Put your marketing on a low carbon diet
I’ve just completed a Carbon Literacy Course and was blown away by the thought that it’s not up to someone else to save the world from carbon emissions.
The science that explains the need to reduce carbon emissions on an individual, community and global basis is irrefutable. Since the industrial revolution, the world has begun to warm to the point where the bedrock eco-systems that maintain life on earth are being pushed out of balance. In the past 200 years, carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels has risen from 280 ppm to 400 ppm.
This is primarily caused by the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere via several rapidly destabilising mechanisms. The rate is increasing to such an extent that the earth is becoming wrapped in a thickening thermal blanket. Consequently, heat that would normally be vented into space to maintain climate equilibrium is now trapped in the atmosphere.
The resulting increase in heat has generated a 1-degree uplift in global temperatures. Twenty of the hottest years on record have happened in the past 22 years and the frequency of extreme events is increasing. Sea levels that have remained constant for several thousand years, have risen 20cm in the last few years
We are witnessing and experiencing a manmade ecological disaster. In her book, The Sixth Extinction, Author, Elizabeth Kolbert, sees humanity as the contemporary equivalent of the asteroid that triggered the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.
The release of gases such as Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide and F Gases into the atmosphere is causing climate change, storms, floods, heatwaves, and rising sea levels.
In my lifetime, greenhouse gases have torn holes in the ozone and depleted the polar icecaps. Rising sea levels are already creating climate refugees around the world. (Even the US is not immune.) Millions of people now need humanitarian help due to climate change and this number is set to increase exponentially.
According to NASA’s Global Climate Change research, 90% of global warming is happening in the ocean. As the oceans get hotter, they expand. This alone accounts for a third of current uplift in sea levels. The year 2021 was the ocean’s warmest on record. Additionally, Antarctica is losing three times as much ice as 20 years ago and, as the ice melts, the surface of the world becomes darker. A darker surface means increases in atmospheric temperatures.
Forests that provide much of the air we breathe are vanishing. They are used for logging or being burned to make way for cash crops such as soybean and palm oil. The carbon stored in these forests for millions of years is being released into the atmosphere where it adds to the climate change problem.
All over the world, increased temperatures are contributing to forest fires, causing loss of life, financial ruin, and homelessness. Entire species that are critical to the delicate balance of biodiversity of life on earth are being driven to extinction.
The temperature is currently predicted to rise by 1.5% at some point between 2040-50. If it reaches 2% during that time, the situation could reach an irreversible tipping point as Methane, which is currently trapped in the permafrost is released into our atmosphere in significant volumes. Methane, already produced in damaging levels by ruminant animals, is even more detrimental to the environment than carbon dioxide. Climate change problems are stacking up to the point where we may reach an irreversible tipping point in the next 20-30 years.
As a society, as businesses owners, as educators and as individuals, we need to embrace the tangible truth about carbon emissions and their effect on the world we live in. We need to avoid making things worse, mitigate the effects of existing issues and plant the seeds of a sustainable green economy.
As individuals, we also need to explore and deliver practical solutions and actions that will enable us to play our part in protecting all life on earth.
As an academic practitioner that has worked in advertising and marketing for the past 40 years, I have come to understand the part I have played in developing the age of conspicuous consumption, self-interest, and short-termism.
There’s no Planet B
The Carbon Literacy Trust training has encouraged me to look past these negative and unproductive feelings and consider how my work as an educator and consultant presents opportunities to help reduce carbon emissions. As Mike Berners Lee’s book states, “There is no Planet B.” You can find out about upcoming CLT events here.
Here, I outline some of the immediate actions I can take on a personal level and influence at work. I am currently reading How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee, which is full of useful metrics that can help me make better informed decisions about the effect my daily routines and shopping habits have on carbon emissions. However, the issues we discussed in the training, such as energy, transport, housing, agriculture, and waste management, have made me realise that I need to engage with carbon reduction at the local, regional, and national level.
My local council has declared a climate change and environment emergency and developed a roadmap to take us to net zero by 2050. They are focusing on developing a circular economy, reducing energy consumption, restoring the natural environment, and providing alternatives to carbon-intensive transport. Vehicle usage is the single biggest contributor to carbon emissions in Maidenhead and Windsor. Heating homes with gas is the other. Our regional council, West Berkshire, has held several climate conferences and declared a climate emergency back in 2019. While I am aware that my university declared a climate emergency in January 2022, I was not aware that my local of county council, or MP, have made any significant public statements about it, let alone declared a climate emergency. The biggest change locally has been the adoption of waste collection patterns designed to encourage greater recycling, but the thinking or metrics behind it have not been explained.
