Across the advertising industry, agencies are wrestling with their role in greenwashing scandals and their support for clients driving the climate and nature crises.
Companies are to face stricter rules from regulators in London and Brussels over what they can tell consumers about their role in the climate crisis and the loss of nature. Terms such as “carbon neutral”, “nature positive” and those concerned with offsetting are to undergo greater scrutiny by organisations such as the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK. In order to take meaningful action, agencies must also reconsider their relationships with major polluters, industry insiders have said.
“The era of unspecific claims such as ‘environmentally friendly’ is over,” said Jonny White, senior business director at AMV BBDO, which works with companies including Diageo, Unilever and Bupa. “Misleading environmental claims are under the microscope from advertising regulators, consumer watchdogs and even governments. The risks of getting it wrong are huge, with brands being shamed publicly when they are guilty of misleading the public,” he said.
Creative members of advertising agencies are having to work closely with their legal teams when advising clients on their climate claims, insiders have said, with an increased risk of fines and advert bans in some countries.
In the UK, the Ad Net Zero programme was launched in 2020 in a bid to reduce the carbon impact of the advertising industry’s operations to net zero by 2030, but many agencies are developing in-house teams for sustainability-focused campaigns.
“In many client organisations, there is still a big gap between the marketing and sustainability teams. They have different, often competing objectives, and are accountable in very different ways,” said Ben Essen, global chief strategy officer at the global marketing agency Iris Worldwide, which works with firms such as Adidas, Starbucks and Samsung, and is also