Lessons on sustainability in marketing from 2022
Sustainability is rightly high on the marketing agenda, but to make real progress towards net zero, all areas of the industry need a joined-up approach.
Sustainability continued to be one of the hottest topics in our industry in 2022 – and rightly so. Collectively, we need to dial up our actions to tackle the climate emergency as the industry commitment to achieve carbon net zero by 2030 will be challenging for everyone. While the momentum is growing, the path to sustainability is not necessarily as straightforward as we would like.
In fact, there’s a lot we can learn from some of the challenges we have seen this year, so it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on those to help us shape our sustainability efforts for 2023 and beyond.
Facts, facts, facts
The recent ASA ruling on the HSBC green credentials campaign reminded us of just how real the risk of greenwashing continues to be. It could be tempting for brands to avoid sustainability messaging in their ads altogether, for fear of getting it wrong, but that would be a mistake.
We have seen many brands getting it right, for example Coca Cola, Irn-Bru and Yeo Valley promoting more sustainable product packaging, or Maybelline educating consumers on how to recycle makeup packaging.
Transparency and facts are absolutely key, yet sustainability is a complex area to navigate and data must be understood in context.
Clear Channel’s consumer survey has shown that choosing an ethical or environmentally friendly brand is still important to consumers, despite the impact of cost of living, being the fourth top consideration for adults and for 18- to 34-year-olds.
So when developing sustainability-focused campaigns, brands should focus on tangible environmental benefits and actions, and make extra effort to ensure that any claims are fact-based and verifiable, particularly when using a very public medium like out-of-home (OOH).
The whole truth
While advertising campaigns have been undergoing greater scrutiny from consumers and industry bodies, media owners have also seen more inquiries into how we operate as businesses. Transparency and facts are absolutely key, yet sustainability is a complex area to navigate and data must be understood in context.
One of the areas that the OOH industry has been challenged on this year is the energy usage of digital screens. It’s a very valid question and concern, and we can’t and don’t shy away from the fact that digital screens do use electricity. What tends to go more unnoticed is the fact that, for example, 92% of digital screens we operate use renewable energy, or that our digital roadside screens are powered down 20% of the time.
Some of the publicly quoted figures on electricity use of digital screens have been taken out of context and it is not particularly helpful to consider them in isolation. The bigger picture is that OOH represents a small fragment of the UK’s total energy usage, accounting for less than 0.03% of the UK’s total energy usage and approximately one 50th of the energy consumed by domestic appliances on standby mode across all UK households.
Going into 2023, it will therefore become even more important for us as an industry to look at all the facts critically, yet holistically, and strive to get better at communicating all the progress that has already been made.
Comparing apples and pears
This year we have also seen even more concerted efforts from brands and agencies to find ways of measuring the carbon footprint of advertising campaigns, with carbon calculators high on the agenda. Media owners are being asked for more and more data, yet we still need to figure out how to address some of the inherent differences between media channels in relation to carbon footprint.
For example, as an OOH company, we’re both a media owner and a public infrastructure business, so our carbon footprint would reflect emissions that come from operating more than 20,000 bus shelters in the UK. Should broadcasters be accounting for the carbon footprint of TV sets, and online media owners for mobile devices and computers in their Scope 3 reporting?
We may not have all the answers yet but it is clear that we would all benefit from a more joined-up approach and greater collaboration between all parties involved, to try to find a common ground as we all share the ultimate goal of achieving carbon net zero.
Martin Corke is UK CMO and Europe marketing lead at Clear Channel.