Now that I know what I am looking for, I have read a wide range of Net Zero Carbon action reports from, for example, the Thames Valley Local Enterprise scheme (mostly looking at research), Newbury College (which has a renewables centre) and, Volker Highways (who are developing a carbon neutral surfacing scheme). I was simply unaware that so many people are already involved in carbon reduction actions. These individual schemes, somehow fit into the Government’s path to net zero strategy, which sets out how the UK will deliver on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
The government is investing £90 billion and creating 400,000 jobs into projects such as the electrification of vehicles and development of extensive charging-point infrastructure. One of the other delegates on the course, highlighted the fact that it is possible to rent out a domestic charging point to local drivers and that even rural communities would have communal charging points installed in village halls. This has not been publicised in my area. It is something I plan to investigate.
Some of the government’s investment initiatives, such as sustainable aviation fuel, seem at odds with the need to reduce long-distance flying. I think the £500 million they plan to invest in green technology and green jobs makes much more sense. The growth of AI technologies will place huge pressures on business owners to substitute automated systems for workers. Green jobs in renewable energy, environment restoration, electric vehicles, electrical charging installations, low carbon constriction, healthcare, fitness, renewables, efficiency analytics, sustainable business, eco-finance, and forestry will become vitally important employers.
The government has a Green Jobs Taskforce, that is looking at the skills needed to deliver to their net zero commitments. There are already a wide range of free level-3 courses with links to green skills. It is reassuring to see so many people working hard to bring about the extraordinary cultural change that is required to bring the world back into balance. I have been teaching corporate social responsibility to marketing students and the content has only touched upon carbon literacy in passing. That must change.
The pathway to purchase is only the start of the journey
Marketing’s principal focus has been to help brands maximise return on investment the current market context. We rarely look at the entire process from product development all the way through to recycling.
This course has encouraged me to see each sales opportunity as part of a much longer pathway to purchase narrative, for both the consumer and the product or service. This journey starts with the idea of a new venture, continues through product development and testing, manufacturing, shipping, marketing, selling, delivery, maintenance, and eventual upgrading/recycling. Everything is part of a carbon footprint that needs to contribute to delivering a net-zero world.
I need to help business find ways to remain profitable and viable, while also considering the effect their enterprise has on the longer-term interests of customers, staff, the community they serve, the country they are based in, and the world we all live in.
Considering the entire product lifecycle, could help SMEs profit from new approaches that target audiences will find attractive as the importance of carbon reduction becomes common knowledge and at some point, law. Green energy sources and on-site generation capabilities could protect an SME from energy market volatility and maintain overheads. Setting an example in sustainability, could help improve brand perception and win contracts with larger organisations. Improving working conditions could enhance employee productivity, wellbeing, and retention. Reducing the carbon footprint of every product or service, could secure the SMEs long-term commercial viability.
As a direct result of the Carbon Literacy Training, I, my family, my colleagues, my university, and my industry can play a vital part in getting there. In addition to my pledges below, I will publish regular articles on businesses, brands and marketers that are driving the net zero agenda on my blog and across the university’s social media pages.
The CLT training course has helped me consider the contribution my work makes to carbon emissions. It helped me identify several personal actions I can take that will reduce my carbon footprint. First, I have decided to focus on actions that directly relate to my work as a University Lecturer.
You must take it personally
While lockdown changed the working process from face to face to online, (which reduced our carbon footprint substantially) the University has fully returned to on campus delivery as the way forward. Staff are also encouraged to prep for lectures and tutorials and conduct admin tasks on-site. This means commuting to work five days a week. I work in one of the more remote campus buildings, so I drive to the campus in my sixteen-year-old diesel 4×4 car. In the past, I have tried taking the train, but this involves a long walk to the station, a train to London, a bus to the campus. This turns a fifty-minute car drive into a 2-hour commute. Some lessons finish at 9.30pm by which time the University bus has stopped running. I have considered buying an electric car but is not financially viable. So, it is down to short-lived inconvenience to what I now know about carbon emissions, I can no longer justify the use of the car.
My plan of action is therefore:
- replace the drive to work, with the walking, train, and bus option
- Sell the car / purchase an electric vehicle when the prices come down
- campaign for a return to online teaching for some modules
- get permission to work from home when not lecturing
According to the WWF Carbon Footprint survey I completed, Travel represents 36% of my carbon footprint. Most of my car use is for the commute to work. My actions will therefore create a substantial reduction in my current carbon footprint.
