Why climate change and sustainability are the two biggest challenges facing marketers right now
The annual Global Marketer Week (GMW) is in full swing in Athens, Greece. This year’s event is the first in-person GMW since 2019 and has attracted 850 delegates from 40 countries, as well as 200 remote attendees.
The World Federation of Advertisers, or WFA, which hosts the event, is the only global client-side marketer organisation in the world, with 135 of the world’s largest brands and more than 60 national advertiser associations, including the AANA, in its membership. It represents more than 90 per cent of the world’s ad spend and is a trusted source of knowledge about the latest developments and most pressing challenges facing marketers around the globe.
We tuned into WFA CEO Stephan Loerke’s opening session from the SDE/WFA Global Marketer Conference on Thursday 7 April, entitled A Shared Global Agenda. Here’s what he had to say.
Resilience – we need plenty of it
We’ve all dealt with pressing challenges – and for some, tragedies – of late: the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and an uncertain economic outlook. But Loerke argues there’s an even more critical challenge that we all face in the longer term: climate change and the broader sustainability agenda. That’s why sustainability is one of the two key themes of the SDE/WFA Global Marketer Conference.
The other primary theme is creativity, and creative effectiveness, the thing we have long excelled at. The conference will be looking at the intersection between creativity and sustainability and how they can drive and boost one another.
What difference can marketers make to sustainability?
What do we mean by sustainability? There are plenty of different interpretations. The UN, for example, has 17 different sustainability goals, from fighting poverty and hunger to ensuring better education for people around the world. The WFA asked where do we, as marketers, have the expertise and potential to make a difference? The result is the WFA Sustainability Wheel, highlighting six facets of sustainability where marketers can move the needle and drive change. They are:
- Sustainable growth – we, as marketers, can drive sustainable growth.
- Net zero – marketers can be a force for good to get us to net zero.
- Sustainable behaviours – marketers can nudge people to more sustainable consumer behaviour.
- Diversity, equity and inclusion – marketers can be an important force in society to drive this agenda.
- Sustainable media / online ecosystem – marketers can bring people together rather than divide them.
- People first – marketers can put people first through the work they offer people and the economic growth they drive.
The conference’s international delegates were asked which priorities they think marketers should focus on for the next 12 months. While 51 per cent said net zero and 41 per cent chose sustainable behaviour, crucially, the respondents considered all the priorities to be important. Marketing can be a very powerful force for good and for growth, especially at a time when people are starting to doubt whether governments and UN agencies will be able to address these challenges.
Here Loerke made a striking point. Climate change is obviously not the only element of sustainability. But if we can’t get the planet back on track to become climate neutral by 2050, we can forget about other priorities. The truth is, we are nowhere near the trajectory needed to become climate neutral. The Glasgow COP26 last year only barely managed to keep the hope alive that we would come back onto that path. Geopolitics is not helping; brands need to step up.
Loerke returned from Glasgow in 2021 with a powerful insight. Eighty per cent of the CO2 emission cuts that have been made so far have been achieved thanks to technology. But if we want to achieve our climate objectives by 2050, 50 per cent of those cuts will need to be delivered through consumer behaviour change. That’s the challenge we now face, but that’s where marketers can – and must – come in.
That’s why the WFA launched its Planet Pledge initiative exactly one year ago. It’s all about encouraging CMOs to become the climate champions in their companies and leveraging marketing to get consumers to change their behaviour. One year on, 26 global brand owners, including IKEA, Mastercard, LÓreal and Heineken, have signed the pledge. They have committed to:
- Reduce their emissions and those of their supply chain
- Educate their teams and consumers
- Harness their marketing communications to drive sustainable consumer behaviours
- Reinforce a trustworthy marketing environment
National associations (including the AANA) are driving the pledge in 31 countries around the world. However, there’s still more to do in 2022, such as launch the WFA Planet Pledge capability tool and WFA’s Greenwashing Guidance.
