For Advertisers, Carbon Turns the the “Money-Speed-Quality” Triangle into a Square

By John Osborn, Director Ad Net Zero US

Forecasters cut ad spending forecasts for 2023 due to the uncertain economy. With tighter budgets to work with, many advertisers are scrutinizing what they spend. In some circles, I’ve heard CMOs and media buyers talk about a new “prove it or lose it” situation that requires them to not only spend wisely, but also measure and report on their performance to CFOs and procurement teams.

While everyone likes easy money, there is a silver lining to the newfound focus on every dollar spent in advertising. With more measurement in place, we’re in a better position to keep track of our carbon footprint. Increasingly, brands, agencies and media companies have corporate emissions goals, not just advertising performance goals.  As this trend grows, the classic triangle of money, speed and quality will turn into a square, where carbon has a prominent seat at the table.

How Carbon Weaves Into Advertising Decisions

We are at the early stages of a major change in corporate accounting. BCG has found that only 9% of companies are able to fully measure their carbon emissions, but 85% are concerned about reducing their emissions. More and more companies will start taking steps at the executive level to better understand the role carbon plays in their business. The concern over emissions is also starting to find its way into advertising decision making. What used to be a decision with three limiting factors (money, time and quality) now has a fourth.

I have seen two early trends from “triangle” to “square”  in particular: travel and production. In the past, CMOs created a plan based on goals, budgets and timelines. Sending a high-level executive to an event creates more high-quality conversations, but is pricier and takes up time. Developing more beautiful creative costs more time and money, but the quality might drive higher sales.

Now, these decisions are also taking stock of the carbon footprint. Sending an executive on a plane isn’t just expensive in terms of a financial budget, it also creates emissions. Same idea when deciding if flying a crew to a beautiful, far-flung location for a photo shoot is worth it. Accounting for the carbon cost, not just the budget cost, alters the decision.

How to Succeed Inside a Square

Adding a new limiting factor to an already stressed team seems like a negative, but sustainability is a goal that the vast majority of us want to prioritize. Based on the research, leaders are ready to take on the challenge.  The question is not “if” we tackle the added requirement to minimize our footprint, the question is “how.”

There are a number of steps that advertisers can take to ensure that they’re not only accounting for carbon effectively, but that they’re also ensuring that they can succeed given their goals in their organization.

  • Get educated: Everyone can learn more about exactly what carbon emissions are, where they come from, and how other companies are working to reduce them. Every company and every department needs more sustainability champions and evangelists. Be that person by reading, leaning in and sharing knowledge.
  • Connect with each other and with leadership: Many companies already have sustainability goals, and many countries are already creating regulations and recommending standard frameworks that will ultimately drive what needs to happen in the advertising industry. It’s critical to know what’s happening from your company’s CFO, General Counsel, and head of procurement. We can’t develop carbon solutions in isolation. Similarly, we are stronger together. By sharing information, especially practices that work, with each other, we will accelerate the pace of change. The more support behind driving for carbon-mitigating solutions, the faster and more successfully we can turn this ship. That includes engaging with organizations like Ad Net Zero, with the mission of establishing consistent measurement frameworks and standards.
  • Collaborate: If there’s a Chief Sustainability Officer, introduce yourself. If you have corporate partners who are leaders in sustainability, ask them for a meeting to learn more. The more you can work with others to create momentum, the better.
  • Start measuring: The frameworks and goals that corporate teams ultimately roll out will require teams like marketing and advertising to measure their carbon footprint. Getting started now will help get teams used to putting carbon measurement at the forefront of decisions.

We all need to be in a state of learning and testing. There are a lot of options out there,  but they are not all created equal. As our triangle becomes a square, we’ll get better at comparing and contrasting our options, and making smart choices that not only reduce our footprint, but are connected to corporate goals and global standards.

After all, in the words of Huey Lewis, it’s hip to be square.