The vital role of media in the fight against climate change

President William Ruto addresses the Africa Climate Summit day 3 at the KICC grounds in Nairobi. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

Recently, a local tik-toker marketed Dubai as a tourist destination.

Then I wondered, why would we be promoting the destination, rather than tapping into her power and influence to advocate for climate change and be part of the dialogue at COP28 in Dubai in less than 20 days. 

This tells you the power of outdoor advertising, but how are we looking at this power to fight climate change? This means we are yet to connect climate change realities and the advertising world.

Climate change is an undeniable reality, and its impact continues to reverberate across the globe, affecting communities, ecosystems, and economies.

As the urgency of addressing climate warming intensifies, it is crucial to recognise the influential role that the media and advertising practitioners can play in shaping public opinion and behaviour.

With their widespread reach and persuasive power, these entities possess a unique opportunity to drive meaningful change and encourage sustainable practices on a global scale. 

The advertising industry can reduce its carbon footprint, fight greenwashing, and cut ties with polluting clients and industries. Advertising and media agencies cause a significant amount of carbon emissions when designing and implementing their clients’ advertising and communication campaigns.

Carbon emissions are not only generated by the industry’s operational activities like air travelling and events but also by the communication sector that transmits advertising messages through media of any kind.

Print media, electronics, and other means to convey messages consume material and energy resources that add to the carbon footprint of the advertising industry.

For instance, based on data from the Bristol City Council, campaigners in the UK estimated that a double-sided digital bus stop advertising screen consumes four times more electricity than the average British home.

Because of energy consumption and carbon emissions, several US municipalities are implementing restrictions on lighted on-premise signs. Advertising can change consumer perceptions of the environmental impact of companies, products, and services.

Green advertising — by portraying a company or brand as environmentally friendly — improves consumers’ corporate and brand attitudes and drives purchase intention. 

However, green advertising has frequently been utilised for greenwashing purposes. Green advertising has a significant potential to help shift consumers towards more climate-friendly consumption behaviours. 

Given the increasing environmental concern among consumers, green advertising has become an effective promotion strategy because it provides an opportunity for consumers to express their environmental preferences with their purchases.

Sensationalism and misinformation

Consumers attach higher social and ethical values to products that are promoted as green. As a result, claiming a product is green increases some consumers’ willingness to pay for that product. In recent years, the media landscape has witnessed a gradual but steady shift towards increased coverage of climate-related issues.

However, there remains an imperative for media outlets to prioritise comprehensive and accurate reporting on climate change, steering away from sensationalism and misinformation.

The dissemination of scientific facts, informed analysis, and nuanced discussions regarding the causes and effects of climate warming is essential in fostering a well-informed and engaged public.

Journalists and media professionals have a responsibility to present the gravity of the situation without causing panic, emphasizing the need for collective action and sustainable solutions. 

Simultaneously, advertising practitioners must reevaluate their strategies and align them with environmentally conscious values.

The pervasive influence of advertising on consumer behaviour can significantly impact patterns of consumption and production, making it imperative for advertisements to promote eco-friendly products and sustainable lifestyles.

By endorsing green initiatives and advocating for renewable energy sources, advertising campaigns can stimulate a culture of sustainability and encourage individuals to make environmentally responsible choices.

Media and advertising professionals should also collaborate with policymakers, environmental experts, and community leaders to amplify the urgency of combating climate warming.

Through partnerships and joint initiatives, they can amplify the visibility of climate-related initiatives and foster a sense of collective responsibility among their audiences.

Public trust

This collaboration can also aid in highlighting the successes and challenges faced by various environmental conservation projects, fostering public trust and encouraging active participation in climate action. 

However, this transformative role is not without its challenges. Media and advertising practitioners must navigate commercial interests and ethical responsibilities with utmost diligence.

Balancing the pursuit of financial sustainability with the promotion of eco-friendly practices requires a delicate equilibrium that demands integrity, transparency, and accountability. 

In the face of the escalating climate crisis, the media and advertising industry has a moral imperative to harness its influence for the greater good.

By prioritising factual reporting, promoting sustainable lifestyles, and fostering collaboration, stakeholders can become powerful advocates for positive environmental change.

Let us embrace this pivotal moment and harness the power of media and advertising to pave the way for a sustainable and resilient future for generations to come. An increasing number of advertising professionals are turning towards networks and associations to promote a climate protection agenda throughout the industry.

To name a few networks such as Creatives for Climate, Conscious Advertising, Clean Creatives, Purpose Disruptors, and Comms Declare connect industry professionals with a shared mission to make advertising part of the solution to climate change.

The professionals gathered around these networks actively discourage climate-harmful practices using their respective platforms. At an institutional level, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) wants global marketers to champion the United Nations’ Race to Zero campaign, a coalition of leading net zero initiatives.

The WFA through Planet Pledge, guides agencies to comply with net zero commitments. The advertising industry should adopt a proactive role in the fight against climate change.

 The writer is a brand and communications expert

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