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Reducing the carbon cost of advertising production

Reducing the carbon cost of advertising production
Reducing the carbon cost of advertising production (source: Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash)

The old jokes about helicopter shots and deserted beaches may point to the excesses of a previous era in advertising, but today those same scenarios frame a very different issue: that making ads isn't always that sustainable, and comes with a carbon cost attached.

As it finally starts to dawn on businesses that there's not much money to be made on a dead planet, the drive to reduce carbon emissions is thankfully increasing. Which in turn is impacting on the world of marketing and those of us who support it. Or will do before too long. Not in terms of ads dripping with greenwashed messaging, but the nuts and bolts of how we do what we do.

Being both a creative agency and production company, this is something we are taking very seriously at Quiet Storm. Working with an idea from inception to execution give us the potential for much more control over the carbon footprint of what we produce. And to borrow from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.

That's why we've been taking the opportunity over the last year to build on the positive work we were already doing in this space, to accelerate things further in a positive direction. We've not got everything perfect yet. Change is a journey after all. But we're doing a lot right, in line with the best practice recommendations of organisations like Adgreen or the Advertising Association's Ad Net Zero initiative.

A recent article on Little Black Book (How To Reduce The Carbon Footprint Of Your Content), offered a good summary of some things our industry should do to ensure greener productions. And it was encouraging to see that we are on top of most of these, either actioning them already or with plans in place.

  • Remove ‘baked in’ emissions linked to the creative idea: this is the single biggest issue, and one easily overlooked. But it's also one where our dual creative and production model can have a real impact. The challenge is to think about developing ideas that are sustainable from the outset, and which make use of equally sustainable production techniques. In particular thinking about the wheres and hows (back to beaches and helicopters!) It's not easy, as you never want to constrain creativity. But it is important.

  • Normalise sustainable behaviour in your ideas: it's not just how you make your ads that's matters though, but also what you say and show in them. Not necessarily the main, explicit messages but the implicit and implied ones. It's the way you prop your ads and how you show people behaving. Someone's drinking a takeaway coffee? Make sure it's a reusable cup.

  • Switch to renewable energy: both in your own energy use, but also encourage your partners to do the same. Or seek out those who are already ahead of the curve (they're out there).

  • Recycling sets, props and waste: don't exit a production like it's a music festival, leaving everything to go straight to landfill. What can you reuse, repurpose or recycle? And returning to point 1, what do you really need in the first place? Are there low-carbon digital solutions you could apply? There's also the perishable items of shoots: all that food and drink in the catering tent. Could left over or unused food go to people who need it? And could it be more sustainable in the first place? Less beef more veggie maybe.

  • Offsetting unavoidable emissions: like recycling, offsetting should always be the last resort of sustainability. What it should never be is a goto solution that excuses profligacy (because it doesn't). It's just that sometimes there are no more carbon savings that can be easily made. That's where offsetting comes in, and maybe it's a responsibility that needs to be made explicit in the production budget.

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