Published on Adweek

IPG and Teads are working with Project Drawdown to identify messaging gaps

Authorities agree that climate change will never be effectively addressed if ordinary consumers don’t make responsible choices. But there’s a problem: Those ordinary people also tend to assume their choices aren’t going to make much of a difference.

To understand when and why people find it hard to make sustainable choices, climate-focused nonprofit Project Drawdown is working with media and ad-tech partners to identify strategic messaging opportunities. A new survey, Sustainability Speaks: Breaking the Barrier of Climate Communication, which was conducted by IPG Mediabrands in partnership with ad-tech firm Teads and shared exclusively with Adweek, identified real and perceived barriers that consumers face when trying to cut back on their own carbon emissions.

It’s the beginning of what Jonathan Foley, executive director at Project Drawdown, hopes will be a broader effort to use strategic media to address misinformation around what regular people can do to combat climate change, which is estimated to account for roughly 30% of potential greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The other 70% must come from corporations.

“In the climate conversation, we’re small environmental nonprofits—a bunch of scientists with small budgets—and we’re hopelessly outmatched by folks who want to keep on polluting,” Foley said. “It’s really important for us to find good allies who can help us understand how better to communicate and how better to tell the story.”

In IPG Mediabrands and Teads, Foley believes Project Drawdown has found those allies. The first consumer survey from the group highlights where strategic media could have the greatest impact, laying the groundwork for future campaigns to spur behavior change that will reduce emissions. IPG will also share its findings with clients that want to support climate action through their media buys, highlighting where profitability and consumer emission reductions align for brands.

People underestimate their impact
While it’s true that corporate reductions make up the majority of potential emissions savings, lifestyle changes for regular people will make up nearly a third of the necessary cuts to overall generation of greenhouse gases.
But when asked how much of an impact people could have on emissions reduction, most survey respondents (67%) guessed that it was below 20% of the total possible reductions, significantly underestimating their impact. Around a quarter (24%) estimated that individual and household changes could produce between 21% and 30% in emissions reductions.

It’s something that a 2022 United Nations climate report highlighted in its analysis of emissions reduction opportunities. The report also specifically pointed to the power that the marketing and advertising industry has to sway consumer behavior away from high-emissions consumption patterns and toward lower-emissions alternatives.

“We are the architects of desire, we shape culture, let’s use that to drive urgent action among people and brands,” said Martin Bryan, global chief sustainability officer at IPG Mediabrands, pro bono agency of record for Project Drawdown. “Our ambition out of this research is to take these findings and build a global climate action campaign for Project Drawdown.”

Sustainable living doesn’t have to cost more
One of the main barriers to climate action that people perceive, according to the survey, was cost.

“People believe they need to purchase goods and services and expensive technology in order to live more sustainably, like an electric vehicle,” Bryan said. “But, in fact, there are simple things that people can change in their daily lives and in their pantry, for example, to be more sustainable and also have the co-benefit of saving money.”

One of the most impactful ways that consumers can reduce their individual or household emissions, according to Project Drawdown’s research, is by reducing food waste, a practice that also saves money. Similarly, cutting back on beef consumption and switching to LED lightbulbs and smart systems can also result in savings on both emissions and costs.

“A lot of this challenge of climate change is a communication challenge,” Foley said. “We have big scary problems and—not or, and—we also have very promising solutions. We all need to be part of moving solutions forward.

“It’s really crucial to work with folks who really understand how people are thinking and how we can influence and inform some of that conversation to be a little bit better.”

Can the ad industry get out of its own way?
Still, the tension between polluters and climate scientists that Foley described is playing out within the industry broadly—and within IPG itself. The holding company had 25 active contracts with fossil fuel companies between 2022-2023, according to a report released last month by activist group Clean Creatives.

But while it’s pledged to carefully vet new clients based on sustainability-related criteria, long-term clients that are major players in the oil and gas sector remain on several IPG agencies’ client rosters.

The question, then, is whether—in the vast arena of strategic climate communications from a wide variety of players—efforts like this one from Project Drawdown can win out.

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