When the UK ad industry came together to launch Ad Net Zero to respond to the climate crisis back in November 2020, we said we haven’t a moment to lose, whether it’s changing the way we work, or changing the work we make, our industry must step up and deliver.

A key part of our efforts is a global summit, which we promised to hold online each year, on the anniversary, for all advertising professionals to share progress and discuss the next wave of challenges to overcome.

The Ad Net Zero Global Summit is timed to coincide with the United Nations’ annual COP climate conference and is designed to help colleagues understand the important themes from COP27, this year’s event in Egypt, and to signpost positive action every advertising and marketing professional can take.

I write this as we prepare the final details of our Ad Net Zero Summit – 28 sessions, featuring 66 speakers from around the world – on 9 and 10 November. Every minute of the agenda is focused on how every single one of us in advertising and marketing can do our bit to help tackle the climate crisis.

Advertising under scrutiny

The examination of advertising’s role in tackling climate change is essential. A recent report from the House of Lords Environment Committee references evidence from the Advertising Association’s communications director, urging government to learn from the pandemic and develop behaviour change campaigns to help people respond to the climate emergency in a similar way.

Most recently, the Advertising Standards Authority has published excellent new research on how confusing the public finds climate terms.

Our industry has an incredibly important job to do to communicate environmental claims clearly and ensure all advertising work on every channel is legal, decent, honest and truthful. Our self-regulatory body has also heightened its scrutiny of environmental claims, insisting on higher standards of disclosure and substantiation to eliminate “greenwashing”.

Not enough progress

As I reflect on this and look forward to the summit, I must ask, is this enough progress? No, it is not yet clear enough that we are on the path to a net zero advertising supply chain. We must accelerate reduction of carbon emissions at every step.

Is UK industry engagement high enough? No, it needs to grow.

Do we have solutions to measure all of advertising’s impact, through operations, production, distribution and through to its effect on the world itself? No, not yet.

We must go after actual reduction faster; the evidence of climate change is ever more apparent and this is the critical decade for year-on-year change.

Ad Net Zero is expanding internationally

We are also making significant progress internationally. In June, we established Ad Net Zero Ireland and launched the Global Group at Cannes Lions.

This group comprises the world’s major advertising agency holding companies, Dentsu International, Havas, Interpublic Group, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe and WPP, global advertiser Unilever, global tech companies Google and Meta, Sky, US trade bodies the ANA, 4A’s and IAB, the WFA representing global advertisers, European and global agency associations EACA and Voxcomm, and the IAA.

Ascential, the owner of Lions, also supports the global group’s efforts, helping to convene international action to help tackle the climate emergency, alongside the three original founding UK trade bodies of Ad Net Zero, the AA, the IPA and ISBA. This group has recently been joined by another global advertiser, Reckitt and adtech company, PubMatic. All committed to Ad Net Zero’s international roll-out.

The group’s brief was to make a rapid impact in the US, which accounts for nearly 40% of the world’s ad spend. For comparison, the UK represents 5%.

US can be key in leading the charge

In early October, we appointed John Osborn, formerly chief executive of BBDO NY and most recently chief executive of OMD USA, as Ad Net Zero USA director – he is leading the charge on building the US chapter.

During Advertising Week New York, Emma Wade-Smith, His Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for North America, hosted a VIP reception at the British Consulate in New York, to mark John’s appointment and the arrival of Ad Net Zero in the US, made possible thanks to our long-established relationship with the Department for International Trade.

Our host told a packed room of US advertising industry leaders: “Ad Net Zero plays beautifully into the story of the UK’s creativity, innovation and leadership. These characteristics manifest themselves in multiple ways; and often with global impact.”

Winning over chief marketer officers

John has also attended the annual ANA “Masters of Marketing” Conference in Orlando, Florida, which was attended by more than 3,000 marketing executives representing marketers, agencies and adtech and data companies.

As part of the conference, John presented alongside Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard as part of the ANA’s CMO Growth Council Forum, participating in a workshop with more than 120 of the US’s leading marketers on how to embed sustainable practices in ad operations, including adoption of the Ad Net Zero Action Plan.

I’m delighted the conclusion was for ANA membership to explore how best to adopt the plan, with Marc’s endorsement.

Subsequently, at the Masters of Marketing Conference, Ad Net Zero was referenced from the stage by both Bob Liodice, chief executive of the ANA, and Simon Cook, chief executive of Lions, who announced that next year’s awards entry forms will include sustainability criteria, shaped in part by the Ad Net Zero Action Plan.

This is a tremendous development. It means Lions, a key member of our global group, can benchmark annually how our industry is taking steps to track, measure and reduce carbon emissions from its operations.

Next steps for UK ad industry

Meanwhile, and most importantly, we continue to push forward with the delivery of the Action Plan in the UK and beyond.

In order to drive to net zero, we ask supporters to provide data on operational carbon emissions, step up engagement with tools and training from AdGreen, isla and #ChangeTheBrief, as well as our own Ad Net Zero Training on the IPA’s CPD platform.

Also, we encourage companies and organisations to participate in the Campaign Ad Net Zero Awards and, more broadly, use Ad Net Zero as a catalyst in their own organisations to change the way they work and change the work they make.

Advertising can support the emergence of sustainable ways of living and drive new business models behind that. A motor for the economy and sustainability.

Our number one responsibility is to make that happen with the very best strategic, creative, technical and production excellence we can offer.

Sebastian Munden is chair of Ad Net Zero and former executive vice-president of Unilever UK & Ireland. The Ad Net Zero Global Summit takes place on 9 and 10 November. Click here to find out more and register to attend.




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