Effective advertising campaigns are making the UK’s carbon emissions problem worse
A new report on the impact of marketing on carbon production has found that successful adverts add a further 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every person in the UK.
The advertising industry knows it has work to do to reduce its carbon emissions, but has largely focused on improving the efficiency of the processes involved in creating and distributing a marketing campaign. .
Purpose Disruptors – a network of advertising industry workers seeking to reform the sector to tackle climate change – believe it needs to go further. He posited that the more effective an advertising campaign is, the more products will be sold and, in turn, the more emissions are produced by those products being created. And so, he set out to calculate exactly how big the carbon footprint of successful environmental advertising is.
In his report, revealed today at COP26, he defined greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from increased sales generated by advertising as “announced emissions”.
To calculate total advertised emissions, it analyzed 2019 data on ad spend across 19 UK sectors via Warc, along with ad return on spend in each sector and GHG emissions per pound of production by sector (see the methodological table below).
Reported emissions in the UK in 2019 were responsible for over 186 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, almost half the size of the total emissions produced in the UK.
This equates to 47 coal-fired power stations running for a year and adds a further 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every person in the UK.
“More than a quarter of the total emissions of all UK consumers are generated by posters, sponsorships and advertisements which influence our decisions every day,” explained Ben Essen, co-author of Advertised Emissions and Chief Strategy Officer at Iris.
“Advertising has incredible power to shape behaviors and norms, even if that power is currently being used indiscriminately.”
The report’s methodology was based on ‘funded emissions’, which are used by the financial sector to measure the total impact of its investments.
When this metric is measured, including the additional emissions associated with growing, mining, drilling, manufacturing, shipping, and using the additional products that advertising helps sell, the report established that each person working in advertising in the UK is, on average, responsible for the carbon footprint of 34 of their fellow UK citizens.
Purpose Disruptors hopes the results will enable the industry to measure only the benchmark emissions associated with running an advertising business to the emissions associated with its production.
In addition to using advertising emissions as the primary metric, the group also called on the advertising industry to take additional steps to reduce its impact on the environment.
He wants brands to reduce spending and advertising on high-carbon companies and for agencies to reallocate the skills from promoting high-carbon consumer choices to low-carbon ones.
“To date, none of the existing net zero or climate commitments from advertising and marketing communications agencies include impact in relation to the creative work they produce – the very reason for their existence,” said the founder of Purpose Disruptors, Jonathan Wise.
“Those who create the emissions that cause climate change must take responsibility for measuring their current contribution and commit to reducing them to net zero.
“Advertising is a powerful cultural force that has the gift and the responsibility to shift the industry’s role in shaping the current high-consumption landscape to a low-consumption alternative.
“I think most people in the industry would be shocked that their work had such a detrimental impact. But this is not a negative story – as architects of demand, advertising has the power to be a force for good. It is able to incentivize people to switch to low carbon options and thereby reduce emissions.
“The financial sector has accepted that its impact on the climate goes far beyond its daily emissions. It’s time for publicity to step up and do the same.