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    Ahead of Cop27, marketers reveal the real difficulties in going green

    Ahead of Cop27, marketers are wrestling with their role in the climate crisis. Some are more prepared than others. The Drum explores the key considerations.

    For the Green Room show during the Media Summit 2022, The Drum’s editor Cameron Clarke questioned James Fleetham, head of client sales at The Guardian. He reflected on the media owner’s move away from fossil fuel advertisers – an applauded move that some said didn’t do enough.

    He said: “Losing those businesses would have cost us millions alone,” adding “it’s the most trusted media brand in the UK. We had to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

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    For the losses it may have seen, Fleetham believed the stance strengthened The Guardian’s brand – which would have attracted greener businesses and likely impacted reader revenue. This is good news for media owners showing trepidation about potentially cutting income.

    Meanwhile in adland, much is being made of advertising businesses polishing the reputation of top emitters. Celine Craipeau, senior director of brand strategy at Jellyfish, outlined the tough side of taking a stand.

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    “Defining the rules by which you are going to play is very difficult.” She asked, where do we draw the line? Be it brands that extract the fossil fuels, those that finance the extraction, or the companies using most of the fuel?

    There’s a very complex network to try and disentangle. There’s growing pressure for agencies to stop lending their power to these huge clients – and as for the creatives themselves, there’s discontent among those working. The worst offenders will, for example, invest disproportionate spend in renewables versus the marketing of said schemes.

    But Craipeau said: “We don’t think our role is to arbitrate between the brands that want to get their message out there and which ones we are going to help. Our role is to first make sure that the way we do the [media] bidding is as convenient as possible and emits the least possible carbon dioxide.”

    These decisions too are difficult to get right. She believed that the carbon calculator tools favored by media buyers still lack sophistication – although there’s been progress, such as the launch of adtech startups like Scope3 working to create a more transparent ledger.

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    She worried that getting all the players in the supply chain to collaborate may be the highest hurdle to clear. Will tech companies and media platforms for instance really be willing to release these details? 

    Craipeau reminded marketers that net zero pushes and sustainability are not “unique selling points – the goal is to try and make the world a better place or just to limit global warming.”

    Additionally, Alison Pepper, executive vice-president of government relations and sustainability at the 4As, added nuance to the conversation. She said: “It’s increasingly become an issue for agencies and it’s a couple of different reasons.” One is regulation. Greenwashing regulation in the US, for example, is comprehensive but massively outdated.

    “Brands really need guidance from their agency partners in the greenwashing space,” she said. “[And] in the absence of that [regulation], you’re really looking more to the market and to the consumer for feedback to establish a baseline as to what greenwashing is. That’s tough because not everybody’s going to have the same definition.”

    And then there’s a new phenomenon she’s become aware of – “green shushing.” “To some extent, green shushing is the converse of greenwashing. As a brand or an agency, we’re taking meaningful, productive and hard steps, but we’re scared to talk about them because we’re scared of being accused of greenwashing.”

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