School children in a protest against a lack of climate awareness, outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/JEFF MITCHELL
School children in a protest against a lack of climate awareness, outside the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/JEFF MITCHELL

The climate crisis has been a dark cloud on the horizon for some time now, but 2019 is the year the world’s political and business leaders at Davos officially put the issue at the top of their "worry list". And Prince William recently asked Sir David Attenborough the ultimate question: "Why has it taken so long for those in key positions of leadership … to act on environmental challenges?" 

The evidence of a climate crisis is all around us. And Prince William is right to point out that it’s leaders who have a role to play. So let’s turn the question on ourselves: why are leaders in advertising taking so long to help brands resolve the climate crisis? We have immense potential to go beyond lip service and make a real difference. So why isn’t advertising stepping up to the plate? 

Just look at the impact campaigns that have fought against stereotypes have made. As marketers and advertisers we use culturally relevant insights daily and use them to create campaigns that make a difference, that move people. That make headlines. If we apply the same skill set and passion to the climate crisis, we could replicate the impact that stereotype-fighting campaigns have had.  

Of course, many brands and agencies should be applauded for already trying to tackle the thorny issue of climate change. And many of us are taking steps to reduce our personal impact on the environment.

But people are wising up to greenwashing and often feel cynical when a brand starts shouting about its environmental credentials. There’s also a misconception that doing your bit means jumping on the environmental bandwagon, or that brands investing in eco-campaigns are all talk and no action. And it’s true, for every legitimate brand initiative, there’s an empty one.

The big take-out

The advertising industry needs to apply the same skill set and passion to the climate crisis as it has done to fighting stereotypes 

So we need to do more. But how? 

In his book Corporation 2020, environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev makes a compelling case for “responsible advertising”: a traffic-light system that highlights how long a product will last, where its materials come from and whether it can be recycled. 

Such an approach enables consumers to easily make purchasing decisions based on a brand’s ethical credentials, meaning market forces would push advertisers into cleaning up their supply chains and operations. That would create much more impact than using marketing to merely start or support a debate. 

And for an industry that’s so obsessed with reaching the fabled millennials and Gen Z, responsible advertising taps into their demand for brands with purpose. If you need any more proof that the climate crisis is top of mind for younger generations, look no further than 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. 

 

  • Andrew MacKenzie is MD of Boomtown