Adland Must Change To Be ‘welcomed In Net-zero Society,’ Warns Essence Sustainability VP

As the climate crisis worsens, advertising is at an impasse – but it can be part of the solution. A leading sustainability officer at media agency Essence believes things will heat up for those not shown to be doing their part.

Climate crisis

The Ad Net Zero Global Summit is a sustainability event organized by UK advertising’s biggest trade groups

Speaking at Ad Net Zero Global Summit – a sustainability event organized by UK advertising’s biggest trade groups to coordinate efforts to limit the emissions created by the industry – Laura Wade, vice-president head of sustainability at Essence, rang the alarm.

The event coincided with Cop27 in Egypt, and so far the news coming from the summit is negative. Wade reacted: “Now we’ve all now publicly agreed that capping temperature rises at 1.5C is not viable, I’m feeling a bit flat. Now actually urgency is so real in this decade, because every fraction matters.”

Irreparable damage is now coming to Earth, according to the IPCC’s best estimates. In the context of that, Wade pointed out that in the backdrop of an energy crisis, advertising has to prove its effectiveness more than ever. “Why do we deserve to burn through energy with our marketing and advertising?”

She called out the need for cooperation in the industry to solve a common problem. “We need to come together as a community for our industry to survive and be relevant and welcomed in a net-zero society.”

The Ad Net Zero movement acknowledges this and exported its framework to the US earlier this year, an expansion that will onboard some of the world’s biggest brands. But it may need to crack a few eggs to make an omelet – some clients have been aware of, and have actively contributed to, man-made climate change for a generation. Many creatives, young ones in particular, are increasingly reluctant to work on such briefs.

Wade believes the big need now is for agencies to open themselves to outside help in setting targets and being transparent. But one of the main hurdles is getting caught down complexity “wormholes.” The companies capable of demystifying adtech’s carbon complexity will boom – a pitch that Scope3 has.

She adds: “Everyone’s got the same intent but when we talk to our suppliers or our partners, there’s no consistency. We cannot say that everyone in our supply chain has a science-based target or that they do a carbon audit. And we actually need to do this.”

But to drive change in organizations like hers, she needs to get the skeptics to the table and engage them. These might not be climate skeptics but rather agency workers who believe that the industry needs to continue working with fossil fuel clients. Some believe they can drive client change, while others know that thousands are employed on these briefs and the work will just move.

And finally, she looked to deemphasize the talk of advertising driving consumer change, aware that a huge share of emissions come from the very businesses the ad industry works with. “I do feel like business, industry and governments having a system change needs to be accelerated, because the shift is wanting to happen.”

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