Building a greener future: Transforming the advertising industry through sustainable practices

Pat Murphy, CEO of Murphy Cobb Associates, believes the advertising industry is at a crossroads and that embracing sustainability is a matter of "absolute necessity". Here's why.

In an era marked by growing environmental concerns and an urgent imperative to combat climate change, the advertising industry finds itself at a crossroad. The jarring truth of the matter is that the average carbon footprint of an advertising production amounts to a staggering 12.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. Wrap your mind around this: certain campaigns pump out a whopping 70 tonnes, equivalent to the carbon emissions an individual generates over seven years of their life. It’s a wake-up call that tells us business as usual is nothing short of an unsustainable journey.

Embracing sustainability within the advertising sector is a matter of absolute necessity. The numbers don’t lie – our industry’s carbon footprint, the global climate crisis, and the evolving preferences of consumers demand action. This shift isn’t just about brand reputations or staying in the game, it’s about carving out a resilient path forward.

A journey into sustainability doesn’t just make sense from an environmental standpoint; it’s a strategic imperative that lays the foundation for lasting success. As brands take the leap, they’re not only making their mark on the market but also playing a critical role in addressing the very challenges that affect us all. This transformation isn’t just a nod to responsibility; it’s a playground for innovation, a platform for driving change, and an opportunity to propel our industry into a better, greener tomorrow.

Why the advertising industry must embrace sustainability

Going back to the numbers, research into how Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) activities have impacted the financial performance of 100,000 businesses by Bain & Company and EcoVadis evidenced that a more responsible business is usually more profitable.

Aside from the obvious environmental concerns, embracing sustainability also brings significant business advantages. Shareholders increasingly view sustainability as a key performance indicator, and integrating sustainable practices into advertising strategies can enhance brand reputation, attract conscious consumers, and drive customer loyalty. Stepping into the limelight of sustainability doesn’t just paint a brand as an industry player; it positions it as a conductor of transformation. The ripple effect of genuine commitment surges through the currents of change. It says, “We aren’t just advertisers; we are architects of progress.”

Additionally, consumers are increasingly favouring sustainable brands, revealing the need for concrete sustainability efforts within organisations. In advertising, we don’t just tell stories, we shape them. We carry a torch of influence, inspire shifts in behaviour and hence hold a responsibility to drive change by influencing sustainable behaviour, one campaign at a time.

How AI and VR are increasing efficiency and reducing carbon emissions

By leveraging new technologies such as AI, AR and VR, businesses can increase efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions across the production lifecycle. It’s not just about gadgets and gizmos; it’s about orchestrating a sustainable revolution with the tools we have at hand.

AI acts as a creative catalyst by offering tools that enhance production efficiency and allows us to use data in new ways to unlock behavioural patterns and new insights. Virtual production techniques leverage VR and AR to project realistic settings onto LED-designed sets, removing the need for travel and physical prop development or procurement, thereby reducing material waste.

With these tools in hand, we at MCA knew we could make a difference – so when we spearheaded the Production Net Zero initiative, it was a promise to help our clients tilt the scales of our industry practices towards a carbon-neutral future, and to do this by the ambitious goal of 2025.

We’ve already made headway through collaborating with industry leader Reckitt, renowned for its hygiene, health, and nutrition brands, who approached us to help to create more and better content without shooting more.

Traditionally, brands, agencies, and production companies have travelled the globe, setting up unique high-tech production lines, complete with catering and logistics, to shoot thousands of ads, only to disassemble everything afterwards. By utilising virtual production, MCA has helped Reckitt address several major marketing challenges at once: greater creative opportunities, reduced costs and risks, and lower CO2 emissions.

Through virtual studios, the company has achieved impressive CO2 emissions savings, up to 75% per shoot day compared to traditional video productions. Let me just repeat that…..75% reduction of carbon footprint. Due to MCA’s input and help to make the virtual production a reality, and already, over 50% of Reckitt’s advertising video productions in the EU, where the majority of their work is produced, have successfully transitioned to virtual studios.

How to embed sustainability across the production value chain

It’s necessary to collaborate with partners and suppliers across the lifespan of a campaign that prioritises sustainability to reduce the carbon footprint of advertising shoots while achieving creative objectives. To prove we’re not just talking the talk; we’re walking it, too. Our decision to ground our internal travel isn’t just a policy; it’s a testament to our unwavering commitment.

For advertisers, we are calling for collaborative efforts to take accountability and drawing up a roadmap with clear sustainability goals and targets. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Additionally, the industry needs robust processes and tools that facilitate real action. Partnerships with organisations like Ad Net Zero and AdGreen can enable carbon calculations on every bid, ensuring compliance with sustainability standards ahead of regulatory requirements. That said, signing up to AdGreen is a great start but it must translate into genuine action and therefore should be embedded during the brief phase and run throughout the entire process rather than once production is complete.

By taking accountability, embracing collaboration, and adopting sustainable practices at every stage of the production value chain, I am confident we can pave the way to a greener future for advertising. The journey to a sustainable industry requires collective action, innovative thinking, and a united commitment to creativity, technology, and sustainability. Together, we can shape a future where advertising success goes hand-in-hand with environmental responsibility.


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