Bruce McMeekin is the CEO of BKM Marketing, a Boston-based sustainable direct marketing agency serving banks and other marketers.
NASA research shows that 19 of the warmest years those recorded have all taken place since 2000. Just count how many times you hear the phrase “climate change” today. Wondering if your desk is part of the problem?
Like almost every other industry, advertising contributes to the environmental footprint of the internet. While we often assume that the cloud is a harmless, invisible entity, digital technologies make about 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. Just imagine all the servers, routers and other devices needed to connect us to our customers and to each other. However, it is not just the physical aspects of the internet that are driving up emissions. The CO2 needed to fuel email (and especially attachments) is similar to that of the diesel cars on our roads.
In addition to digital technologies, traditional methods such as direct mail also take their toll on the environment, although not as much as we often think. For example, a four page direct mail generates: 28 grams of CO2, which can be smaller than that of an email that has been forwarded, reopened, deleted, and so on.
Because of these effects – and the fact that only 12% of our energy sources were renewable in 2020 – finding more sustainable marketing strategies should be a priority.
Why focus on your marketing footprint now?
There are many reasons to assess and reduce the environmental footprint of our agencies, but one of the most compelling is that consumers are eager to see change. They are surrounded by the negative effects of climate change: forests are burning, people are gasping, species are dying. Many consumers expect the businesses they visit to help. In fact, two-thirds of North American consumers prefer brands that support environmental issues.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that nature responds when we slow down. It proved that change is possible, and it gave many of us hope for the future in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. However, it is a lot that raises more questions than answers.
These factors caused my agency to ask some important questions: How can we determine how much our company contributes to climate change? How can we calculate the CO2 impact of our marketing activities? How do we achieve a net-zero impact? We enlisted a class of MBA students to find the answers, and I’d like to share what we learned.
How can marketers calculate and reduce their carbon footprint?
We know consumers are looking for agencies to lead the way, which is why it’s important to critically analyze your carbon footprint. Our group found that these are the best places to start:
1. Calculate your company’s direct carbon footprint.
Direct carbon is the footprint of all carbon emitting activities that your agency directly monitors. This can include business travel and commuting, office supplies, marketing materials, utilities such as gas and electricity, shipping, computer servers, and more. Collect data from all these sources and feed it into a carbon footprint calculator (such as Terrapass) to determine your carbon impact. Do this at least once a year.
2. Estimate the indirect impact of your client work.
Your indirect impact includes all carbon emissions caused by others when making and delivering your products or services. It’s more complicated to calculate than your direct footprint, but essentially it’s any CO2 coming out of your supply chain.
If you are a digital agency first and foremost, consider the CO2 emitted to deliver the multitude of impressions, social posts, emails, and landing pages you create. If you are creating direct mail, consider the CO2 contributions from transporting paper to the printer, from the printer to the postal shop and from there to the postal service. Finally, always ask where things come from, what happened to them, and how they got to where they are today. Then use a carbon footprint calculator to determine the carbon costs of your second-hand processes.
3. Reduce your impact with bold changes and offsets.
Once you’ve described the ways your agency contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, you may feel overwhelmed, but you’ve enabled positive action. You now have the opportunity to make changes to the way your business operates, reduce your impact on the environment and show consumers that you understand their concerns and share their values.
What could you do today to offset one of those carbon-emitting activities on your list? Can you divert more production to suppliers with sustainability programs? Can you improve your use of eco-friendly products such as green paper and soy-based inks? Could you invest in activities that encourage others to reduce their environmental impact, such as starting a blog dedicated to green practices?
There are many effective programs to help your agency manage and offset its carbon footprint, so there’s no need to wait. You might be surprised at how good it feels to make changes, no matter how small they are.