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2021 has not been short of dystopian imagery. From long winter lockdowns and harrowing Covid stats through flood, fire and climate mayhem on every continent on Earth, and a major climate report that heaps apocalyptic warning lights on top of dire realities.

The climate crisis, formerly known as climate change but now with added urgency, dominates the media landscape as much as it does the natural, combustible one, and the incoming drive towards sustainability across our globally connected societies will impact everything, from how we heat our homes to what we eat, to modes of travel. 

How is the industry that helps promote the products and services that define our 21st century lifestyles going to adapt to the strictures of sustainability?

But how is the industry that helps promote the products and services that define our 21st century lifestyles going to adapt to the strictures of sustainability? Whether via means of production, or by changing the stories to meet the new realities, sustainability is sliding into the director’s chair to dictate the new terms of engagement.

Above: Advertising needs to adapt to the changing circumstances faced by the world, and also help others adapt too.


Sustainability, inclusivity and diversity are the backing singers who have stepped up to lead vocals. “The values that have been easier to look at are hiring policies and diversity,” says 'goodvertising' guru Thomas Kolster, who has long been a sustainability cheerleader. “Before standing on the scales to see how much carbon emission we have, we have to ask, how do we [measure] that? Do we look at it only from what we emit, or do we look at it from what our clients emit?” 

In our industry, it’s important to show the right sustainable behaviours and choices in our storytelling.

And while sustainability in production is measurable via AdGreen’s new carbon calculator, Kolster focuses more on the power of the message. “The issue, as an industry, is the impact that we have through the work that we do as a mirror or mover of trends. Although when it comes to climate I am still disappointed in how we haven’t developed,” he says. “Why are we still watching a shampoo commercial in which the lead drives a fossil fuel car? Why isn’t she riding a bike, or driving an EV? In our industry, it’s important to show the right sustainable behaviours and choices in our storytelling.”

The thorny issue for creatives is that the job involves promoting disposable products as well as sustainable values. “The meta question is, ‘what is being advertised and how does that affect our ecological mega crisis?', says Ari Kuschnir, Founder of m ss ng p eces and a sustainability pioneer who helped create Green The Bid. "Is it more non-recyclable packaging? More plastic that ends up in the ocean and landfills? Because what good is a greener set when the product you’re advocating for will cause more harm? These are the hard questions worth asking.” 

Above: Flights represent the biggest impact on a production's carbon footprint.


The answer, Kuschnir says, lies in persuading clients to change. “Advertising is a service industry that is going to care about the things our clients care about, and commercial production is a niche corner of the bigger production industry. On our own, it's challenging to make the sweeping changes needed because good intentions aren’t enough. But working together with our clients and their procurement teams, we can really make a difference.”

On our own, it's challenging to make the sweeping changes needed because good intentions aren’t enough.

Grassroots organisation Green the Bid focuses on the production side of the sustainability equation. It’s basic premise? To shift the industry to zero-waste, carbon neutral, sustainable and regenerative practices. “Flights represent the largest part of the carbon footprint of a production and should be reduced as much as possible,” says Green the Bid Co-Founder Michael Kaliski, and he posits small but significant details, such as renting, reclaiming and recycling production materials on set to reduce its carbon footprint.Like Thomas Kolster, Kaliski also points to advertising’s exceedingly long reach. “It has such an extensive influence on culture around the globe,” he says, “it’s a powerful place to make a positive impact in the creative itself by integrating sustainable and regenerative behaviour.” 

Green the Bid Co-Founder, Gabi Kay, concurs on the travel issue. “The greatest carbon impact comes from travel, primarily flying,” she says, and while the pandemic grounded most of us, it could be too easy to slip back into the long-haul habit for shoots. A hard habit to break, she admits, “but there are some awesome production solutions now, with remote shooting, background plates and local crews, not to mention fantastic post production that the industry can lean into.”

Above, clockwise from top left: Co-Founders of the Green the Bid initiative Michael Kaliski, Kat Friis, Jessie Nagel, Gabi Kay and Julian Katz.


From webinars to examples of what thorough reporting should look like at the end of each project, a large part of Green the Bid’s work is in consultancy and training, bringing in stakeholders from different sectors of the commercial production landscape and providing resources to help educate on how to have as sustainable a production as possible. “The pandemic opened everyone's eyes a bit wider to the immediate action needed in acting on the climate crisis,” says Emmy award-winning producer and another of Green the Bid's Co-Founders, Kat Friis. “People come to Green The Bid for help with building programs to reach their sustainability goals. Prior to the pandemic, it was pretty much business as usual. Now, people seem to be in the mood to fight; for their own health and well-being and the health and well-being of the planet.” 

The number one objective of Ad Net Zero [is] to equip our industry with the capabilities to view carbon in the same way as it does a financial budget when it comes to building an ad campaign.