I also have a home office which sits at the bottom of the garden which I built during lockdown because my wife and daughter were working from home, and we were cramped into the house. The office is insulated, but the electric heating must be on high in the winter. As a result of the carbon literacy training, I have decided to move back into the house until the weather is warm enough to not need the heater in the office. Not heating the office will also help reduce my carbon footprint.
As it is diesel, my car produces slightly less CO2 than a petrol engine, but it also produces other greenhouse gases, such as Nitrogen Oxide and Nitric Oxide. As it doesn’t have a catalytic converter, my diesel has a substantial impact on my carbon footprint and plays a part in reducing air quality. Not a good thing when you consider I am an asthmatic.
While a significant proportion of our electricity is sustainably sourced, having a large office to myself is not the most efficient means of using energy in our house. With three people working in the same office in the main house, it is easier to maintain a warm working environment while reducing carbon emissions. We have opted for jumpers, blankets, and closed doors to further reduce the need to have the heating on. We have also wait until we are up to switch on the heating. One problem we face is that our house was built in the 1920s. The brick walls are solid so there is no cavity to create a thermal barrier. We are talking to a local builder about how we might be able to insulate the inside of the building. It’s interesting to note that we would never have discussed low-carbon options before the training.
Your place of work must take it personally
To give you some context, the University of West London’s sustainability agenda is committed to improving our local and the global environment and to be a leader in our sector in delivering reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We have achieved recognition as a platinum eco-campus, and we have already reduced carbon emissions by 60% since 2005.
Delivering on this pledge requires action to reduce emissions across all our activities. As the University’s buildings account for most of our energy use, we have committed to taking action to improve the energy efficiency of its campus buildings.
Once completed, the work of moving to ground source and air source heat pumps to replace gas boilers and 500 rooftop solar panels, will deliver annual savings of 529 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide emissions per year.
However, UWL has 9 academic schools spread across several campus centres and we have thousands of students who travel to and from the University from across London. We also have a large body of international students from all over the world.
I work as an academic practitioner in the Claude Littner Business school. In a recent Board meeting, the Dean expressed a desire to see greater engagement with sustainability. It is something we have discussed on previous occasions as a subject that will have a greater impact on business processes than digital transformation.
My two core subjects are Digital Marketing and Business Analytics. Taking up the Dean’s challenge, I decided to investigate how I might add sustainability into the curriculum.
Having watched several excellent Carbon Literacy Trust presentations from Manchester Met and other organisations on YouTube, I opted for a basic course with Lorient Training that focused on SMEs.
Although UWL is a top 30 university, we positively direct students to working on SME projects for their assignments. Our positioning, as the career University, is based on the knowledge that most graduates will be working for SMEs. Government statistics show that 95% of businesses have fewer than 10 employees. Real world SME projects help improve student employability and reinforce our position as an engine for innovation and growth in west London.
As a result of these insight, my Carbon Literacy pledge has three principal work-based elements:
1. develop an interdisciplinary sustainability module that integrates into all courses across the business school (I hope to encourage the other 8 schools to follow our example)
2. develop a staff and student team that can deliver sustainability training to local SMEs through our Fresh Minds Consultancy service
3. deliver the module and SME training online to reduce carbon emissions
The target audience for my pledge are:
- Senior Management, staff, and students at the University of West London’s Claude Littner Business School
- The 120,000 strong business community in west London.
As a Senior lecturer, the business school’s resident expert in digital marketing and UWL’s ambassador to ANC, our partner University in Sri Lanka, I can influence curriculum development and policy, but an upcoming flight to Sri Lanka may put render every other action meaningless. The return flight will add 25% to my year’s CO2 total. Better get to work on everything else and find an alternative to the flight that works for the planet as well as our partners.
In the meantime, the university has over 12,000 students (6,000 domestic, 4,000 international). We also have a further 6,000 students at overseas campuses.) By developing an interdisciplinary sustainability module that is delivered online, students will not have to travel to the campus to attend a three-hour module lecture once a week lecture for an entire semester.
Semesters last 14-16 weeks. This means all the carbon emissions from associated travel across London, heating, computer equipment, screens and projectors, lighting as well as powering the multiple lifts (the building is 11 floors) and powering the cafeteria etc can be eliminated.
The Business community in west London home to brands such as GSK, Sky, Cisco, Heathrow, and British Airways, however, 90% of businesses employ fewer than 10 people. 7% employ between 10 and 49. It is the SME capital of the UK. Moreover, 20% of all businesses are less than 2 years old. Our Fresh Minds Consultancy is focused on reaching out to businesses all over west London and we have strong working relationships with business parks and local authorities.
Every one of these enterprises has the capacity to reduce carbon footprint. The University, as I see it, has an important role to play in setting an example and supporting their efforts.
