It is up to marketers to make a sustainable world a reality

It is imperative that marketers and their agencies take a lead on the climate emergency – not just for moral reasons – but for financial ones too.

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The biggest economic issue for the developed world is productivity. As costs rise, people feel less able to afford the standard of living that they are accustomed to. Let alone the one they might aspire to.

Economists tell us that creating more value from the same mix of people and natural resources is the only way to get out of the doom loop. What’s fascinating is that this is the same recipe required to reverse over-consumption, or over-production as it really is, which causes waste, pollution and the greenhouse gases accelerating the climate emergency.

The answer to both is creating more value with less stuff. More as a service, or rental when you need it, and lower costs of ownership, which become shared and reduced by better utilisation and multiple uses. Better design with repairable, renewable, and regenerative materials. At WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), the global NGO, they call this circular living.

The mission for the advertising industry, should you choose to accept it, is to take a pivotal role in accelerating the transition to higher productivity and a sustainable economy at the same time. Take the framing, explaining and desire-creating powers of marketing and advertising and use it to present more productive and sustainable choices to citizens.

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We call this ‘Sustainable Advertising’, and, in our new book of the same name, we invite everyone in the industry to sign up for a simple manifesto to play their part.

Why now? Well, simply because of the urgency to make a big intervention. We believe it will be businesses that will continue to drive change, and the most important questions will be: who is leading them, and will they be a force for good?

Our vision is for an industry that shapes demand for the products and services of the sustainable economy, while reinventing its own ways of working and attracting the brightest and most creative minds to the cause.

Marketers need to be an active contributor to the advertising industry’s sustainable manifesto.

Our solutions are from the world of marketing and advertising because we have worked for several decades in this world. We believe in what it can (and cannot) do, based on our experiences. We are not proposing that marketing or advertising are the only solutions, just that they can make a significant contribution whenever put to good use. All citizens from every walk of life will need to do their bit. When it comes to other professions, we leave that for others better qualified.

We are also reflecting on the first three years of Ad Net Zero: a cross-sector, practical, systematic approach to the climate emergency. Thanks to the tangible support of a couple of hundred courageous companies and trade bodies around the world, from the very biggest to the very smallest, new tools and measurement frameworks to help businesses decarbonise and become a force for good in the green economy are available and in use, with more to come.

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We also take a close look at the magic ingredients required to create sustainable behaviour change. A key conclusion from our review is we will see more effective results through aspirational and emotional reframing, with a focus on the personal benefits to the customer and their loved ones of said product or service. The rules of great behaviour change campaigns apply as ever – make more sustainable choices easy, accessible, socially desirable, and timely. Attempting to get millions of people to make choices “for the right reasons” may only impede the sustainable economy.

Take Ebay’s partnership with ITV’s Love Island, and Hellmann’s ‘Cook Clever, Waste Less’ with Channel 4. With a primary focus on expressing individuality and saving money respectively, each promote aspirational behaviour changes that can also make a sustainable difference. Even portraying more sustainable ways of living in the storyline for an ad for another product can contribute extensively to normalising those better behaviours.

Marketers need to be an active contributor to the advertising industry’s sustainable manifesto. From equipping ourselves to become climate literate and do everything we can to avoid greenwashing, to urging our businesses and suppliers to set carbon reduction and net zero targets and holding each other to account for progress. If we succeed, the book will become a hostage to the future. Everything in it will look small, when compared with your achievements that follow.

Sustainable Advertising: How Advertising Can Support A Better Future by Matt Bourn and Sebastian Munden is out now and is available via Kogan Page.