Advertising & sustainability: how ecofriendly is the industry in reality?

Green marketing has been trending for the past few years. Brands and companies are presenting themselves as sustainable and eco-conscious. But does their marketing live up to that, and how can companies advertise in a greener way?

Going forward, companies need to make sure their advertising is sustainable.
Image: © epixproductions / Adobe Stock

Sustainable advertising: advertisers are being held accountable

From packaging to advertising posters, many companies have put sustainability into action in recent years – on the surface at least. Customers themselves are beginning to question how seriously companies are actually taking sustainability in their internal structures, often sparking outrage over greenwashing. Even companies who are known for their sustainable production processes and conscious use of resources are being faced with the challenge of making their marketing as environmentally friendly as possible. After all, both print and digital advertising use up valuable resources such as energy and raw materials.

A recent study conducted by the international data and analytics group YouGov revealed that 57 percent of Germans want advertisers to assume more responsibility.

Advertising accounts for 5 to 6 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. While print marketing in the form of advertising posters, brochures, and flyers consumes an enormous amount of paper, digital marketing strategies aren’t exactly any more resource-efficient. Although digital out-of-home advertising providers are now starting to opt for energy-saving LEDs and green electricity, there is no getting around the fact that this format involves large volumes of data being transmitted and a significant amount of energy being consumed. In view of the current energy crisis, the German government considers out-of-home advertising a waste of energy. The country’s current energy conservation regulations, which have been in force since September 1, 2022, and are expected to continue until March 1, 2023, stipulate that illuminated advertisements must be switched off from 10 pm to 4 pm the following day. A lit-up ad that has to stay turned off in the dark is a completely disastrous situation for advertisers.

What can companies do to advertise more sustainably?

Many companies are already turning to digital advertising measures as part of their marketing strategy. Grocery suppliers are switching from paper brochures to digital formats to promote their special offers, and brands are favoring DOOH campaigns over billboards. However, moving toward purely digital marketing doesn’t immediately equate to a climate-neutral campaign. Companies need to understand the environmental impact of each and every one of their marketing measures. In the following, we set out how brands can take a more sustainable marketing approach:

#1 Measure your carbon footprint – as accurately as possible!

How environmentally friendly is your advertising campaign really? Advertising and sustainability were popular topics of discussion at DMEXCO 2022. Energy supplier LichtBlick and the Teads digital media platform are just some of the companies that analyze the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of their advertising measures in order to measure and offset the amount of CO2 they produce. LichtBlick, for example, hasn’t just collected data from its advertisements and media, but has actually analyzed its entire media value chain. However, to assess the full extent of the actual carbon footprint, lots of individual factors need to be analyzed more accurately. One of the biggest influencing factors is the medium itself.

“What we learned was that digital data transmission has a big impact. It really makes a big difference when users are shown an advertisement at home via their Wi-Fi compared with receiving it on their smartphone via mobile data while out and about,” explains Ann-Christin Lehmann, Head of Performance Marketing at LichtBlick.

For companies wanting to become greener, it is absolutely essential to measure the CO2 emissions of their advertising campaign as accurately as possible in order to identify particularly resource-intensive factors and optimize them from a climate-neutral perspective. The development of standards for CO2 offsetting still leaves a lot to be desired, but that is likely to change in the coming years.

#2 Video content: an energy guzzler with room for improvement

Whether on streaming platforms, social media, or websites: video content is in its heyday and online users can’t get enough. However, videos are particularly notorious for using a lot of data and thus creating high CO2 emissions. As the popularity of video content grows from year to year, so does the energy consumption of servers and data centers. To advertise more climate-neutrally, companies need to rethink how they implement and use video content as part of their advertising campaign.

“Create a six-second video instead of a twenty-second one. The carbon footprint will be three times smaller, but the advertising effect will only be marginally reduced. In many campaigns, you don’t even have to compromise, because a 20-second video won’t generate more attention,” advises Pablo Galiana, Global Industry Director at Teads.

Especially on social media platforms, users like to view and share short videos. If your company wants to reduce its carbon footprint, you should keep the length of your promotional videos to a minimum or even replace moving content with powerful image advertising.

Businesses can also rent servers in climate-neutral data centers that are powered by green energy from sustainable sources, a practice known as green hosting.

#3 Green marketing = responsible marketing

When it comes to advertising and sustainability, consumers are now more on the ball than ever, since the energy crisis, climate change, and inflation are plaguing society. A recent study on “Sustainability in online marketing” conducted by Integral Ad Science (IAS) found that consumer awareness of the climate crisis has reached an all-time high and brands are being expected to demonstrate that they are committed to environmental issues. At the same time, a lot of people are skeptical of the sincerity of brands that claim to be environmentally friendly. For example, 65 percent of German consumers have come across online content that contained false information about climate change or sustainability.

For companies and brands, that means it is high time to clearly and honestly communicate their sustainability efforts. What environmental measures do they implement? What aspects make their advertising measures particularly ecofriendly? What specific climate goals have they set for the future? If businesses make sure they’re authentic by not just highlighting the strengths but also transparently communicating the weaknesses of their sustainability strategy to their target group, they will find that consumers are more receptive, thereby creating the ideal framework for raising awareness of the important issue of sustainability.

Advertising & sustainability: do good and talk about it

It’s one thing to implement a (more) sustainable advertising strategy; it’s quite another to communicate it to consumers as transparently as possible. Companies need to step up in terms of environmental and societal issues and be aware of what customers expect of them. In the long term, marketing should not just be about simply offsetting your carbon footprint, but also avoiding it in the first place.