The Covid-19 pandemic has brought home the reality of just how deeply interconnected all life on Earth is. It has been a crisis of speed and an all consuming experience. Now, however, as we glimpse a light at the end of the tunnel, the world is reconnecting with the other crisis unfolding around us: climate change.
On this year’s annual Earth Day, President Biden convened 40 leaders from 40 countries in an attempt to galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis. A powerful signal of the United States’s renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement, it is hoped the event will now mobilise business leaders to take action.
Following last month’s event we saw a wave of follow-up announcements and commitments from corporates the world over. Whether or not the goodwill and many eye-catching posts on social media result in tangible business action remains to be seen. All too often we see companies telling their followers about environmental awareness days, with little follow up on what they are doing — and what their consumers can choose to do — to have a meaningful positive impact. Just one example would be some fast-fashion brands who spread messages of women’s equality but fail to adequately mandate a living-wage for workers in their supply chains.
Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that today’s consumers have come to expect more from brands. Attitudes and sentiment have shifted monumentally since the first Earth Hour 14 years ago and the first Earth Day back in the 1970s. The recently published Age of Inclusive Intelligence reveals that by 2030 more than two-thirds of people will consider brand inaction on climate change to be criminally negligent. Underpinned by a survey of 30,000 people in more than 20 countries, the report warns that we should expect to see greater consumer activism, with purchasing decisions increasingly based on social issues. Significantly, it also confirms that 88% of consumers want brands to help them live sustainably.
This has far reaching implications for brands and for the advertising and marketing sector as a whole. As experts in messaging and human behaviour change, we certain have a role to play in preparing brands for this cultural shift. More than that, we can actually help to accelerate this transition towards sustainable living. We have an opportunity to partner with companies and organisations to decarbonise their go-to-market strategies whilst simultaneously creating demand for a more sustainable product.
The good news is that the market for sustainable products has already grown 20% since 2014, while conventional product sales have dropped. In 2018, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands grew 69% faster than the rest of the business. Tesco recently announced its intention to grow sales of plant-based protein alternatives by 300%, reflecting the fact that vegan product lines are its fastest growing. IKEA is designing circular principles into its new products with the goal to only use renewable and recycled materials in its products by 2030 – reducing the total climate footprint of the company by 70%. General Motors is set to spend $27 billion on all-electric and autonomous vehicles with plans to release 30 new electric vehicles by 2025.
In addition to baking sustainable behaviours into the heart of brand strategy and creative, the media industry must also start to lead by example; embedding sustainability into its core business, operations and supply chain. At dentsu International, not only do we join the campaigns around Earth Hour and Earth Day, ramping up messages of shared and collective action towards a healthy, sustainable and equitable future, we’re also committed to acting on our values in demonstrable ways.
In 2020 we were the first of the global advertising holding agencies to be powered by 100% renewable energy and to make UN recognised science-based targets for reaching Net Zero by 2030. Similarly, we invested in creating a ground-breaking supply chain carbon calculator for all aspects of digital media – DIMPACT – and have committed to influencing 1 billion people to make sustainable consumer choices through our creative work before the decade is out.
We are committed to this agenda. For more than 80 years, the advertising industry has had enormous influence on the choices people have made – and it still does. As an industry, for the future of our shared planet, we need to use that same influence to make sustainable choices irresistible to consumers. In September 2020, David Attenborough described saving the planet as a communications challenge. The Net Zero transition is dependent on both decarbonisation of industry and human and societal behaviour change. We need more than warm-words and long-term aspirations from CEOs to do better; we need solid, measurable, impactful changes to the way we operate as businesses and to the campaigns we deliver.
It is incumbent on the media, advertising and communications industry, to use every touchpoint, every channel, every campaign to influence consumers to make sustainable choices if we are to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Not for one hour or one day a year, and not just on Twitter or Instagram, but embedded across everything we do.
Anna Lungley, Chief Sustainability Officer, dentsu International