With a study showing that 68% of adults want to see more regulation around ads selling environmentally unfriendly products, we look at the role of advertising and the media in combatting the climate crisis.

As the world takes more and more notice of the unfolding climate emergency, the focus has traditionally been on the companies that have the largest carbon emissions – energy suppliers, airlines, car manufacturers. But what about the advertising agencies that promote those companies? There’s a growing backlash against agencies that earn millions by marketing products and services that are harming the planet, with the public becoming increasingly frustrated with campaigns that push air travel, petrol and diesel vehicles, and oil companies.

A study from The New Weather Institute has found that 68% of people want to see more restrictions around the marketing of environmentally unfriendly products. Two of the sectors respondents said should face tougher advertising regulations were vehicles, with 45% in favour of restrictions on ads for highly-polluting cars, and holiday companies, which 33% said should be curbed.

“Ads directly promoting environmentally harmful products are everywhere, and British people are clearly not happy about it,” said Andrew Simms, Co-Director of The New Weather Institute. “Promoting fossil fuel companies, SUVs and airlines in a climate emergency is like advertising cigarettes in a hospital. Not only do nearly half want to see less advertising overall, this survey reveals that a large majority of people want to see ads for polluting products restricted or ended altogether.”

A manifesto for change

However, there is hope on the horizon for the ad industry. A new climate manifesto is encouraging a number of UK agencies to include greater sustainability in their working practices, increasing their commitment to the environment and reducing carbon emissions.

Organized by the Conscious Advertising Network, the manifesto also requires the agencies to avoid creating or funding misinformation around the climate crisis and avoid greenwashing in advertising. According to a global report published by Dentsu and Microsoft Advertising in 2021, 42% of respondents said brands should provide clear, comparable information on the footprint of their products and advertising.

“Advertising can have a huge role to play in changing hearts and minds about the climate, defunding the disinformation economy and decarbonizing our operations,” said Harriet Kingaby, Co-Founder of the Conscious Advertising Network. “But we must act now.”

At the international level, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has published a series of recommendations for brands, marketers and advertisers to ensure their environmental claims are credible for consumers and regulators, listing six core principles that include “Claims must not be likely to mislead, and the basis for them must be clear”.

The Good Energy Guide

While the advertising industry has more direct links with companies built on fossil fuels, the film and TV industry is also starting to understand its role in reflecting society’s concern for the environment and how it can influence opinion on climate change. Concerned about the lack of climate keywords in films and TV shows, a guide for screenwriters has been written, which is designed to break the ‘climate silence’.

To demonstrate the scale of the problem, a study was commissioned to show how often climate change content appeared. The study found that less than 0.56% of scripted films and TV shows released between 2016 and 2020 mentioned ‘climate change’ – that’s less than the number of times ‘pineapple’ was mentioned.

Written with the help of scientists, climate psychologists, activists, and more than 100 TV and film writers, the guide explains how to incorporate the climate crisis into scripts, with examples of characters and plots, plus how to portray environmentally friendly behaviour and avoid clichés.

“We’re not asking everyone to stop what they’re doing and write only climate stories,” explained Anna Jane Joyner, Founder and Director of the Good Energy Project. “We’re just asking writers to show that climate is now a part of our world in whatever way feels authentic to those characters’ stories. And we want to help them do that.”

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