Industry-led Ad Net Zero campaign eyes global expansion

Ad Net Zero, the UK advertising industry’s sustainability initiative, announced this week that it is expanding its reach into new markets, starting with the US and the European Union.

Launched in 2020 by the Advertising Association, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (ISBA), Ad Net Zero brings together advertising agencies and companies that have committed to achieving net zero emissions across their advertising operations by 2030, providing guidance on how to monitor their carbon footprint and take steps to reduce their transport, office, and production emisisons.

At an event at the industry’s high profile Cannes Lions expo in France yesterday, the group announced it is now planning to roll out the program into other “major” advertising markets after enlisting a number of high profile global and regional trade bodies to its cause, Including the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA), VoxComm, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

Cannes Lions chair, Phil Thomas, welcomed the expansion of the initiative, arguing it was critical the climate footprint of ad production was reduced.

“The Advertising Association in the UK have worked tirelessly to create Ad Net Zero, which has huge support from the UK industry, and we are delighted to partner with them to bring this critical initiative to Cannes Lions in order to gather together global players to commit to its simple but powerful aim: of all ads being net zero by 2030,” he said. “Nothing could be more important for our industry.”

Companies signed up to the campaign must commit to producing robust, verified plans to reduce their emisisons to net zero by 2030, and to more generally “use the power of advertising to accelerate the switch to more sustainable products and services”.

The scheme has been endorsed by more than 100 companies and advertising agencies operating in the UK, including Unilever, Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, Google, Sky, Havas, Omnicom, WPP, and Publicis.

But the industry-run scheme has been criticized by some campaigners who accuse it of not going far enough to acknowledge and address the more structural way advertising promotes and legitimises high consumption lifestyle and fossil fuel companies.

The Clean Creatives group has called on the sector to stop working with companies that build and run polluting projects that the effort to cap global temperature increases at relatively safe levels. They have argued emissions produced in the creation of adverts are just a fraction of the sector’s significant climate impact, given the way the sector helps drive demand for unsustainable products and services.

Describing industry-led initiatives as a “cups, not clients” approach to sustainability, Clean Creatives warned in a report last year that a single fossil fuel company contract at US advertising firm Carmichael Lynch, part of the IPG group, resulted in more carbon than the annual operational emissions of the entire global holding company.

But companies and groups taking part in Ad Net Zero counter that the initiative is playing a major role in driving the industry collaboration required to decarbonise advertising production, and have argued the advertising industry has a major opportunity to nudge consumers and its emissions-intensive clients towards more sustainable practices, products, and services.

“Agencies have the responsibility to stay ahead of issues and trends impacting the industry like sustainability not just for internal purposes, but to help influence the brands they support,” said Marla Kalpowitz, president and CEO of US trade body 4A. From responding to the climate crisis to infusing creative solutions that highlights sustainable commerce – agencies are partnering with brands now more than ever to help them navigate as well as educate and expand the understanding of what this means and what we can do to support. like Ad Net Zero help set the standard for where we need to take our focus with the industry in the US.”

Meanwhile, Stephan Loerke, the CEO of the WFA, said marketers have a “key role” to play in persuading consumers to adopt sustainable behaviours. “The international launch of Ad Net Zero is a crucial first step in terms of getting our own house in order and ensuring its own operations go net zero,” he said. “It perfectly complements the WFA Planet Pledge, which provides a framework for marketers to lead in driving consumer behavior change.”

Ad Net Zero said it would provide an update on it global roll-out at a virtual summit set to take place online on 9 and 10 November, when the COP27 Climate Summit is scheduled to be underway in Egypt.

The group said it planned to use the UK program as a “roadmap for development” in other markets, noting that the AdGreen carbon calculator launched last year to measure and reduce emissions from advertising production would be useful for members around the world. But it noted that it also planned to adapt the program to the needs and specifications of different markets.

In related news, drinks giant Diageo announced this morning that it had almost completed the roll-out of dedicated sustainability marketing training across all its communications teams.

Announcing the program at Cannes Lions, Diageo said the ‘brand activism’ training would have been completed by the 1,200 employees in its marketing and innovation teams by the end of this month, and would be completed by the external agencies it contracts for these services imminently .

The company said the training had been developed by its in-house sustainability team and had been designed to “build marketers understanding of sustainability, empower them with the knowledge of how to apply sustainability principles in their roles, and inspire them to take action to lead.” the change agenda”.

“Greenwashing and regulations are on the rise, and we want to empower our marketers to talk about our sustainability actions and fairly whilst also creating big change for our consumers and planet,” said Jennifer English, global brand director for Diageo brand Baileys. “The ‘brand activism’ tools and frameworks help us to do this whilst driving positive impact for the planet.”

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