Lead Forensics

Key takeaways from the Ad Net Zero Essentials Certification

10 March 2022


Trying to wrap your head around what sustainability is – and how we can make a difference – has a habit of ending in clammy sweats. With so much jargon and even more opinion on the subject, where do you even start?

We have the answer: the IPA’s Ad Net Zero Essentials Certification.

A couple of inquisitive Guerillas recently completed the 10-hour course – and, well, this blog post wouldn’t exist if we didn’t highly recommend taking it yourself. As an introduction, we’ve picked out some key takeaways.

A crisis created by humans

You could be forgiven for thinking man-made global warming is a new phenomenon – and in the grand timeline of Earth’s existence, it is.

But the pending catastrophe isn’t something dreamt up by ‘woke’ millennials to weaponise the more gradual, naturally occurring climate cycles that have pulled Earth to and fro for millennia – we’ve been on this turbo-charged collision course since the start of the industrial revolution, 250 years ago.

The last 70 years in particular have come to be defined as the ‘Great Acceleration’, in which exponential industry and population growth have exhausted the planet’s finite natural resources. This in turn has destabilised crucial systems related to the climate, biosphere and land-systems. To drive home this point, last year the planet used up its annual carbon allowance by August.

The fact is this is nothing new. We’ve been warned for decades about the urgent need to confront this challenge and implement effective solutions. So why haven’t we? We’ll let you form your own conclusions.

Science-based targets

Chances are you’ve seen this term doing the rounds when reading about sustainability, but what are the targets?

To try and put it simply: scientists hypothesise that if runaway climate change is to be avoided, global temperatures simply must not rise by any more than 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The consensus, however, is that this is still too high a rise; consequently, world leaders and businesses alike are being implored to develop sustainability policies in line with a 1.5 degree target.

Leading the charge is the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which defines and promotes methodologies that will help companies reach net-zero carbon emissions by the desired deadline of 2030.

To help us get there, the United Nations Member States introduced Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to serve as a roadmap for governments; this blueprint was made legally binding by the Paris Climate Agreement, which means countries must disclose their actions – or National Determined Contributions (NDCs) – at the Conference of Parties (COP), held every year.

There are 17 interdependent goals to be exact, which you can explore here.

What is Ad Net Zero?

Ad Net Zero is UK advertising’s collective response to the challenge. Recognising the key role the industry has to play in reversing the slide towards disaster, the initiative is the culmination of work done by the Advertising Association and its members, with support from leading trade bodies and companies such as ISBA, IPA and DMA. It now includes agencies, holding companies and leading broadcasters.

At its heart is a five-point action plan:

    • Reduce individual and collective carbon emissions. This requires companies and staff to measure their carbon footprints and reduce emissions from energy, travel and waste. What cannot be eliminated should be offset with a verified party.
    • Curb emissions from advertising production. Using the tools, resources and training supplied by AdGreen, agencies and their clients can and should significantly reduce emissions from the creative production process.
    • Eliminate emissions from media planning and buying. To achieve this, agencies are encouraged to adopt the IPA Media Climate Charter.
    • Curb emissions through awards and events. Celebrate and promote your achievements with award submissions that adhere to the IPA’s “ecoffectiveness” sustainability criteria; eschew long-distance travelling to events.
    • Harness advertising’s power to drive positive behavioural change. This can be aided by schemes such as #ChangeTheBrief. The industry should also endeavour to support the government and global initiatives with its expertise in communications.

By enshrining these action points into business strategies, companies can reduce carbon, save money, retain talent and, most importantly, serve as an ally in the fight to ensure a sustainable, healthy future for generations to come.

The six key sustainability behaviours

Who better to inspire during times of crisis than Sir David Attenborough, who says “saving our planet is now a communications challenge.”

Step forward, #ChangeTheBrief.

#ChangeTheBrief is an alliance of agencies, clients and media owners created by Mindshare and coordinated by Purpose Disruptors. Its mission is to channel a wide-ranging communications skillset to encourage “attitudes, lifestyles, behaviours and brands aligned with a net-zero world by 2030.”

To support this goal, the alliance has endeavoured to define what a sustainable lifestyle is; this has been broken down into six behaviours:

    • Eat healthy. Eat more plants and cut down on meat and dairy; waste less; shop local and seasonally; choose sustainable brands and products.
    • Buy better. Collect experiences, not just material things; share, reuse and repair; avoid plastic packaging; demand transparency.
    • Travel better. Choose staycations; leave the car at home; trains over planes; virtual business meetings are a winner.
    • Consume less. Switch to renewable energy; wash your clothes less, and at lower temperatures; save energy wherever possible.
    • Waste less. Reduce, reuse, recycle; don’t litter; reject plastic wherever possible; compost!
    • Connect with nature. Spend more time exploring the natural world; save trees, wildlife and natural spaces; save the bees.

#ChangeTheBrief is actively working with advertisers to bring the above messaging into more campaigns. By doing this, positive behaviours gain more exposure, helping to steer public attitudes as we move ever closer to crunch time.

Don’t greenwash

Unless you’ve been on a media boycott for the past five years, you will be aware of the word ‘greenwashing’. But what does it mean, and why do companies do it?

According to Nielsen, 55% of global consumers would pay more for a brand that demonstrates a commitment to sustainability. Armed with this stat, the incentive for cutting corners becomes clearer.

Greenwashing is the act of purposely or inadvertently making misleading claims about the green credentials of a product or service. The reasons behind greenwashing can be entirely innocent – but this doesn’t reduce the damage it does to the cause.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

    • Ads that exaggerate a product’s environmental benefits.
    • Unqualified claims that aren’t substantiated by evidence about the product’s entire lifecycle.
    • Implying that a product is ‘recyclable’ or ‘sustainable’ if only parts of it are.

Greenwashing in UK advertising is policed by the Advertising Standards Association (ASA), which determines whether any of the Advertising Codes have been broken as defined by CAP or BCAP.

Brands that flout the rules can be named and shamed publicly by the ASA – so be warned, be vigilant, and do your research!

Final thoughts

Sustainability is a multifaceted challenge requiring a multi-layered approach. While there is a clear responsibility on behalf of businesses to get their houses in order and act as custodians of our planet, this also extends to each and every one of us individually.

Ultimately, by committing to sustainable business practices you are future-proofing your company and supporting your clients, too; this means stronger sales, better staff retention rates and lower running costs in the long-term.

On the other side of the coin, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle on a personal level, you will be healthier, wealthier and better connected to the natural world we are inescapably a part of.

The advertising industry has a huge role to play in supporting the UK’s transition to a greener future – there can no longer be any hiding places. Together – using the roadmap set out in the Ad Net Zero Essentials certificate – we can make a big difference.

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