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Ad Net Zero on Its US Expansion and Why Sustainability Is the Most Important Brief

The group’s new USA director John Osborn, global chair Sebastian Munden and director of communications Matt Bourn speak to LBB’s Ben Conway about becoming a global unifier for reducing advertising’s carbon footprint

Ad Net Zero on Its US Expansion and Why Sustainability Is the Most Important Brief

As the world’s advertising industry continues to respond to the climate crisis, the climate change steering group Ad Net Zero - originally formed by the UK Advertising Association - has begun an expansion into the US. Hoping to further the global drive to reduce the carbon impact of developing, producing and running advertising to real net zero, the organisation announced that John Osborn, former OMD and BBDO US CEO, would lead Ad Net Zero USA to help grow its supporter base. This appointment is part of the organisation’s international expansion, which the team laid out at Cannes Lions this summer. 

Whilst in the Big Apple for Advertising Week New York, John took the time to sit down with Ad Net Zero’s global chair, Sebastian Munden, and director of communications Matt Bourn to chat with LBB’s Ben Conway about the organisation’s progress into the US, and plans for the upcoming Ad Net Zero global summit on November 9-10 and beyond.

After starting two years ago in the UK under the auspices of the Advertising Association, and setting a stretch target of ‘ad net zero’ by 2030, Sebastian says the group’s focus is now on “raising the floor” for industry leaders to achieve the highest possible standard across the board. Now with over 100 supporters, helped by the Advertising Association’s inclusive structure of cross-sector companies and smaller associations, the goal is to now continue this trajectory across the pond - starting with PubMatic and Reckitt who recently announced they had joined the international group.

(Sebastian Munden, global chair, Ad Net Zero)

According to Sebastian, the framework that Ad Net Zero provides all its members with gives supporters somewhere to share progress, find ideas and use tools to help them reach net zero. “It's basically all about two behaviour changes. First of all, to change the way we work; to take care of carbon in travel, buildings, production and media - but also to change the work we make; pulling the power of the industry to promote more sustainable behaviours for citizens and ensure that those are recognised in industry awards.”

He adds, “They sign up for the ambition to get to real net zero, not through offsets, but through sincere carbon reduction.”

Mobilising this framework in the US is John Osborn, a 35-year veteran of the industry on the agency side, and someone who has been at the intersection between creativity and media through his last five years as CEO at OMD USA. Also having worked on somewhat parallel paths, John brings his experience with purpose-based brands like the American Red Cross, and is getting his “ducks in a row” for an official launch of the Ad Net Zero US chapter in early 2023.

“We're sort of in a soft launch phase right now, having started to present our story to US advertisers, agencies, partners, tech platforms - anybody that touches the advertising ecosystem,” he says. “The response has been absolutely tremendous. Big problems are also big opportunities, and they require big actions. We've seen a number of folks stepping forward, and while we can't reveal all of the names quite yet, we've got some good news coming. My spirits are buoyed that we're going to have a full partnership with multiple players - covering all aspects of the advertising food chain. And, I'm really excited - both personally and professionally - for the impact that we're hopefully going to be able to make in the very near future.”

(John Osborn, USA director, Ad Net Zero)

Already seeing extreme interest from parties reaching out directly to him and Ad Net Zero, John is also making the most out of conference season, attending the ANA’s ‘Masters of Marketing’ conference in Orlando this week and organising independent meetings with companies nationwide: which will ramp up even more so as January and the ‘launch year’ approaches. 

He continues, “The announcement of Reckitt and PubMatic is very, very exciting. The US is 40% of the overall advertising spend globally. As the US goes, so does the world. This requires all of us, collectively, to roll up our sleeves and join in together. We think of ourselves as a big unifier, if you will, of the industry - specifically around efforts to reduce the carbon footprint.”

Sebastian shares that Craig Fryer, global media director at Reckitt, will be chairing a working group specifically focused on developing Ad Net Zero’s framework for media companies. As part of this, he will help build a “global coalition” around a media tool that will help companies reduce their carbon usage, channel by channel. 

In addition to the need for a reduced carbon footprint, an issue that has escalated in tandem with the global climate crisis has been, as Sebastian describes it, “the war for talent.” With the power shifting to the workforce, following the great resignation and changes to work-life balance emerging from the pandemic, he suggests that “being the good guys” and having a more environmentally-conscious approach to business is a “superpower” for attracting a generation of talent that holds these values dearer than ever.

“It's not just a top-down thing, it's a bottom-up thing,” Sebastian says. “That also creates a restlessness and a competitiveness for going further, faster. And we need to go faster. Although we seem mild-mannered, we are people in a hurry. There is no time to lose.”

He adds, “Advertising has got to be one of the early industries to decarbonise because it's not the most difficult. It all comes down to our behaviours. The behaviour change in the industry changes the way we work, and the behaviour change of citizens changes the work we make.”

