Can Advertising Save The Planet? Perhaps It’s Not That Simple

Can Advertising Save The Planet? Perhaps It’s Not That Simple

Last night at the Mosman Art Gallery, a series of advertising industries doyens took to the stage to discuss a simple, if grandiose question: Can advertising save the planet?

The discussion was helmed by local Teal MP Zali Steggal OAM and James Greet, formerly of Mindshare, Cummins&Partners and HERO, now co-founder of The Payback Project, a specialist advisory working with marketers, agencies and media owners to reach net zero. The discussion was sprawling, with everything from internal policies and industry advocacy being explored to the notions of greenwashing and greenhushing.

A common theme among all the panellists, however, was a call for unity and that someone — whether that was the government or an individual — needed to take leadership on the issue when so many others had failed to do so.

L-R: James Greet, co-founder, The Payback Project; Zali Steggal OAM, independent MP for Warringah; Natalie Dean Weymark, co-founder, Compass Studio; Leif Stromnes, MD strategy and innovation, DDB Group Australia; Steve O’Connor, CEO ANZ, JCDecaux; John Pabon, sustainability consultant, author and UN Advisor.

“Regulation has to play its part,” said panellist Steve O’Connor, CEO of JCDecaux Australia and New Zealand. His business has set a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and has launched a partnership with Scope3 to create environmental impact metrics for the OOH industry.

“But that regulation has to be sensible and measured and drops that vested interest concept.”

O’Connor also added that inertia, both within individuals, organisations and at the government level impeded effective change and unity in the industry, though it shouldn’t deter us.

“But it has to start somewhere. We just have to get moving.”

O’Connor’s right, advertising does have to get moving. But, as Greet pointed out, perhaps the OOH industry has a bigger role to play than it thinks — or would like to admit. Rounding out the discussion, he said that there was a billboard not far from the venue (though not one of JCDecaux’s) promoting the really quite enormous Ford F-150 with the tagline “Go Big.”

“We’re not a content producer, we’re a content supplier,” said O’Connor, “so we actually welcome the greenwashing regulations and would like them to be more stringent.”

There were, however, two content producers on the stage — Leif Stromnes, managing director, strategy and innovation at DDB Group Australia and Natalie Dean-Weymark, co-founder of B Corp-certified PR and digital marketing agency Compass Studio.

“We are doing a lot as a business, though I don’t want to bore you with all our initiatives, but we’re very involved with making our business more sustainable. I think the bigger conversation is how our clients are operating,” said Stromnes.

He went on to explain that, much like the Yes vote’s failure to win the Voice to Parliament referendum, the reason that most Australians are apathetic at best towards the effects of climate change is the communications and advertising industries had failed.

“There are core issues. The first is that it’s too complicated — trying to understand tonnes of emissions per person, per household. But the science and the facts are not enough. Some companies obfuscate and do so for a very good reason, like, dare I say, the Coalition in the referendum,” said Stromnes.

“The second thing is the facts have to be turned into feelings — and John Bevins [sat a couple of rows ahead of B&T] will know this better than most. We can not be talking about facts and figures because they leave people cold and people just put their heads in the sand.

“The third thing is that we have to make things easier for people to change their behaviour… The ones that work get people to do very simple things at the start. Advertising can play a massive role in getting people to think differently. When I first got to Australia, there was a hole in the ozone layer… and we did. We actually did it, there was a common enemy and the messaging and the action was simple.”

Dean-Weymark, meanwhile, pointed to Who Gives A Crap and one of its founders who spoke about the need for communicating a positive message, rather than a negative one on climate change.

“He speaks a lot about joy as opposed to showing pictures of choking turtles and bare forests, he just made sustainability fun… That positive reinforcement, making people feel good about their purchases and giving them the tools they need to talk about it with their family rather than loading them with all the problems in the world,” she explained.

But herein lies another problem. Consumers, Stromnes explained, will say that they will pay more for sustainable products, but when it comes to pulling out their wallets, they won’t. Who Gives A Crap, by way of example, costs $10.50 in Woolworths for an eight-pack while, at t moment, you can get a 24-pack of Quilton or Vevelle toilet roll for $13.60 or $10.60, respectively. It isn’t hard to see which ones consumers will go for during a cost-of-living squeeze.

It’s also worth pointing out that DDB’s clients include the likes of McDonald’s, Porsche, Volkswagen and Coles — all businesses that have a significant impact on the environment, despite having their own climate goals.

So will advertising save the environment? Not alone, to be sure. And we all have a part to play. As Steggal said, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

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