Here Loerke posed a question: while the WFA is calling on CMOs and marketers to embrace the climate challenge, what is it doing to become more sustainable itself? The answer is it’s working with an outside auditing company on its own footprint and taking measures such as:
- Keeping most of its member meetings virtual, even post-pandemic
- Switching to a 100% renewable energy supplier
- Incentivising its team to cycle and walk to the office.
But the elephant in the room is Global Marketers Week itself. If you add up the emissions from the GMW venues, restaurants, banners, collateral, coffees, and so on, it comes to 108 tonnes of CO2. But if you include the travel undertaken by international delegates, the WFA team, the production team and so on, that figure bumps up to 385 tonnes of CO2. Loerke was pleasantly surprised to see that more than half the delegates had offset their CO2 footprint when they purchased their tickets. Factoring this in, the event’s total CO2 emissions come to 254 tonnes.
The obvious question is – should the WFA continue to conduct in-person Global Marketer Weeks? Loerke says the answer to this legitimate question is yes. The WFA is a global organisation, and in today’s world, the need to bring people together in one place to talk, get inspired, exchange ideas, and foster collaboration is more important than ever. So, the WFA will continue to host GMW once a year in different places around the world.
Loerke is quite clear that the WFA doesn’t think offsetting CO2 is a viable option for the planet over the longer term. But while there are no climate neutral solutions, they will continue to do it. They are working with UK based organisation Forest Carbon to fund woodland restoration in the UK to offset the 254 tonnes of CO2 generated by this year’s GMW.
This year GMW is a zero waste event for the first time. There are no delegate bags this year. The WFA is working with PolyGreen, an innovative circular waste economy company, to pick up the conference’s waste, sort it, recycle it and make it into useful materials.
Another priority for the industry, according to Loerke, is gender and diversity inclusion. Our industry has a huge role to play in the way it depicts individuals and society in its ads. And we’ve made progress in this area. But it is not enough. To be totally committed to this agenda, we need to look at ourselves. Are we, as employers, as an ad industry, living up to our vision? To answer this question, six months ago, the WFA conducted the first-ever Global DEI Census of the ad industry, a huge effort involving collaboration with partners all around the world. The result was a huge sample of 10,000 anonymous respondents from diverse cultures and nations. And it wasn’t a one-off event – the WFA will be tracking progress every year. Three main conclusions came out of the research:
- We, as an industry, need to get better at focusing on age discrimination in our industry.
- We need to get better at providing the right working conditions for caregivers. That refers to both parents caring for their children and people caring for their own parents.
- We need to get better at including different groups in our industry.
Here Loerke asks – why is this important? Firstly, he says, if we don’t apply these standards to ourselves, we have no credibility. Secondly, one in every seven marketers is about to leave the industry because they feel it’s not doing its job in terms of providing the right diversity and inclusion environment. And finally, because a diverse and inclusive workplace fosters creativity, which is essential for driving innovation.
On the question of creativity
That was Loerke’s cue to segue to the second primary theme of the conference – creativity.
There is ample evidence that creativity and creative effectiveness are in decline in our industry. We have lost our magic. We are challenged to connect with people emotionally, entertain them, and make them feel. We need to reverse that trend, Loerke argues, if we want to drive sustainable consumption. To that end, the WFA is looking at the role clients play in this loss of creativity. They’ve begun a large piece of research to better understand this, and although the research is still ongoing, Loerke provided delegates with a scoop – the first insights from the project.
- 97% see creativity as important, but only 25% see it as business critical
- The most common barrier to being a creative client? 54% say a risk averse culture
- 54% say ‘improved understanding of the customer’ is what would help make them more creative
- 50% are improving ways of working between people (internally and externally)
- 83% see creativity as marketing’s superpower
The research is still live in 36 countries, and the results will be released in June.
And so concluded a thought-provoking and inspiring session from WFA CEO Stephan Loerke. His pertinent and timely insights have a global resonance, as relevant here in Australia as in Athens, giving marketers worldwide plenty of food for thought and catalysts for action.
If you would like to hear more about the Planet Pledge initiative, please book a meeting with AANA’s CEO Julie Flynn: