Could Measuring Your Channel’s Life Cycle Help the Ad Industry Become More Sustainable?

By Sonia Danner, Senior Marketer at Marketreach

Whether it’s baking temperatures in Delhi or flooding in Florida, there’s no doubt of the environmental impact our collective actions are having on the Earth’s fragile ecosystem. The climate issue is impacting our everyday lives, and many of us are becoming increasingly conscious of our own ecological footprint.

The sustainability agenda has also become of growing concern for businesses. According to data from NIQ, nearly two thirds (61%) of UK consumers feel sustainability is more important to them than it was two years ago. Moreover, on a global level, 3 in 4 consumers (76%) are calling out for companies to take initiative to reduce their environmental footprint. Businesses are under pressure to prove that they have got it all figured out – or at least are on track to reach their sustainability goals in the near future.

The truth is that it’s a hugely complex task and the path to integrating 100% sustainable practices into a business is difficult. Organisations are wrestling with multiple challenges to reach their targets, from identifying suitable and appropriate partners and suppliers to ensuring that strategy and communication internally and externally is accurate and transparent.

And every sector has its own unique issues – including our own- advertising and marketing industry. The Chartered Institute of Marketing warned recently that the sector faces a sustainability skills gap and that  half of marketers are fearful of being accused of greenwashing.

How do we know we are getting it right? Assessing carbon impact and devising sustainable marketing strategies is complicated. While there may be progress in better understanding carbon emissions via measurement in grams of gCO₂e (otherwise known as carbon dioxide equivalent), there’s still a huge need for a standardised framework in the advertising industry. This would help us to compare emissions on a like for like basis across different channels, whether that is Out-Of-Home builds, digital display formats or physical mail.

Each media channel has its own role to play in establishing standards. And while industry-wide initiatives such as Ad Net Zero help everyone across the ad industry become more accountable for progress, channels have a responsibility to look inward at their own life cycle to better understand the carbon footprint of sourcing materials, manufacture and distribution. Only then can we have a clearer picture of our own impact on the planet and we can place a better focus on improving.

For mail, Marketreach took an initial step with investment in the sector’s first UK independent carbon Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study. An LCA scientifically measures the environmental impact of a product through every stage in its life. We commissioned this study to examine the end-to-end carbon impact of mail from raw materials through to end of life.

We thought this was crucial to the advancement of our own sustainable goals. LCA insights would help us truly understand the impact of our channel so we can work together with the mail industry to reduce our environmental and carbon impact. And by sharing our findings with the wider industry and our clients, this transparency would enable mail users to make more informed decisions in developing sustainable mail campaigns in the long-run.

The study assessed the carbon impact of each of the 10 most common formats in mail marketing, from a simple postcard to a large catalogue, at each stage of the life cycle and highlighted where the low or high carbon hotspots were.

For materials, the big considerations were weight, size and pagination alongside the amount of ink needed. This insight allows marketers to make a valid comparison between those mail formats via the new LCA tool available on the Marketreach website. Marketers can now incorporate the information into campaign planning and decide the best way forward to meet both environmental and commercial objectives.

Of course, to help marketers reach their goals in the longer-term we all have to offer alternative but lower impact solutions. These must be just as creatively effective while making the manufacturing, creative and distribution processes more sustainable.

For mail that might mean pointing brands towards sources of paper that have taken advantage of low-carbon technologies in production or promoting eco-friendly inks. Or recommendations about mail size and how to educate recipients of the mailing’s recyclability.

Marketing and media still have more to learn about decarbonisation and waste reduction but at Marketreach, we have started the journey. Headway is being made with cross-industry collaboration and  as an industry we are understanding more about the challenges and developing ways to make better, more informed media choices that are good for the planet, consumers and businesses.

However, positive change across the advertising industry will need a collective effort from all channels, suppliers and brands. All players have a role in providing credible guidance and advice around  carbon emissions associated  with marketing and the clock is ticking, so it’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get to work on projects that will make a difference.