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Advertising’s Transition To Sustainability

A new breed of sustainability advertising agencies provides a model for the global market.

Submitted by: Hazel Henderson

Posted: Jan 17, 2013 – 09:24 AM EST

Tags: advertising, ethics, sustainability, bbmg, toms shoes, wri, liberty mutual, patagonia, faber-castell


By Hazel Henderson

The $500 billion annual global advertising industry has encountered increasing criticism for promoting unsustainable consumerism, manipulative neuromarketing, especially to children, promoting unhealthy habits and resource waste. Yet, a new ethic is afoot within this industry, evident at the Sustainable Brands conferences and among a new wave of creative agencies and practitioners.

EthicMark Winners

The 6th Annual EthicMark® Awards for Advertising that Uplifts the Human Spirit and Society were unveiled at the Sustainable Brands conference in London. Winner in the for-profit category was TOMS Shoes, announced by Tomorrow’s Company CEO Tony Manwaring. The two tied nonprofit winners presented by Thomas Kolster, author of Goodvertising, were One Thousand Villages and the World Resources Institute

The Awards Judges Panel, included notables such as:

  • Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group Inc.
  • Adam Werbach, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Sustainability and Yerdle
  • Sherri Culver, President, National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE)
  • Susan Linn, Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
  • John Elkington, Founder of SustainAbility and Volans Ventures
  • Mark Albion, Co-founder of Net Impact and More Than Money Careers
  • Christina Carvalho Pinto, President of Full Jazz Advertising and Mercado Ético (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
  • Futurist Rosa Alegria, President, Perspektiva
  • Simon Zadek, Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation
  • Amy Domini, founder and CEO, Domini Social Investments
  • Joe Keefe, CEO, Pax World
  • Charles Firestone, Executive Director, The Aspen Institute
  • Michael Hoffman, Editor, Business & Society Review
  • Terry Waghorn, co-founder and CEO, Katerva

These judges found many inspiring ad campaigns and single entries, including those of Faber-Castell, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Patagonia and others over the past years.

Now advertising seems to be embracing all the new opportunities in the global sustainability drive toward cleaner, greener economies and more ethical, just forms of human development. 

Reduce Tax Exemption for Advertising

In 1998, the United Nations Human Development Report on Global Consumption patterns highlighted the Truth in Advertising Assurance Set-Aside (TIAASA) proposal, which I co-authored with internet pioneer Alan F. Kay, founder of AutEx (now a part of Thomson Reuters). We proposed that the tax-deductibility of corporate advertising be reduced across the board, with less than 3 percent set-aside for ads found deceptive or “green-washing” unsustainable products or services.

These funds would be made available to qualified NGOs and used to fund ad agencies willing to produce “counter-advertising.” 

Since many advertising funds are expended merely to maintain market-share, a gradual, fair across-the-board reduction in tax-exemption could reduce the overkill volume of commercials, which would benefit many industries while maintaining free speech rights for all. This could reduce the volume of conventional global advertising and redirect its content toward promoting human development, healthier lifestyles and less consumerism and resource waste.  

New Breed of Sustainable Advertising Agencies

The new breed of creative agencies focused on global sustainability such as New York-based BBMG, founded by Raphael Bemporad, and Brazil’s Full Jazz Advertising would find many new clients.

Although the TIAASA might be opposed by commercial media currently feasting on the clutter of competitive ads – particularly the billions spent by pharmaceutical companies pushing their prescription drugs to bewildered consumers and their over-burdened doctors. in fact, the U.S. is the only country in the world that permits such advertising. 

The blizzard of political attack ads in U.S. elections appalled voters but proved a bonanza for media since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates in 2010 to super-pacs and anonymous political money such as funneled to campaign ads by Donors Trust and other groups. Along with my colleagues at Ethical Markets and at the Ethicmark® Awards, which I co-founded, I would value your ideas and feedback on all these issues of the role of ethics in media, advertising and politics. Here’s to this new role for advertising and its creative vanguard of pioneers!

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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