The Guardian has admitted it will see a short-term hit to revenues as it takes a stand on the climate emergency by no longer accepting ads from oil and gas companies.
The ban will apply to any company whose main business is extracting fossil fuels and includes many of the world’s largest polluters, although The Guardian has not explicitly named any companies.
It is part of a wider strategy by The Guardian to reduce its carbon footprint, with a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030. The newspaper has also changed how it reports on the climate crisis, with editor-in-chief Katharine Viner adjusting its style guide to use terms such as ‘climate emergency’ rather than ‘climate change’.
Environmental groups have long argued that the media should ban advertising from oil companies, claiming they use campaigns to greenwash their activities. While some small publishers have previously banned ads from this sector, The Guardian is the first major publisher to do so.
“Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world,” says The Guardian’s acting chief executive Anna Bateson and chief revenue officer Hamish Nicklin in a joint statement.
Its decision has been welcomed by environmental groups, with Greenpeace calling it a “watershed moment” and calling on others to follow suit.
Greenpeace UK’s senior climate campaigner, Mel Evans, says: “For too long fossil fuel giants like BP and Shell, which are causing our climate emergency, have been able to get away with greenwash advertising while investing 97% of their business in oil and gas.
“This is a watershed moment, and the Guardian must be applauded for this bold move to end the legitimacy of fossil fuels. Other media outlets, arts and sports organisations must now follow suit and end fossil fuel company advertising and sponsorship.”
It is not clear how much revenue The Guardian currently generates from oil and gas companies, but Bateson and Nicklin claim the decision will impact its business. Advertising makes up around 40% of the Guardian Media Group’s revenues, but ad revenues for news publishers are declining as brands shift money to other media, most notably online.
However, The Guardian believes that while it make take a short-term hit it should see a long-term benefit from becoming a “more purposeful organisation”. That might come in the shape of increased revenues from readers who align with its purpose or from brands keen to advertise with the publisher.
“The funding model for the Guardian – like most high-quality media companies – is going to remain precarious over the next few years. It’s true that rejecting some adverts might make our lives a tiny bit tougher in the very short-term. Nonetheless, we believe building a more purposeful organisation and remaining financially sustainable have to go hand in hand,” they say.
“We believe many brands will agree with our stance and might be persuaded to choose to work with us more as a result. The future of advertising lies in building trust with consumers, and demonstrating a real commitment to values and purpose.”
The Guardian has also admitted it could have gone further and banned ads from any company that has a “significant” carbon footprint, for example the auto industry or long-haul flights. However, that would have caused a “severe financial blow” and forced the newspaper to make “significant” cuts to its journalism.
“We believe that good advertising, done responsibly, can be a positive for the economy and the world, as well as providing an important way of sustaining The Guardian’s journalism. So we will continue to accept other forms of advertising as we continue to seek long-term financial sustainability for The Guardian.”