Echoing the global chair, John says that employees now have the power to choose where they want to work. He highlights that “study after study, white paper after white paper” have informed him, and the wider industry, that people generally want to work at companies that are helping society and the world at large.

“It's a youthful industry, and power goes to the youth,” he says. “They want to make sure that they have a sustainable future. So that's why this topic is so vital to today's workforce - particularly in the advertising industry.” 

Adding to the benefit of contributing to a greener future (and the bonus of attracting more talent as a result), Sebastian explains that Ad Net Zero’s framework for carbon neutrality provides a three-pronged “win-win-win” for the companies that join the movement: ‘retain talent’, ‘reduce carbon’ and ‘save money’. And according to him, the environmentally conscious parameters of the Ad Net Zero framework need not restrict the creative output of the members either:

“Creativity means innovation,” he says, suggesting that the challenges of creating a carbon-zero production - much like a strict time limit or budget restriction on a project - can be a breeding ground for innovative new techniques and processes that still result in high-quality work. “How do you manage a relationship with a client who's not in your hometown, and do it brilliantly, without costing the earth? It’s bringing out some amazing innovation. You can see this in the explosion of virtual [production] sets - with ad agencies building brilliant libraries of virtual sets.”

John agrees, sharing his experiences of witnessing this “paradox” from the agency perspective. “Give me the freedom of a tight timetable and a tight brief, and you'll see advertising deliver,” he says. “You see it time and time again. It’s an opportunity for imagination, and that's what this industry does really, really well. It also does an exceptionally great job at activation through media - and that's my most recent experience. I've seen the power of that come to the forefront.” 

Addressing the potential cost benefits of this, director of communications, Matt Bourn, says, “We’ve clearly got a cost of living pressure which is impacting economies all around the world. The irony within moving to a more sustainable way of working is that there are also cost efficiencies in that. So it's a win for talent, it's a win for the planet, but it's also a win from a cost management and efficiency perspective.”

(Matt Bourn, director of communications, Ad Net Zero)

Getting companies to take the first step and sign up, and then accelerating the pace towards net zero is the organisation’s key aim right now. Seemingly placing less importance on a steadfast deadline - like the 2030 stretch target they originally set for the UK industry - the goal for the recent American and international developments is to simply remove as many barriers to entry as possible, and to get US advertisers started on their journeys to net zero. 

Sebastian says, “The first step is the hardest. You have to have good intent and an eye on the destination. But you also need to know what to do first. And our ‘Five Step Action Plan’ really helps. Whether you're an agency, a production company or a media owner, it really helps you take that first step. These are things that everyone can do. Just the simple switches: renewable energy, reduction in travel and scrutinising every production before you sign it off.” 

“I constantly marvel at the struggle between progress and perfection,” John adds. “We tend to strive for perfection on day one, and that can be problematic. It can be daunting, and that sometimes repels people. You can only get to perfection through progress. We want to make sure that people are jumping in and making the right progress, and then we'll get to the end zone together.”

To help these companies to the end zone (in the US), Matt explains that John is in a “fantastic position,” with support from big trade bodies like the ANA, 4A’s, IAB, WFA and more. He adds that, as a whole, Ad Net Zero has two main priorities each year - Cannes Lions, and its global summit - which coincides with the United Nations’ COP event in November. And this year, with the addition of John, they will have plenty of content aimed towards the US market.

After working agency-side for many years, what John believes he will add to the organisation and share at this upcoming global summit, starting November 9, is a firsthand experience of the “power of advertising to shape perception, drive purchase, and move mountains.” He brings an ‘appreciation for all aspects of the marketing ecosystem’ and a desire to help the industry step up “whilst there’s still time on the clock.” To this end, John’s already engaged in promising conversations with companies who are looking to accelerate the transition to net zero, and building on the existing environmentally-conscious evolutions that he witnessed in the industry while at BBDO and OMD.

“We are encouraging everybody to talk about it more,” he says. “Everyone needs to talk about it more, and we're talking about it more. But more importantly, we need to translate those talks into actions. And that's really what our focus is here.”

Hoping to drive engagement at the global summit and beyond, Sebastian says that Ad Net Zero’s message must be, in a market economy, that the road to net zero can produce work that both resonates with society and succeeds commercially.

“People have to start solving simultaneous equations, where strategy and sustainability need to come together,” he says. “That's exactly what customers want, and exactly what employees want to work on. So, I really believe that it’s all coming together. But we haven't got much time now to waste. The first step is to start measuring, so we know where we are, and start putting those behaviour changes in place to eat down those kilogrammes of carbon.”  

He concludes, “There couldn't be a brief more important than changing citizens’ behaviours to be more sustainable.”


view more - The Sustainability Channel
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LBB Editorial, Thu, 27 Oct 2022 15:07:00 GMT