One year ago, long before Covid-19 changed our lives, Harry and Meghan Markle were once at the centre of the media. Despite Harry’s claims of being committed to the environment, the couple had taken private jets all through summer of 2019, including to Elton John’s private home in Nice, France. Elton John remarked that despite this, Harry is still committed to the environment, as he himself had ensured the flight was carbon neutral by making an appropriate contribution to offset their carbon footprint. However, is this offsetting really enough?
As much as I would love to discuss the above situation, right now I’m going to focus on how this links to advertising agencies, and what these agencies must now be doing rather than just offsetting their carbon footprint.
But why am I just focusing on advertising agencies? There’s plenty of businesses and brands that need to take action and the advertising industry seems like the last place which needs to be focused on.
My answer to this is simple. Right now, our planet earth is in a scientifically confirmed climate emergency. Everyone needs to take action. But the real action needs to come from those who are influential over society, which advertising agencies are. They have to encourage the brands they represent to use this influential status to the maximum.
This has already started to take place, but there is more to be done. For example, last year, at the height of the Extinction Rebellion, an open letter was signed by more than 50 of the top people in the advertising industry. This included the chief executives from Lucky Generals, MediaCom UK, Droga5 and Portas. This letter stated that the advertising industry has become somewhat complicit in climate change and what the advertising industry has to do in the future to change this… but the future is now!
Although it’s not an advertising agency, the energy company Ovo Energy announced just last year their decision to make their marketing more sustainable and carbon-neutral. They want to do this by stopping unnecessary air travel, switching to digital advertising only powered by renewable energy and offsetting any unavoidable carbon footprint via The Carbon Trust. Whilst this is all a good start, and certainly will encourage others to adopt similar marketing policies, I have a problem with the final policy: offsetting any unavoidable carbon footprint via The Carbon Trust. This means if they have to take a flight somewhere, they will make a donation to ‘pay off’ for any damages this has to the environment.
Kate Howe, the Executive Director of Dentsu Aegis Network UK and Ireland commented on this saying whilst Ovo’s approach sounds reasonable: to reduce and then offset their carbon footprint, is offsetting enough? She suggests that perhaps it is necessary to offset multiple times to really ensure that your carbon footprint falls instead of just not increasing.This would require either paying more than your stated carbon footprint, or paying the same amount another few times over in the future, thus offsetting your footprint more than once.
However, there’s a problem with just ‘paying off’ any necessary travel, or non-environmentally friendly actions. EasyJet made many newspaper headlines last year by announcing they were going to offset their carbon emissions from all it’s flights. However, they also stated they signed a three-year contract for ‘wholesale’ offsetting, which is less than £3 per tonne of CO2.
Firstly, I didn’t know the environment had a wholesale price, it’s not the same as buying lots of toilet paper from Costco!
Secondly, this won’t save the planet. They will never be carbon-neutral as long as they have planes flying in the sky emitting carbon. The repercussions to the planet in the long-term from all their flights certainly don’t come close to getting a ‘wholesale’ offsetting price.
The exact same situation applies to advertising agencies, who must now adopt strict carbon-neutral policies for their advertising production which is more than just offsetting their carbon emissions.
For example, AdGreen has some amazing resources on how to adopt a more carbon-neutral position on advertising production. Such as reducing script footage, all travelling/flying should be limited and mostly prevented if not absolutely 100% necessary. Only reusable cups, cutlery and plates should be used as well as using renewable energy such as hybrid and solar panels on set. These all seem pretty simple but are really just the beginning. There’s a lot of things to take into account when shooting in production to reduce your carbon footprint. AdGreen has a charter on their website for production teams to follow which ensures you don't forget anything.
Advertising agencies clearly have the power to do good and to help this climate emergency. They should not only encourage this in all of their advertising production but must insist on it to ensure that all advertising goes carbon neutral. The brands should also get certified by the Ad For Good label as well, which not only ensures they donate 1% of their media budget for the planet but also shows their commitment to the environment at the same time. After all, advertising nowadays isn’t all about promoting a product but a brand. The positive impact a brand has from promoting their CSR actions can go far!
Offsetting your carbon footprint should not be counted as being carbon neutral...advertising should be carbon neutral by avoiding such carbon emissions to be released in the atmosphere in the first place! Together, with the help of AdGreen and Ad For Good all advertising agencies can act together to make advertising carbon neutral and this will have a positive impact on the environment, and your brand image as well!