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How advertising can help build a net zero economy

Matt Bourn, Director of Communications | Advertising Association

4 min read Partner content

Advertising is a proven engine of growth – every pound spent on the UK’s advertising and marketing services generates six pounds GDP and our sector has been recently recognised as world-class once again with a record haul at Cannes Lions, the global festival of creativity, our Olympics of Advertising.

It is with this powerful creative capability in mind that we should consider how advertising can help the UK government achieve its climate change targets. For it is advertising which can help accelerate consumer behaviour change and drive the competition and innovation needed to achieve a Net Zero economy.

Advertising is an industry that services all other industries. When a company looks to promote a product or service, advertising will be a key component of the marketing plan and relies upon our sector’s creative, strategic and technological skills to help achieve its aims. New launches are advertising’s lifeblood and our industry is rapidly readying itself for a rush of briefs for sustainable products and services.

We recognised the need to respond to the climate crisis caused by CO2 emissions in summer 2019. Our think tank, Credos, established a clear understanding of our own carbon impact to inform an action plan for the industry.

Advertising will be a vital accelerant to the UK government’s climate action plans, working with fellow industries to support the promotion and uptake of new sustainable products and services.

In late 2020, we launched Ad Net Zero, the UK advertising industry’s response to the climate emergency – an initiative, in partnership with fellow trade bodies, the IPA and ISBA, that’s funded by a growing number of dynamic UK and international companies. Leaders of advertisers, agencies, media owners and tech companies have come together to provide resource and skills in an industry-wide collaboration to tackle the problem at scale and above usual competition lines.

Ad Net Zero has two clear objectives. Firstly, to change the way our industry works by tracking and reducing the carbon footprint of our operations. Secondly, to change the work we make and, by doing so, accurately promote sustainable products and services of all kinds. Our goal is for every ad to be a green ad by 2030, in the way it is made and, wherever appropriate, in the message it carries.

Our work is forging new understanding of the carbon footprint from advertising operations, with bespoke carbon calculators launching to help practitioners plan their carbon budgets through the informed use of data. At the same time, work is being championed within our industry to understand the role of advertising in generating carbon through sales of products and services. We want to help everyone understand how best to use our industry’s powerful capabilities to support the creation of a Net Zero economy.

All of this is being brought together in a training qualification launching later this year – the Ad Net Zero Essentials Certificate – the first to embed sustainability best practice into the working lives of every advertising professional. Our aim is to train thousands of practitioners and, through systemic change, make a long-term contribution to the challenge we all face.

We are also working hard to share this knowledge and expertise with international peers. The UK is well-established as a global hub for advertising and marketing services, producing work for many of the world’s largest businesses. We help companies from all parts of the world grow into new international markets and we can use this position to encourage others to make rapid progress to a more sustainable way of living. 

We are fully aware of the responsibility we have as an industry to help tackle the climate emergency. Advertising will be a vital accelerant to the UK government’s climate action plans, working with fellow industries to support the promotion and uptake of new sustainable products and services. We are determined Ad Net Zero will ensure our industry provides the communications expertise needed to realise the UK government’s climate change targets.

We are always ready to engage with parliamentarians and officials on how advertising can help build a Net Zero economy. If you’d like to speak to a member of our team, please contact me or visit:

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