Trends briefing

Sustainability and environmentalism

Sustainable business practices

Sustainability is not a passing fancy. It’s not a buzzword or a tick-box activity. It is at the top of the agenda for businesses, marketers, and consumers alike.  

As a mainstream concern, the importance of sustainability and environmentalism cannot be overlooked. It is the subject of discussion everywhere, from the water cooler to the White House. Its meteoric rise has resulted in businesses having to look inwards and truly consider their impact on the planet. Brands that embrace sustainability today and review and update their business practices will get ahead of the curve in 2022. 

So, let’s dive into this new trend: 

What is sustainability?

Simply put, sustainability refers to the ability to meet your specific needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. This is not just about natural resources but also includes social and economic resources. As a result, as well as being concerned with environmentalism, issues around social equality and economic development are also embedded in the ethos of sustainable living. 

What is environmentalism?

Environmentalism is the part of sustainable living that has rooted itself in the public consciousness. It is concerns and actions aimed at protecting the environment. With fears about global warming and the impact of our carbon footprint on the Earth, people are demanding clear and actionable environmentalist policies from governments and businesses alike.  

What does it mean to be a sustainable business?

Being a sustainable business extends beyond the “obvious” sustainability concerns. It’s more than just the carbon footprint of shipping products or the waste created by physical products. Not every impact of your business is tangible.  

Digital businesses, virtual events, online interactions – they all have an effect on the environment. Everything digital is powered by energy and therefore generates emissions. Similarly, associated activities like travel and office waste can also be tracked. All carbon emissions need to be tracked to understand your business’s impact and plan steps to counteract it. 

Take Dotdigital as an example, we’ve taken great efforts to ensure our global business operates sustainably. That included ensuring our offices, cloud services, and data centers are carbon neutral and powered by renewable energy. As a result, every email, SMS, push, and display ad that’s sent via Dotdigital is sustainable, helping all our clients get one step closer to achieving their sustainability goals. 

There are a lot of new tools emerging to help businesses calculate their total carbon impact. Carbon calculators such as the one created by AdGreen can help you calculate the carbon footprint of your digital ad activity. Scope3 is a corporation aiming to assess and reduce the environmental impact of digital ad production with a particular focus on “scope 3” carbon emissions generated by partners in your supply chain.  

There’s still a long way to go before completely sustainable practices become commonplace, but digital industries such as marketing and advertising are being offered more and more tools to understand their impact. By embracing them today, the digital and online branches of your brand can demonstrate their commitment to eco-conscious action and raise the bar for wider teams and industries.  

What are businesses doing?

Back in November 2020, a partnership between the British Advertising Association, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) launched a brand-new initiative called ‘Ad Net Zero’. Its goal is to “achieve real net-zero carbon emissions from the development, production, and media placement of advertising by the end of 2030”.  

A report released to support the launch of this initiative estimated that the UK’s ad industry alone exceeds 84,000 tons of CO2e per year. That means that the carbon footprint of the global advertising industry could be over a million tons.  

It’s not just marketing and advertising making these kinds of pledges. Striking a balance between legislative requirements and consumer expectations, the automotive industry is driving towards its sustainable future. Ford Motor Company is aiming to be completely carbon neutral by 2050, while Volvo has made a similar pledge to achieve its goal by 2040.  

Car brands all over the world are investing in technology and sustainable supply chains to be able to provide consumers with 100% electric vehicles.  

The beauty industry, widely renowned for generating a significant amount of plastic waste from product containers and packaging, is also making headway towards becoming more sustainable. A consortium of industry heavyweights is teaming up to set industry-wide sustainability standards. Plans to develop a scoring system where shoppers can be able to compare and contrast the environmental impact of cosmetic products will empower them to make more environmentally friendly decisions.  

The key takeaway here is that collective action is essential for the success of wide-reaching sustainability. Sharing learning and working together will help businesses all over the world achieve the environmental goals consumers are demanding.  

Taking it seriously

Increased awareness of environmental issues has sadly led to an increase in “greenwashing”. That is, communicating false or misleading information about how a business’s products, aims, and policies are more environmentally friendly than they are.  

Fortunately, associations like the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are on hand, looking after the public’s best interest. The ASA has officially announced that it will be launching inquiries into sustainability claims and will research ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ claims made in ads. Ultimately, greenwashing in marketing and advertising will be harder, so to reap the benefits, brands have to put the work in.  

Another indication of the seriousness and longevity of this trend came with a recent update to Google’s Ads Policy. It has now prohibited advertising for, and the monetization of, content that promotes climate change denialism. While to most this may seem logical, it could preclude further action being taken against brands misrepresenting their eco-credentials. 

Ultimately, it’s not possible to approach this trend half-heartedly. Public pressure is ensuring governments and business take their demands seriously. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of resources around to help brands as they transition to sustainable business practices. Similarly, brands that have already grappled with the issue are willing to help others take the meaningful steps required to get ahead of the curve.

The sooner businesses embrace sustainability and environmentalism, the greater success they will have in the future.  

Contents

Jenna Paton, Content Team Lead
Jenna is the Content Team Lead at Dotdigital. She writes about cross-channel marketing and customer engagement.

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