Marketing our way to extinction

My name’s Paul and I have a growing anxiety about the environment. And yes, I believe a 16-year old called Greta can change the world.

Last week, I even picked up the Extinction Rebellion handbook in Waterstones and came this close to buying it – but then felt slightly uneasy about the fact that it was even available in print in the first place.

But I can’t throw stones. I’m one big eco-hypocrite.

I obsessively recycle then blow my carbon footprint out of the water by jetting off somewhere hot every year. Often more than once.

I avoid using my car whenever I can. But I still own one.

I stream most of my music. But I still fill my shelves with vinyl that will be here long after I’m gone. 

But the really big thing I have to wrestle with daily is in my professional life. 

Forgive me planet, for I work in marketing.

While my profligate days are hopefully well past me – the days of the mass mailer dead; the crappy event giveaways a distant memory; and the 6 colour, spot-varnished 5,000 run brand books now one extravagance too much – the damage is probably already done.

And in these digital-first days, you’d assume our carbon footprint as an industry has reduced significantly. However, even that’s debatable when you read statistics like the transmission of data via the Internet contributes to 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. You could say even this blog post is killing the planet.

Then there’s the even more contentious issue for marketers about our role in actively encouraging rampant consumption. But that’s what drives economic growth right? Again there’s a myriad of contradictions to wrestle with.

So what should we do, shut up shop right now? I’m sure some would advocate this. Instead, I think it calls for both a heightened sense of awareness about what we’re doing – and a fundamental change in our behaviour. 

As marketers, we need to make the right choices about the companies we choose to promote and how we choose to promote them.

It calls for a combination of both common sense and genuine creativity.

This definitely isn’t about green-washing to tap into Joe Public’s new eco-sensibilities (it was reported only yesterday that 85% of adults are now concerned about global warming). It’s about making the right calls. 

There are also some good examples of organisations out there already ahead of the curve on this: 

Renewable energy company OVO has just announced plans to make its marketing carbon-neutral. Everything from ditching out-of-home print advertising in favour of ‘digital-only powered by renewable’ energy sites. They’ve even said they’ll offset any carbon footprint arising from ‘their earned media coverage’. Bold steps.

Herbal Essences is showing you can do OOH in smarter ways. Its new OOH campaign, in partnership with Kew Gardens, encourages passers-by to detach a leaf embedded with wildflower seeds from its billboards, take it home and plant it, helping to create a habitat where insects can flourish.

When Ikea recently launched its most sustainable store yet, its ‘steps’ OOH campaign encouraged people to make the journey to the store on foot or by public transport. Small steps, but in the right direction. 


[Header photo: Victória Kubiaki on Unsplash]

Like I said, I’m more eco-hypocrite than eco-warrior so I’m in no position to preach, but if we’re going to do this thing called ‘marketing’, let’s approach it with some semblance of thought and responsibility for the environment.

Before it’s too late.


[Header photo: Victória Kubiaki on Unsplash]