The Marketing Garden

How Firms Can Embrace Environmental Sustainability (and Make Money In The Process)

Normally when one thinks of companies going green, manufacturing, transport, or other heavy industries come to mind. But even in the ad agency realm, where the only factories we typically encounter are the metaphorical ones inside our brains, there is fertile ground aplenty for business leaders interested in saving money—and the planet.

Perhaps the easiest green hack has largely already taken place. Thanks in no small part to the pandemic, switching from in-person meetings and office work to video conferencing and telework slashed travel and building/overhead costs. This was widely adopted during the pandemic, but in the intervening months since, many organizations have mandated that employees return to work and in-person meetings with clients. In some instances, it may be a wise decision from a morale standpoint to work in the office full time, or near full time. However, this inherently costs more in carbon emissions and energy bills at the office, not to mention real estate costs.

Alison Pepper, Senior Vice President for Government Relations at the 4As, recently penned an article for Drum illuminating the potential cost savings (as opposed to expense) of going green. An easy layup, she said, was axing business travel in favor of telecommuting.

“Business travel has long been a hefty line item on balance sheets,” Pepper wrote. “And while some business travel will always be needed, companies are starting to take a much harder look at what travel is necessary and what can be done via video conferencing.”

In addition to cutting back on activities that could be considered ubiquitous among most corporations, there are also challenges unique to the marketing industry that should be tackled as soon as possible. The vast arrays of computer servers employed in digital commerce, for example, give out a stupendous amount of carbon. Datonics CEO Michael Benedek wrote in Forbes last December that the “programmatic and digital advertising ecosystems use a great deal of processing power—especially to enable real-time transactions—and can contribute to a heavier carbon footprint.”

Specifically, Benedek pointed to a 2020 study that “led to the estimation that the digital advertising industry could exceed 1 million tons per year of CO2 emissions.” For some context, the entire US transportation sector’s use of unleaded and diesel fuel accounts for 1.018 million metric tons of carbon emissions. That means the ad world is pumping out roughly the same amount as all the semi-trucks in the country.

The emissions themselves are only one battlefront in the greater war against climate change. Advertisers must also remain vigilant against “greenwashing,” or the potentially exaggerated climate-related claims. One hypothetical example: a company advertises based on the claim they eliminated a certain amount of carbon emissions in a year, but later the public discovers the actual carbon emission mitigation is nowhere near what the company claimed.

The consequences range from disengaged customers to government fines, reporter Lindsay Rittenhouse wrote in AdAge. However, the PR risks of being accused of greenwashing combined with recession fears may prompt executives to over-correct.

“Sustainability could already be on the chopping block amid global economic uncertainty, as it was during other particularly difficult times including the 2020 start of the pandemic,” Rittenhouse wrote.

This creates an opportunity for differentiation in the market; as others abandon marketing based on green actions, the field of competitors becomes narrower and narrower. If your brand’s strength lies in green claims, and is backed up by real action, you can help the planet, and boost market share, all at the same time. Since our B Corp certification already requires us to conduct business in a sustainable way, Russell Herder is your ideal partner when navigating the green landscape.

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