Enabling thousands of students to take a module without having to travel to campus for 14 weeks, will create substantial reduction in carbon emissions. This example can then be shared with and adopted/adapted by the 8 other schools within the University.
To reduce carbon emissions substantially, the University will have to shift focus from face-to-face teaching to blended off and online. Note: Developing a greater range of academic partnerships with international universities, will also help encourage larger numbers of students to study at home rather than travel to London, thus reducing the carbon footprint of the entire campus while creating career opportunities for a wider number of students and teachers around the world. Again, the interdisciplinary sustainability module can also be delivered online to these students who can be trained to extend the narrative to SMEs all over the world.
There is a huge opportunity to for the staff and students to help SMEs and start-ups to make carbon reduction a core part of their commercial action plans. Collectively, the 120,000 businesses in west London could make an exceptional contribution to the reduction in carbon emissions.
Back to the future of marketing
How has the training impacted my thinking about marketing’s role in the climate crisis?
Just when I thought the biggest issue facing marketers was the lack of commercial credibility due to an inability to target optimally, budget accurately and forecast with quantifiable certainty, along comes sustainability. Not once, have I thought about the need to see each sales opportunity as part of a much longer pathway to purchase narrative, for both the consumer and the product or service.
My personal definition of marketing is:
“Marketing is the customer-centric art and science of using comms channels to profit from being useful to prospects, customers and advocates whenever they need, want or desire help finding, exploring, buying, using and replacing the products and services you have developed to satisfy their emotional or physical requirements while delivering outstanding CX.”
You will notice the total absence of sustainability. My working assumption was that the brand/client had that sorted at one and, and the local council recycling policy had it sorted at the other. I am sure others have not been so short-sighted.
The Chartered institute of Marketing have just launched several courses on the subject:
CIM are way ahead of the professional training crowd as usual.
Helpfully, I came across an article on the Network for Sustainability’s website, which referenced the legendary Phillip Kotler’s suggestion that we use the World Council for Economic Development’s definition:
“The concept of sustainable marketing holds that an organization should meet the needs of its present consumers without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfil their own needs.”
In the past, putting together a marketing campaign brief that takes the marketing context, sets objectives, provides a strategy, outlines the tactics, and takes investment into account would be optimal. That is no longer the case.
This sustainable brief starts with the idea of a new venture, continues through development and testing, manufacturing, shipping, marketing, selling, delivery, maintenance, and eventual upgrading/recycling. Everything is part of a carbon footprint that needs to contribute to delivering a net-zero world.
I need to help business find ways to remain profitable and viable, while also considering the effect their enterprise has on the longer-term interests of customers, staff, the community they serve, the country they are based in, and the world we all live in.
The challenge is to find opportunity in infinite complexity. As I work my way through my copy of How Bad Are Bananas, I discover the carbon footprint of the following: email, search, text message, a zoom call, a supermarket delivery, a computer.
I start thinking about the products and services my wife and I have worked on:
Volvo, Jaguar, Shell, VW, Castrol, Budget Car, Daimler, Mercedes-Benz, The AA, Vauxhall Finance and Dunlop.
NatWest, Abbey National, Bristol & West, Schroders, Churchill Insurance, HSBC, Legal & General, Barclays, Barclaycard, Norwich Union, GE Capital, Unison, HBOS, Halifax, Amex, HIC, Co-operative Bank and More Than.
RNLI, University College London, The Children’s Society, John Grooms, Friends of the Earth, Royal National Institute for the Blind, Liberty, Children with Leukaemia, National Canine Defence League, Action for Blind People, Cancer Research UK, Amnesty International, Green Party and Institute of Fundraising.
Thomas Cook, Iberian Airways, Moroccan Tourist Board, British Midland Airways, Gulf Airlines, Caravan Club, VFB Holidays, English Country Cottages, and British Airways.
Social Democrat Party, HMRC, Central Office of Information, Central Science Laboratory, The Department of Work and Pensions and the Institute of Physics.
Great Universal Stores, French Connection, Book Club Associates, Readers Digest, Play.com, Times Literary Supplement, Cotton Traders, Early Learning Centre, and Royal Mail.
Vodafone, Bacardi, Sky Sports, Lotus Software, Tetley Bitter, GSK, Thorpe Park, B&Q, Ted Baker, Bacardi, Gillette, Microsoft, Majestic Wine Warehouses, Durex, Alton Towers, Old Spice, Johnson & Johnson, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, Calor Gas, Data General, Vladivar Vodka, Sony, Georgio Beverly Hills, Mills & Boon, Sterling Health, and Haymarket Publishing.
