Heroes at Zero: How Marketers Can Help Companies Reach Their Net Zero Sustainability Targets

By Josch Chodakowsky

Net0 defines net zero emissions as "the balance between the greenhouse gases that have been emitted and the offsets that have brought those emissions to zero. Zero carbon is when no GHGs were emitted to begin with. Successful carbon reduction strategies include lower emissions targets every year until zero emissions are achieved. A net zero target is the goal of achieving net zero emissions by a certain time."

And while companies are claiming a commitment to their net zero goals, a danger of "greenwashing" (saying versus doing) looms large. The nonprofit New Climate Institute recently evaluated net-zero plans from 25 large companies and concluded that they would reduce emissions by only 40 percent on average, not 100 percent as claimed.

Consumers more than ever expect the brands they follow and buy to act responsibly, and once a solid leadership commitment has been made, there's no better place to authentically communicate that commitment than by a company's marketers. The resources here look at how marketers and companies at large can seriously contribute to their net zero targets.

Check out the resources below.

Marketing's Green Challenge. World Advertising Research Center, January 2022.
Marketing and communications need to ensure that they are enabling consumers to make more sustainable choices when it comes to product and service selection. Of course, in 2022, few brands are simply about functionality and marketers also need to find a way to align with social values in order to succeed. For many consumers, sustainability, purpose, diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly critical in determining whether they select a given brand.

What's critical for marketers to understand is that tackling sustainability is different from purpose. Purpose campaigns might have sustainability benefits but that's certainly not always the case and initiatives should be distinct. Reassuring customers will be a key challenge for marketers in 2022 and beyond. The function sits at the crossroads of business functions and, in some companies, can influence issues such as product innovation and packaging by bringing greater understanding of consumer expectations and demands to disparate teams. Taking the right actions to do so requires CMOs to address three key areas:

  • They need to ensure authenticity while also finding a way to stand out on this issue. Sustainability is everywhere and businesses are being expected to communicate their commitments.
  • They need to work hard to measure improvements. How do you quantify progress on sustainability?
  • Businesses need to go beyond their own four walls. Real sustainability means not just achieving net zero in your own operations but also in the whole supply chain.

Sustainable Marketing: How CMOs are Taking an Active Role in Driving Change. Think with Google, February 2022.
There is frequent tension among marketers between the desire to support the sustainability agenda and the need to deliver more immediate, marketing-led growth for their organizations Some talk about a "say-do" gap between what consumers claim to want and what they actually spend their money on.

Despite this, the role of the CMO can be – and should be – central to sustainability strategy, and it goes much further than delivering communications on the topic. Think with Google spoke to industry leaders about how they view the role of marketing in sustainability: the progress made, challenges shared, and work still to be done. Here are some of their insights:

  • Consumer pull alone should not drive strategy
  • Connect sustainability with category entry points
  • Measure the wider positive impact of your sustainability agenda
  • Leverage the power of partnerships

Carbon Neutral Websites? Eight Ways Your Marketing Department Can Contribute to Net Zero. Articulate Marketing, March 2022.
A goal like Net Zero can leave you unsure where to start. How do you prioritize your efforts? How can you measure progress? How can individuals in your business contribute? One way to approach it is department by department – take marketing. Marketers are best placed to identify opportunities to reduce waste and make marketing more sustainable. This article offers some suggestions:

  • Manage campaigns from home
  • Carbon offset commutes to events
  • Use laptops
  • Commit to no paper
  • Opt for a carbon-neutral website
  • Aim for net zero ads
  • Make sustainability a target
  • Use climate-aware third-party suppliers

Five Key Steps to Creating a Credible Net Zero Plan. Fast Company, March 2022.
Out of the 2,000 largest publicly traded companies in the world, more than 680 now have climate pledges to reach net zero emissions. But some of those plans are arguably greenwashing: Exxon, for example, says that it will cut emissions in its own operations, but doesn't count the pollution from customers burning its fuel. Fast Company looks at what experts say companies need to include to make net-zero pledges credible:

  • Pledge to hit net zero as soon as possible, and include interim goals
  • Focus on radically reducing emissions, not buying offsets
  • Include emissions from the full value chain
  • Be transparent
  • Choose the right carbon credits

10 Responsible Companies With Net Zero Targets and Pledges. Net0, March 2022.
Companies with net zero pledges have signed commitments and have promised to take action on them. Signing a pledge to deliver a net zero commitment includes the following criteria: set a target in line with The Paris Agreement's standard of aiming to keep global warming under 2C compared to preindustrial levels (1.5C is preferred); publicly report GHG emissions and progress every year (emissions should lower annually); depending on the organization and what they have agreed to signing, there could be more criteria such as publishing scientific papers, mentoring other organizations/the public, or contributing to certain offsetting or ESG projects, etc. This article looks at companies who are succeeding in their initiatives, and includes resources for setting net zero targets as well as avoiding greenwashing.

Get Net Zero Right: A How-To Guide. UN High Level Champions/Oxford Net Zero, July 2021.
There has been a significant growth in the number of 'net zero commitments' made by companies, cities, regions, investors, and educational institutions — but not all commitments are made equal. So how do we know that net zero commitments are going to meaningfully contribute toward halving global emissions by 2030 – and which miss the mark? The UN High Level Champions and Oxford Net Zero have designed a toolkit to help us all understand what a credible net zero commitment looks like, and which commitments lack the substance needed to deliver a zero carbon world in time. It includes insight into critical topics such as emissions scopes, offsetting, interim targets, and immediate action plans.

Stay on top of trends with Marketing Futures Pulse issues, which explore how new technologies, current events and trends, and innovations will affect marketers and consumers alike.

Connect with our Ask the Expert team in real time for customized answers to your specific marketing challenges.

Submit a request to Ask the Expert here.

Josch Chodakowsky is a senior manager of research and innovation at ANA.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Futures Pulse are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

You must be logged in to submit a comment.