“There’s always been a tension between the role advertising plays in shaping consumer appetites for unsustainable products and services, and the desire by most in our industry to reflect the best of society,” adds Hype and Green the Bid  Co-Founder Jessie Nagel. “The Green The Bid ecosystem includes all stakeholders, including brands, so the work we do can happen alongside the hard work necessary to address the many sustainability issues our clients face.” 

The Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero interrogation tool and AdGreen’s Carbon Calculator, which launches September 29, bring sustainable practices to the centre of the equation. “We need to look at carbon throughout the advertising supply chain, track it, measure it and take steps to reduce it," says the Advertising Association's Matt Bourn. "That is the number one objective of Ad Net Zero – to equip our industry with the capabilities to view carbon in the same way as it does a financial budget when it comes to building an ad campaign.”

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Above: A recent Greenpeace film highlighting the amount of plastic dumped by the UK on other countries. 


Like many, Bourne also know the message itself needs to change, as well as how it is produced. “We need to ensure everyone is aware and understands the rules around greenwashing and galvanise the strategic, creative and technical powers of the industry to support the shift of consumer behaviour we need to see for a more sustainable way of living.” That there is an Ad Net Zero Global Summit running alongside the COP26 global climate forum is a demonstration of its seriousness.

If we can work amid a pandemic and find solutions, we can commit to shifting the needle for climate change.

For Jo Coombes at AdGreen, the prospect of “a carbon-literate workforce adept at producing work on a reduced carbon budget” is what’s built in to the Carbon Calculator, whose key measurement silos are transport, spaces, materials and waste. “The tool will allow for collaborative measurement of any stills, motion or audio project which is part of an advertising campaign,” she says, “and be free at the point of use for the advertising production community.” 

In New Zealand, Sweetshop’s Head of Production, Fiona King, praises both AdGreen and Green The Bid for their positive impact. “Both provide a wealth of knowledge for the advertising industry; practical information and packages, training webinars and resources to draw from. They were also integral in supporting Greenlit NZ, the brainchild of Craig Gainsborough that is being set up as an industry-wide, collaborative revitalisation of efforts to support and promote environmental sustainability culture and practices.

Most people still think sustainability is expensive and inaccessible. We need to change this misconception.

While others have seen the pandemic as a learning curve to real sustainability, King saw a step back, with Covid restrictions on set meaning “an increase in waste and recycling – one of which was dreaded plastics... It felt like we made backwards moves in terms of best practice. But the industry has been challenged,” she adds, “and we’ve developed options and a confidence in a new production model that doesn’t require the entire creative department to be in the same place on every job. If we can work amid a pandemic and find solutions, we can commit to shifting the needle for climate change.”

Above: Advertising needs to help educate consumers that sustainability isn't expensive and inaccessible. 


At McCann the new Head of Sustainability, Jaclyn Kaminski, says: “The pandemic introduced us to new ways of working that we never thought possible.” Things like cutting out business travel and shooting virtually – as on General Motors’ first virtual production for Cadillac's Calmest Man spot. The bigger challenge, she says, is battling a key misconception. “A lot of people wish to live more sustainable lives,” she says, “but most people still think sustainability is expensive and inaccessible. We need to change this misconception and break down these preconceived barriers. 

We must play an active role in problem solving through creativity, design, and innovation.

"Our Truth About Sustainability study highlights how sustainability is seen as a place of sacrifice,” she adds, “And it’s a conversation that can feel exclusionary. It’s also centred around climate, when sustainability is inclusive of social and economic factors. It’s our livelihoods and children's future. It’s the food we eat, the water we drink, it’s ending poverty and decreasing inequalities, increasing education, and even about the wages we pay.” 

And when it comes to the bottom line, “sustainability is a business imperative,” says Kaminski. “We’ve launched a sustainability department focused on ‘getting our house in order’, and [creating] our first set of green office actions and responsible production guidelines. We must play an active role in problem solving,” she adds, “through creativity, design, and innovation – our industry’s secret powers – and find solutions to these issues.” 

Our industry has a tremendous responsibility as well as tremendous opportunity in crafting brands that are meaningful to people.

Telling powerful stories for brands that can swing the sustainable life out of the specialisms of climate science and into the mainstream is now the direction of travel. For Thomas Kolster, those stories are embedded in the plethora of facts and figures that spell out 'climate crisis'; all the data focused around climate, lifestyle and sustainability, can become lead characters and plot drivers. 

“You can check mortality rates and air pollution, and a lot of these things are potential drivers for great storytelling,” says Kolster. “You can go out there and find these incredibly fascinating stories and you can hold those up in front of people. Our industry has a tremendous responsibility as well as tremendous opportunity in crafting brands that are meaningful to people; brands that help us deal with our biases and stereotypes, that help us to live more sustainable lives, that helps us live more healthy. And we need a much industry-wide collaboration as way of dealing with these things. A high tide raises all boats, and that’s what needs to be done."

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