Eurotunnel Freight, British Midland Airways, PC Business World, Yell, Croner Publishing, British Railfreight, News International, Govt Cars and Despatch Agency, Schroders, VW Commercial, Cisco, Financial Times, CC Soft Drinks, Toshiba Photocopiers, Sara Lee, Young Digital Planet, Nat West, Lotus Software, Tectronics, FT Profiles, Konica Ubix, Adobe, Butterworth Tolley and Broadsystems.
Very rarely, was the effect these projects has on the world we live in considered. I am seriously doubt I will ever be able to undo the damage I have done. Still, you can’t dwell on the past. Everybody must do what they can now.
Marketing needs to be more than the growth engine of the business. It needs to help engineer consumer understanding of the effect purchases have on carbon emissions. We need to develop simple signs and symbols that express the entire product lifecycle in ways that encourage SMEs to profit from new approaches to commercial growth. Helping consumers make better informed choices needs to become a core work practice.
We need to play our part on the internal mechanisms of reducing carbon footprint long before we reach out to consumers. We need to help clients see that green energy sources and on-site generation capabilities can do more than protect an SME from market volatility and reduce overheads, it frees up funds for product development and marketing development.
Setting an example in sustainability, could help improve brand perception and win contracts with larger organisations who see compliance as a deal-breaker. Improving working conditions could enhance employee productivity, wellbeing, and retention. Reducing your carbon footprint continuously over the next few years, could secure the SMEs long-term commercial viability of the business in the face carbon-reduction legislation and taxation.
My advice is before you plan your next campaign, sign up for Carbon Literacy Training. Before action, comes knowledge, before knowledge, comes understanding, before understanding comes insight, before insight, comes an idea, before an idea comes a feeling.
My feeling is that we must all find creative ways to inspire everybody to take whatever action they can. I know this is difficult when so many businesses are working flat out just to keep the lights on. But that’s where the big idea comes into play. As Sir John Hegarty, the creative genius from BBH once said, “Creativity is a manic construction of absurd, unlikely, irrelevant thoughts and feelings that somehow when put together change the way we see things”
I see the following as potential agents of change:
- Develop an accurate and accessible carbon footprint index for everything
- Develop a gamified carbon footprint app and build it into everything we do
- Publish league tables and reward people and organisations for effort
- Develop packaging that instantly identifies carbon impact
- Reward companies developing green jobs with lower taxation
- Reward people with low-carbon jobs with lower taxes
- Create a national showcase event for success stories
- Make sustainability as important as STEM subjects in education
- Develop a governmental sustainability department with the power to stop short-termism in national and local projects
- Make CLT training compulsory for anyone starting up a business
Note: Zoom every meeting goes without saying.
I have updated my definition of marketing
You will notice the definition below is not a total reinvention of my definition. The suffix has changed to make it sustainable.
“The customer-centric art and science of using comms channels to profit from being useful to prospects, customers and advocates whenever they need, want or desire help finding, exploring, buying, using and replacing the products and services you have developed to satisfy their emotional or physical requirements while delivering outstanding CX without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfil their own needs.”
This isn’t as bolt-on as it appears. Marketing still needs to be well planned, but it also needs to be part of an overarching sustainability agenda. Here’s an example of how it might work for one of the world’s most successful technology companies.
How could sustainable marketing play a part in promoting a regular product, such as a Bosch drill, for example:
- focus completely on identifying and targeting in-market audiences
- embed NFC chips into the product to help identify usage and productivity issues
- keep follow-up customer comms strictly to SMS messaging only
- use the data from NFC chips to identify end of use refurb, recycle and repurchase opportunities
- use UGC to create automated ad campaigns for in-market audiences.
Less will be more
This hints that there is work to be done in product development and work practices long before the product comes to market.
I think the ad agency of the future will only focus on brand activation while everything else is part of a fully automated, client-based mobile marketing system driven by usage data insights.
I can see a time when manufacturers will only use intermediary retailers and platforms to generate the first sale and thereafter go direct to consumers.
All these actions will greatly reduce the carbon footprint emanating from current processes. It will also have a significantly positive impact on long-term ROMI.
It will also have a lasting effect on employability. Perhaps jobs like Automated Creative, Micro-data consumer psychologist, integrated mobile comms manager, Analytics-driven campaign optimiser, and will become as everyday as copywriter, media planner and digital strategist. Perhaps Sustainability Marketing Specialist will include all the above roles?
I planned my next piece to be Employability in the face of Automation. I now see that Sustainable (green) jobs are likely to be a significant factor.