How seriously is the industry taking sustainability?

How seriously is the industry taking sustainability?

Industry issues
3 minute read

WFA asked leading trade press editors to rank the industry on how they're responding to the sustainability challenge.

The first part of this series featured editors from Marketing Week, Warc, Adweek and MediaPost. See here.

Article details

  • Author:WFA


6 July 2022


Kathryn Lundstrom (left) and  Rezwana Manjur (right)

Kathryn Lundstrom, Sustainability Editor, Adweek

It’s hard to analyze the advertising industry’s “sustainability” initiatives (or lack thereof) without first defining the term. If we’re talking about whether advertisers and agencies are taking the climate crisis seriously, I’d give them something well below 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. 

As long as the advertising industry is working on behalf of the world’s biggest polluters, it cannot honestly address climate. Structural change is required to avoid the “cascading and irreversible climate impacts” that United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned against in April when the last installment of the IPCC report was released. 

For the marketing and advertising industry, truly addressing climate impact must go beyond agency statements and measuring the footprints of office buildings—it must cease advocating for greater consumption of goods and advocate instead for the adaptations necessary to curb warming. That means making award-winning creative that inspires people to make the lifestyle changes that’ll allow humanity to continue on this planet—and cutting ties with brands that fail to follow through on their climate goals.

Rezwana Manjur, Editor-in-Chief, Marketing Interactive

I would score our industry 6/10 but it depends on the brand and the agency. 

It’s fair to say, however, that sustainability has become mainstream in the past few years. Many brands, rightly, believe that consumers will hold them accountable for their environmental practices and this is getting reflected in their campaigns.

IKEA may be one of the usual suspects, but it has made a good start. From promoting frugal behaviour and recycling by disassembly to testing furniture-on-rent, the company is at the forefront of the change we need.  

Most agencies have also made the shift but are often held back by lack of resources. Agency compensation remains under pressure, making investment in sustainable advertising challenging. There is also the fear of inadvertently stumbling into a greenwash situation.

Moving it up the agenda means putting sustainability at the heart of every brief or pitch. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the marketing industry. As much as advertising is meant to foster consumerism, I would like to see advertisers use their storytelling skills to promote more sustainable lifestyles. 

The bottom line is that not enough effort has been made to make advertising itself a net zero industry.

Is the industry doing enough on climate change?

In Cannes, WFA also teamed up with Adweek to ask CMOs, as well as those who are shaping the marketing industry response, whether the industry is making enough progress and what the solutions might look like.

Global CMOs told us that we are in a climate emergency and that we are not doing enough.

Sustainability leaders challenged the industry on ‘advertised emissions' and harnessing its ability to be a creative storyteller to drive change.

Thought leaders shared which companies they thought are on the right path...

… and how climate change underpins all the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – so that championing one SDG should not obfuscate efforts to take broader action on climate change.