Marketers Join the Fight Against Climate Change

There is a growing expectation among consumers for brands to take real action

By Chris Warren

Chris Gash/theispot.com

For the world's top diplomat, it was a jarringly impolitic message. When the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent report last August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described its findings as a "code red for humanity."

Dire headlines from around the world throughout the summer of 2021 reinforced the report's message that massively transforming how the world produces and consumes energy is paramount.

The escalating threat posed by climate change has prompted some of the globe's largest brands to take steps to dramatically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment.

For instance, more than 300 companies — including Anheuser-Busch InBev, 3M, and Apple — have joined the RE100 initiative, whose members have pledged to meet 100 percent renewable energy targets.

Among individual brands, General Motors recently announced that it would stop selling gasoline vehicles by 2035, IKEA has committed to becoming "climate positive" by 2030, and P&G announced its intention to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 — including emissions from P&G's massive supply chain. P&G also announced a campaign called #TurntoCold that encourages people to wash clothes in cold water, which can save 90 percent of the energy used when washing with hot water.

But it's not just megabrands taking action, either. The craft brewer Brewdog purchased 2,000 acres in Scotland with a pledge to plant more than a million trees by 2022 in its effort to become the first carbon-negative international beer brand.

Character-Building

Providing tangible efforts to address societal challenges is a growing expectation for large global brands. This year's Edelman Trust Barometer found that business is far and away the most trusted institution, much more so than governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the media. For example, 61 percent of those surveyed by Edelman chose business as the most trusted institution, compared to just 53 percent who selected government, an 11 point drop from 2020.

For Margaret Molloy, global CMO at ANA member Siegel+Gale, the pandemic has accelerated the imperative that companies measure themselves in ways that extend beyond quarterly earnings.

"COVID-19 has been character-building for brands," Molloy says. "It has illuminated myriad dysfunctions, demonstrated that we have built vulnerable economies, businesses, and supply chains, and amplified system inequities in society."

She adds, "The pandemic has also placed renewed and accelerated focus on the plant-people connection. Meanwhile, companies' responses to the crisis have heightened the conviction that brands can be catalysts for positive systems change."

Take ANA member Anheuser-Busch, which uses solar electricity to power the brewing process of its Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold brand. "Anheuser-Busch has 10 existing solar installations across the [U.S.], located at our major breweries, select craft breweries, and at a wholly-owned distributor," says Ricardo Marques, VP of marketing at Michelob ULTRA.

The brand's commitment to sustainability and reducing its carbon emissions goes well beyond its embrace of solar energy. Anheuser-Busch has also partnered with mining company Rio Tinto to pilot the production of one million cans using an aluminum-smelting method that eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions from the process.

In an ad for Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, a wheat field rustles in the wind. "Listen," says the voice over. "That's the sound of organic beer being grown." As more and more brands seek to combat climate change, marketers have to communicate how their actions are having a positive impact on both the environment and society. Michelob ULTRA/YouTube

The challenge for senior marketing executives is how to communicate these efforts while staying focused on their brand, product, and campaign messages. While climate change isn't mentioned directly in its marketing materials, for example, Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold packaging notes its use of organic ingredients, and some of its TV commercials declare that the beer is "powered by the sun."

"We partnered with global Latin singer, Maluma, to create a song using the sound of the sun," Marques says. "Additionally, our organic ingredients have been highlighted in our television advertisements that we keep in rotation throughout the year."

A Delicate Balance

As they bolster their efforts to combat climate change, marketers will end up serving a dual role. "Marketers must keep a pulse on the market and stakeholder concerns and ambitions," Molloy says. "Marketers must also be storytellers of truths, championing an organization's people and impact, and that impact encompasses such spheres as social justice and climate change."

Brands also need to make sure their words match their actions. "The work and the marketing of that work must be genuine, because there's a vast gulf between authentic support and opportunistic value-signaling," Molloy says. "Efforts to better people and the planet must align with business operations and, ultimately, a company's purpose."

At Wieden+Kennedy's Amsterdam operation, the agency has a formal process for working with clients to ensure that any marketing and advertising pronouncements are grounded in reality. It's about vetting a company's "brand truth," says Blake Harrop, managing director at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam.

"If we need to address a brand's commitment to climate action, we'll also dig deep into the nature of that commitment to ensure we are speaking with the same level of truth and clarity," Harrop says. "Our teams have visited offshore wind farms in the North Sea to ensure we communicate the truth behind [renewable energy developer] Ørsted's work. No brand wants to find itself guilty of greenwashing, so we find all of our clients fully embrace this rigor."

In 2021, Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam became a B Corp., which requires companies to consider the impact of their operations on workers, customers, suppliers, the community, and the environment.

As part of that transition, the agency appointed a social impact director to be more intentional about meeting rigorous internal sustainability goals and to measure their progress. For example, the agency is joining industry organizations, such as Green Screen Productions, that publish sustainability data about emissions stemming from advertising, TV, and film productions.

Harrop finds an increasing number of both startup and established brands whose underlying purpose is climate action. "Sustainable energy is becoming more economically viable, demand for plant-based food products is growing, and consumers want more sustainable product solutions," he says. "Which is a great sign that there's confidence in the business of fighting the climate crisis."

 


 

NEW ENVIRONMENT

3 Ways Marketers Can Fight Climate Change

Blake Harrop, managing director of Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, says brands can communicate the positive action they are taking on climate but should consider the following.

1. Don't overstate the claim.

Marketers need to avoid greenwashing at all costs. "If we approach this cynically, our industry could create greenwashing that distracts humanity from finding real solutions to the climate crisis," Harrop says.

2. Deliver a relevant message.

Consumers make choices based on myriad factors, and climate change action may very well not be one. "Oftentimes, there are more important factors in the consumer's purchasing decision than a brand's climate actions, so making this the focus of the marketing message risks being economically unsustainable," Harrop says. "But the climate actions can be relevant to employees, investors, and government stakeholders, so choosing the audience wisely is essential."

3. Tout brand purpose.

Separating campaigns and messages about climate from other marketing efforts is a mistake. "A company's marketing should always strive to keep one unified voice throughout all of its communications and ensure all efforts are true to the brand purpose," Harrop says. He notes the work his agency has done for the Corona beer brand. "The brand's spiritual home has always been the beach, so when translating the brand efforts to the climate, we found a natural place for us to play was fighting against ocean plastic through the organization of beach cleanups across the globe," he says.
— C.W.

 


 

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