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“Net-zero by 2025”: Pressure builds on publishers to prove sustainability or lose ad buyers

Whilst over 130 governments worldwide have agreed to meet Net Zero carbon emissions targets by 2050, as well as employ a Net Zero Workforce, publishers are starting to heed the call for a more sustainable planet by bringing forward their own plans a few decades earlier.

The incentive to do so isn’t just coming top-down from Governments but also from media buyers who, at the behest of brands, are starting to evaluate publisher ad inventory using rigorous sustainability criteria. GroupM, as one example, last year announced its ‘Responsible Investment’ framework which “accounts for environmental impact like a media placement’s carbon emissions”.

GroupM’s ambition is to assess and reduce media-related emissions through its footprint analysis and offset-approach tool.

GroupM “Responsible Investment” buying framework

At June’s Cannes LIONS it was a key theme throughout the week, with a number of media buyers making it clear that brands are demanding to know their advertising carbon footprints, and if publishers can’t supply this data, they’ll simply drop them off media schedules. As part of this, advertisers are also looking to know how consumers are interacting with ads.

Providing a buyer with analytics on how scaled audiences engaged and interacted with their creative is a powerful tool. Attention as a metric is viewability on steroids.

Peter Cunha, VP of Marketplace Strategy, Sovrn

Publishers start to double down on sustainability

Speaking to WNIP, a spokesperson from Condé Nast International outlined how, in April this year, the publisher announced new advertising guidelines as part of its sustainability commitments which include only accepting ads from energy companies that promote renewable energy products or encourage audiences to transition to renewable energy.

The company has also appointed an internal network of ‘Global Editorial Ambassadors for Sustainability’ to ‘champion sustainability’ across the company’s publishing brands. Ambassadors include Ars Technica’s Founder, Ken Fisher, Vogue U.S’ Sustainability Editor, Tonne Goodman, and the Deputy Global Editorial Director, GQ, Adam Baidawi.

Condé Nast has additionally pledged to curb greenwashing – an accusation fairly leveled at many publishers – by adopting the standards set out in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Framework for Responsible Environmental Marketing Communications.

Condé Nast aims to become carbon neutral by 2030 and transition to 100% renewable energy across all offices globally by 2025.

Condé Nast sustainability pledge

Bloomberg Media has gone one step further and is ambitiously aiming to bring its Net Zero plans forward to 2025, although the company has a head start with 50% of its existing energy already coming from renewable sources.

Addressing the impact of our energy consumption is our highest operational priority….Our goal is to continue to find and maintain energy efficiencies in our data centers and offices. 

Bloomberg Media, June 2021, press release

According to Bloomberg, the company is now seeking a further 10% reduction in energy intensity in buildings and a 5% improvement in energy efficiency in its data centers. Currently, only 12.5% of its emissions come from its publishing operations.

Bloomberg emissions by activity

Publishers harnessing their leadership role via editorial

Kaushala Ratnayake, Head of Strategy, Bauer Media Publishing told WNIP that publishers need to recognize the leadership role the industry plays, saying, “Shifting towards a sustainable publishing industry is not something any company can do alone so we really invite this movement towards working with publishers that have clear sustainability goals and targets.”

Bauer’s eight pledges include a commitment to using its editorial position to influence consumer behavior across its key publishing verticals, “Sustainability has become a key strategic focus for us because we recognize the leadership role media plays in driving sustainable behaviors. We have set a sustainability agenda supported by eight pledges to focus our action; one of which speaks directly to working with partners in the ecosystem to drive sustainability.”

Bauer’s Sustainability Playbook, Page 9

The power of a publisher’s content to shape the sustainability narrative was also a key motivator in the co-founding of the ‘Oxford Climate Journalism Network‘ (Reuters Institute) by the ex-President of Condé Nast, Wolfgang Blau. It’s aim? To enable working journalists to add the climate dimension to their day-to-day reporting. This year it is estimated that 300 journalists worldwide will participate in the program.

Within weeks after its launch, we received more than 700 applications from working journalists in more than 100 countries, including from organisations such as the Washington Post, New York Times or Agence France-Press.

Wolfgang Blau, Co-Founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network

But perhaps our favourite piece of publisher sustainability is from Hearst Tower in NYC – Icefall, a three-story waterfall at the heart of Hearst’s lobby, which circulates recycled rainwater collected from the roof and saves 1.7 million gallons of water annually.

Icefall, Hearst Tower, NYC

Whether it’s through energy-efficient buildings, solar-powered data centers, digital-only publishing, or Zoom calls replacing business travel, one thing is clear – the entire socio-economic paradigm for publishers is changing, as Politico’s Florian Eder made very clear at this month’s FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais.