Is marketing and advertising at odds with a sustainable life? – by ABG’s Elda Choucair

ABG’s interim chairperson Elda Choucair argues that instead, advertising, and marketing can be powerful enough to drive socio-cultural changes that help promote sustainable living

It’s fair to say the relationship between advertising and sustainability is a complex one with accusations of the industry encouraging overconsumption on one hand and ‘greenwashing’ – on the other – thus often masking the industry’s potential to be a positive force for change. 

The basic premise of advertising is designed around the consumer promise of buying something to solve our emotional, relationship or existential problems – an approach that is fuelling a materialistic attitude to the detriment of our natural resources and alleviating the rising climate issues.  

Fossil fuel companies are also seen to be allocating billions each year to marketing and advertising campaigns that seek to rebrand their corporate identity as “climate-friendly”, according to a recent renewable energy report.

The need for transparent marketing however extends far beyond the energy sector, as all brands are under increasing pressure to adapt to climate pressure. Most Gen Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to make the world a better place – and they want to see action.

A typical online ad campaign emits a staggering 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – which is more than double of what an average person emits in a year according to research conducted in Spain by FECYT, a Spanish foundation for science and technology. 

The industry is aware of the need to change. It was heartening to see the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity embracing sustainability since 2016 via the introduction of the SDGs category, and our ABG board member Priya Sarma was featured in an article highlighting 43 People Changing Advertising For the Climate. 

Sustainability lies at the core of our agenda at the ABG, and it is the perfect time to start engaging with creatives and marketing professionals, given that COP27 and COP28 will be held in the region (Egypt and UAE).

We are already working closely with the WFA’s Planet Pledge, and intend to expand our relationship, and work with member organizations to bring this thinking to the forefront of our priorities.

It is vital all ABG members partake in driving more sustainable marketing that will contribute towards the delivery of the ‘triple bottom line’ – social, environmental and financial. Google is developing sustainability workshops that address the value chain, around the ‘care, do, impact’ framework, while ‘The Unilever compass’ is designed to drive sustainable and responsible growth. At Omnicom Media Group, we’re committed to reducing the energy use per person by 20% and increasing the use of electricity from renewable sources globally by 2023.

Advertising has a major role to play in shifting consumers’ attitudes and values towards choosing sustainable products and caring for the environment through creative campaigns. 

Meanwhile, the climate challenges are placing more focus on the environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) metrics by the day. Around 90% of major US companies now issue corporate sustainability reports outlining their ESG practice.

Several ESG ratings firms now exist to assess and score the ESG disclosure, such as Sustainalytics, Institutional Shareholder Services, and MSCI, and we are seeing ESG scores sold by ratings firms to interested outlets.

With reporting and ratings structures continuing to evolve, advertisers and clients need to embrace transparency in their campaigns and take an active lead on sustainability by supporting environmental and social changes.

How can you do more? How can you get involved? The ABG will be hosting a speakers’ session to bring the experts on this topic and talk to our member companies about what we should do. Stay tuned!