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Climate Change and Sustainability Advertising ?>
Climate Change and Sustainability Advertising

Climate Change and Sustainability Advertising: Tips, Dos, and Don’ts for Digital Marketers

So here we are: another April, another Earth Day, and another opportunity to reflect and ask what we are doing to protect the future of our home planet.

Reports on the trajectory of climate change are growing ever more dire, with targeted carbon emissions goals looking increasingly out of reach barring swift and major regulatory and/or corporate changes. In the face of this, organizations continue to tout their climate pledges and roll out marketing campaigns—or, depending upon who you ask, PR stunts—demonstrating their commitment to environmentally-friendly values and practices.

But as the scientific community continues to sound the alarms on the coming climate crisis, many sustainability-minded consumers are making it clear that they aren’t buying what your brand is selling. And with consumers increasingly looking to corporations for leadership on the climate crisis, the old methods of green marketing just aren’t good enough.

Climate Change and The Advertising Industry

First, some positive news: last year marked a major step forward for the advertising industry’s efforts to combat inaccurate and anti-science climate claims, as Google announced a new policy banning ads for (any monetization of) content that denies climate change. 

But for marketers, there is still a good amount of work left to do in the green space, with a public that is increasingly skeptical of many brands’ Earth-friendly sustainability claims. In fact, a study by Belgian ad agency Bubka found that only six percent(!) of people believe companies are telling the truth about their contributions to combatting climate change.

With this landscape in mind, let’s take a quick look at some of the dos and don’ts of climate- and sustainability-focused advertising.

Green Advertising Strategies for Digital Marketers

No Greenwashing

If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: consumers today don’t have time for sustainability claims that your brand can’t back up.

A 2021 survey found that 88% of US consumers say they don’t immediately trust brands that claim to be sustainable, while another study found that more than half (58%) of all British consumers believe companies only engage in sustainability activity to protect or boost their image.

In light of this distrust, the World Federation of Advertisers recently put together its first ever Global Guidance on Environmental Claims, which identifies six key principles for marketers who want to establish their brands as trustworthy and avoid greenwashing accusations. 

In essence, advertisers must accept that when it comes to the environment and sustainability, the bare minimum isn’t good enough anymore—so if that’s all you have to tout, then it’s probably not worth sharing. Consumers (particularly young consumers) will see right through it and—depending on how egregious your exaggerations are—call you out on it. Translation: no more greenwashing.

Indeed, marketers should embrace what might as well be the new climate advertising Golden Rule (or, in this case, Green Rule): “If you don’t have anything meaningful to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Beware the Risks of Blockchain

Everyone seems to be talking about the metaverse and web3 these days. But while the trend is proving awfully intriguing to many marketers, associating your brand with crypto, blockchain, and/or NFTs can come back to haunt you among sustainability-minded consumers.

In the past year or so, many consumers, activists, and governments have begun to recognize the devastating environmental impact of blockchain-based solutions and assets—namely, NFTs and cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. In particular, anything that is housed on a “proof-of-work” blockchain—including the aforementioned Bitcoin—consumes enormous amounts of energy.

Companies ranging from Kickstarter to Discord to Mozilla (creators of popular browser Firefox) have faced swift and severe backlash in response to their blockchain flirtations, with consumers and advocacy groups calling attention to the potential negative environmental impact of such moves. So before you launch any campaigns touting your new web3 endeavors, be sure to weigh the environmental impact and consider whether or not those marketing initiatives conflict with your brand’s values.

Get Creative While Staying True to Your Brand

When it comes to planet-conscious marketing, the most successful brands will be those that find creative ways of addressing climate change that feel authentic to their existing images.

Take New Belgium Brewing. In 2021, the Colorado-based craft brewer created a limited edition “Torched Earth Ale” that aimed to showcase what beer could taste like in a world struggling with out-of-control climate crises. In place of more at-risk brewing standbys like hops and malt, the deliberately disgusting beer included ingredients such as smoke-tainted water, drought-resistant grains, and climate-proof dandelions.

In addition to the beer, the company also launched a campaign calling on Fortune 500 companies to develop plans for meaningfully addressing climate change by 2030. New Belgium’s signature brew, Fat Tire, was the first nationally distributed American beer to earn carbon neutral certification, so the clever campaign fit right into New Belgium’s existing brand value of sustainability while grabbing plenty of good PR in a crowded craft brew market. 

Advocating for good with some clever, on-brand marketing? We’ll drink to that.

Advertise Ethically

Lastly, when you’re running your sustainability-focused digital advertisements, make sure they appear alongside content that reflects those same brand values—and, ideally, support the kinds of publishers that promote similar ideals. Work with partners that prioritize brand safety and take advantage of programmatic solutions like NOBL to eliminate the risks of problematic content and/or sites that endorse climate-damaging products or industries. By prioritizing brand safety, you can turn yourself into a trusted messenger that’s more likely to connect with your target audience.

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The theme for Earth Day 2022 is “Invest In Our Planet.” So this year, remember that true sustainability isn’t just an Earth Day PR play: it’s a dedicated, on-going commitment to making real change and helping lead the fight against climate change. It’s what customers expect, and it’s what our planet deserves.