduce carbon emissions hots up, Fabrica creative collective founder Mark Fallows offers five practical tips brands and agencies can take to play their part.

Five ways the ad industry can boost its corporate climate impact

We must take purposeful abortive action on climate change now

As many of us basked in the sun at the start of August, scientists confirmed that the previous decade was the hottest ever recorded.

This news is a timely reminder of the urgency to reduce carbon emissions and limit global temperature rise to the 2030 target of +1.5C if we are to avoid a predicted climate calamity.

The 2015 Paris Agreement and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided our roadmap and established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (part of the UN’s Global Goals). As a planet, we’re currently off course to meet the 50% annual carbon reduction required over the coming decade. Covid-19 is estimated only to reduce 2020 carbon emissions by 6%.

As businesses working in an industry with the immense power to enact change, we must take purposeful abortive action and apply our personal and collective persuasive powers to encourage corporate behavior change.

There are five steps we can all take to accelerate our impact during this decade of action.

1. Create an SDG alignment

Businesses in ad land and beyond need to align their business and sustainability strategy with one of the SDGs core pillars of people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. Start by identifying which of the global goals your customers or clients care about and then embedding that goal into the core business and brand strategy. Alignment is not a quick, purpose-washing, cosmetic fix. It’s likely to necessitate systemic business realignment requiring courageous leadership, investment, and involve all stakeholders. You can track progress using the SDG Action Manager.

2. Start SDG impact funds

According to the Giving USA Foundation, in 2019, Americans donated over $449bn to charities last year. Of that, individual donors contributed 70% — $309.66bn, while corporations gave $21.09bn or 4.6% of that total.

Given the urgency of hitting the 2030 climate target, encourage your organization’s leadership to pool corporate philanthropy, CSR budgets, and marketing-driven social impact investments into an SDG impact fund. Invest in sustainable value creation, internal operational improvements, and on-the-ground social impact programs, in partnership with high impact NGOs.

3. Form SDG focused NGO partnerships

In 2019 I consulted for a global NGO and concluded that the scope for innovation in NGO-corporate partnerships is a vast untapped well.

NGOs can be the perfect partner for businesses to amplify SDG social impact investments. NGOs are in a unique position to identify where funds are most needed and how to maximize impact. Make unrestricted grants. Let the NGO direct funds across their on-the-ground programs, but require regular monitoring and feedback.

Start the conversation inside your company. Use Give Well to identify those NGOs, adhering to good governance, and addressing the global goals with which your brand or business wishes to align.

4. Advocate for offsetting action

We can’t undo legacy corporate environmental damage, supply chain malpractices or child labor violations committed in the pursuit of profit.

However, as more business leaders acknowledge or commit to abandoning the damaging concept of ‘shareholder primacy,’ now is the time to advocate that your organization embraces a triple bottom line framework.

Start an internal movement to catalyze a shift in corporate culture and encourage leadership to pledge to become a B-Corp or a B Movement Builder.

You may have heard about Imperative 21, a business-led, recently formed network of coalitions to drive wholesale economic system change. Take their lead. Be on the right side of history.

5. Fight to flip lobbying

Corporate lobbying may have become the most powerful yet environmentally damaging force in determining government policy shifts.

In October 2019, 11 leading environmental and sustainable business organizations published an open letter in The New York Times, urging the chief execs of corporate America to step up and adopt a science-based climate policy agenda aligned with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This letter was a call to action for businesses to make a genuine commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. It called on them to lobby governments to implement the necessary policies at the national, subnational, and sectoral levels; and to align and allocate their trade associations’ climate policy spending to advance climate policies, not obstruct them.

Start this conversation in your business and share information about organizations like Citizens Climate Lobby, Rising Up, and Extinction Rebellion, lobbying platforms for broader community activism.

Be a mighty butterfly.

Our climate targets are daunting, but we have the technologies, tools, and networks where small actions can start a massive societal shift.

Greta Thunberg has proved one person can activate an army of environmentally-conscious agitators. It’s time for us to become cohorts, force multipliers to accelerate corporate environmental, and, hopefully, governmental climate action.

We can change course and spare our children a climate future they don’t deserve, a future we are creating.

It’s a purpose worth living for, and, yes, we are all in this together.

Mark Fallows is founder of collective Fabrika

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