Advertising Association on the road to Glasgow

By James Best, Chair of the AA’s Climate Action Working Group

Published:02 July 2020

James Best, Chair of the AA’s Climate Action Working Group
James Best, Chair of the AA’s Climate Action Working Group

Advertising is praised and blamed in equal measure for influencing many aspects of modern life. It can motivate people to reduce their carbon impact, for example by using less energy in homes or reducing car journeys, as well as communicating how innovative products and services can help them do it.

Yet it is criticised for stimulating consumption overall, so that people ‘buy more stuff they don’t need’, and for promoting fossil fuel companies and airlines, despite their adverse carbon impact.

But the advertising industry isn’t really an ‘it’: it is an ecosystem rather than one ‘industry’. It is made up of competing creative and media agencies, commercials production companies and some ad-funded media at its core. However, there is also a range of other players, from large corporate advertisers using TV to small businesses using social media platforms, from major broadcasters to local radio stations, from design consultants to market researchers.

Many of these players have taken action to curb their carbon emissions. There are countless individual initiatives and commitments around the industry; there are passionate people agitating for change in their organisations, with increasing success. But there has not been a coherent attempt to marshal the data, analyse the profile as well as quantity of emissions, provide relevant and actionable guidance on best practice, and gain collective adherence to higher standards and supply chain expectations that can make a real difference.

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James describes advertising as an "ecosystem" made up of competing media agencies as well as many other additional stakeholders.

That is what the Advertising Association (AA) is now doing. The AA is unique in that its membership represents all facets of the advertising ecosystem, principally the advertisers, the media and the agencies through their representative bodies.

It has tasked a working group with producing a report on the carbon footprint of the core advertising businesses and a realistic path to net zero for us to adopt, looking at aspects of the supply chain such as film production and media selection where new measurement tools, training and monitoring could stimulate competition to provide the most climate-friendly services and reduce advertising’s overall carbon impact.

We, the AA’s Climate Action Working Group, drawn from across the industry, are progressing these initiatives towards some announcements and publication in the late autumn – originally to tie in with COP26. Our timetable has not changed and we are in dialogue with government on our work and, more broadly, how our companies can together help COP26 succeed.

Because to succeed, efforts to reduce the UK’s – and the world’s – emissions must engage the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Without realistic carbon taxes and international carbon pricing, which governments still seem too frightened to impose, companies and individuals alike have to be prepared to make their own business and lifestyle changes.

This will only happen if they are communicated with compellingly and appealingly. That is what advertising can do. In the lead up to this hugely important climate summit and beyond, we will be standing ready to enlist the industry’s talent and resources to create, produce and run the persuasive campaigns that can demonstrate advertising’s willingness and ability to play its part in tackling the climate crisis.

You can find more information about the Advertising Association’s Climate Action groups here. You can also contact the AA at Climate@adassoc.org.uk

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