Technology Cop26 Sustainability

How adland can tackle the climate crisis

By Julie Reid | Strategy Director



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November 1, 2021 | 8 min read

In 2015, 196 nations signed an international treaty on climate change known as the Paris Agreement. Responding to science that showed global temperatures were increasing – as measured against average temperatures before the Industrial Revolution and the wholesale burning of fossil fuels that powered it – these nations committed their efforts to limit the temperature increase to well below 2C.

Hallam on how COP26 is the perfect opportunity for adland to flex its passion, creativity and innovative skills to help the climate.

Hallam on how Cop26 is the perfect opportunity for adland to help in the climate crisis

These same nations are gathering in Glasgow at the beginning of November for the United Nations Conference of Parties – known in shorthand as Cop26. At this event they will review the progress they’ve made toward cutting their greenhouse gas emissions and helping their citizens adapt to climate change.

What, you might be asking, does this have to do with the advertising industry?

Research from the Advertising Association and industry think tank Credos found that 71% of people working across the advertising industry are worried about the negative impacts our jobs have on the environment. After all, 60% of greenhouse gas emissions come from household consumption, and we in the industry are active participants in creating desire and driving consumption. The report also found that 91% of people working in the industry agree that knowing their organization is taking climate action would improve job satisfaction.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to how our industry is responding to the climate crisis. I’ve been Hallam’s representative on the steering group for the Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero movement, with almost 100 organizations committing to reduce the carbon output of the industry’s operations and achieve real net zero by 2030.

And I’ve been a communications volunteer with the Purpose Disruptors, a network of advertising insiders working to reshape how the industry tackles climate change. This was the group behind The Great Reset, a cultural movement to maintain the positive environmental behaviors developed during lockdown, which won the award for Collaboration: Best Environmental Cause Campaign at the Purpose Awards EMEA hosted by PR Week, Campaign and Third Sector.

Both of these groups will be active at Cop26 and beyond – and they offer a framework and the tools needed for industry professionals who want to play an active part in tackling climate change for their agencies and their clients.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Get our own house in order

As the saying goes, change starts at home. Agencies need to take an accurate reading of their carbon footprint and then set out a plan to reduce emissions as much as possible – with carbon offsets used as a last resort. A big source of agency emissions comes through business travel (typically 60%) and energy use in the office (typically 40%). Reducing unnecessary travel and switching to a renewable energy provider are two wins here.

You can also encourage your employees to make some changes at home – one way we did this at Hallam is by partnering with Big Clean Switch to incentivize employees to switch to green energy for their houses.

Curb emissions from the advertising process

One of the discussions the AA hosted this year called for every ad to be a green ad – if not in the product it was promoting, at least in the way it was created. If you produce advertising, you can measure and reduce the carbon emissions from the production process with support from Bafta’s Albert initiative and AdGreen’s carbon calculator and consultancy.

Media buying and planning has a carbon footprint of its own, and the IPA Media Climate Charter now includes a carbon calculator for media plans. By inputting the proposed media mix and budgets, agencies can identify the carbon footprint of a campaign, which can serve as a conversation starter for ways that this can be reduced.

Industry awards have a role to play in creating a sustainable, net zero future. Both in where they are hosted – to curtail long-distance travel where possible – and in looking at the overall carbon impact of the advertising campaign.

Purpose Disruptors members Iris and Elvis created a new methodology called Ecoeffectiveness that can calculate and report on the incremental uplift in greenhouse gas emissions that have come from the sales attributed to the advertising campaign. By reporting the ‘return on carbon,’ clients, agencies and award bodies will begin to see the full picture of the industry’s impact on the world around us.

Use our influence to change behaviors

Advertising does have an impact on consumer behavior – Purpose Disruptors talks about our industry as being ‘architects of desire’ and ‘meaning makers.’ We use human psychology, creativity, culture and the latest advances in technology to move consumers to action.

And the clients we choose to work with and the advertising we choose to make with them can have a net positive impact. The #ChangetheBrief initiative from Mindshare and Purpose Disruptors gives agencies a starting point for having conversations with clients around how they can use creativity to promote sustainable values, attitudes and behaviors.

Participate at Cop26 and beyond

Ad Net Zero is hosting a free two-day Global Summit for advertising and marketing professionals on November 3 and 4 alongside Cop26. The digital event will provide thought leadership sessions and practical workshops around how marketers can work in more sustainable ways within their own organization, as well as with the work they create for clients.

But beyond this initial event, Ad Net Zero has also created a training qualification and industry best practice guide to help all businesses track, measure and reduce their carbon emissions. The initiative has big plans as it enters its second year in 2022, and so it‘s worth having a look at how you can get involved.

And aware that the general public and industry insiders alike are often left with dystopian visions of a future destroyed by climate change and the paralysis that a seemingly overwhelming problem can induce, Purpose Disruptors has decided to change the narrative.

Working directly with a cross-section of the mainstream UK public, they clarified what a good life could look like in 2030. They hosted a series of immersive workshops with over 100 advertising leaders to identify the shifts needed within the industry to be compatible with the country’s vision of a good life.

And they are the only official UK advertising event at Cop26 – with an hour on the Imax Cinema in the Green Zone and livestreamed globally at 10am on Friday November 12. The event will premiere three new ‘adverts for 2030’ based on a creative brief written by Ally Kingston, planning director at Futerra: “It’s not your everyday client, your client is 2030.”

The event will also show ‘Advertising a Good Life in 2030’ – a documentary film by The Big Sky showing both the making of the adverts and the reflections of those involved in the project on what the future holds for them and what the future might look like for the industry in response to both their visions and the visions of UK citizens.

Using this as a launch event, Purpose Disruptors will continue the initiative into 2022 and hold space for the industry to help create ‘a future worth looking forward to.’ You can learn more and get involved at

With all eyes turned toward Glasgow this autumn, we can’t forget this is merely a step along a journey that requires all of us to play a part. And that includes the passion, creativity and innovation of the advertising industry.

Julie Reid, head of strategy at Hallam.

Technology Cop26 Sustainability

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