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Mena brands see green values as good business

The advertising industry is taking its clients’ climate concerns seriously

Patagonia store New York - the brand is known for green values Reuters
Patagonia is giving all non-reinvested profits to fight the climate crisis, and other brands are seeing that green values are more than a 'nice-to-have'

In the face of a climate crisis even the most cynical of market forces are starting to push towards sustainability. The advertising industry is there to provide support.

The UAE is doubling down on green credentials as it prepares to host the Cop28 climate conference at the end of November.

It is building a hydroelectric plant in Hatta, it has updated its UAE Energy Strategy 2050 to invest up to AED200 billion by 2030 and it is promoting a National Carbon Strategy – to become a leading producer and supplier of low-carbon hydrogen by 2031.

The private sector is following the state’s lead, with environmentally friendly business headlines, such as the launch of the Rabdan Muse smart vehicle last month by UAE electric car manufacturer Nwtn.

The green option – be it recycling, a reduced carbon footprint or reduced packaging – was once a “nice-to-have” for most mainstream consumer brands. It would tend to be factored in only if it didn’t affect primary concerns such as cost, quality and profit margins.

Now, though, young consumers are increasingly likely to select their purchases based on their sustainability over traditional drivers such as price or brand recognition.

In the 2022 Arab Youth Survey from Mena PR company Asda’a BCW, 50 per cent of young Arabs said they would boycott a brand known to damage the environment, and a further 29 per cent said they “maybe” would.

Big brands are making waves by answering this call – among them Patagonia. Last year, the outdoor clothing company’s billionaire founder, Yvon Chouinard, passed control to two charitable foundations.

In a statement entitled “Earth is now our only shareholder” Chouinard said any profits not reinvested in the company would go towards fighting climate change.

Patagonia has built a loyal following on its commitment to environmentalism, which it vocally values above sales volumes. It encourages customers to extend the life of its products rather than buy new ones.

The brand’s website says: “We always believe in the philosophy of reducing, reusing and recycling. For environmental purposes, we advise that you try to recycle your garments locally.”

But you probably knew that already, thanks to strong advertising and PR from Patagonia.

Getting the message out

The marketing industry is there to boost brands’ messages, including those pertaining to sustainability. As well as promoting good news, communications experts can minimise and manage bad press, helping clients to avoid or mitigate accusations of hypocrisy and “greenwashing”, for example.

Within the last couple of years, communications agencies that have announced dedicated environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices in the region have included Asda’a BCW, Apco Worldwide, Red Havas and Houbara Communications.

Last month, Dubai PR firm Atteline announced it would be pursuing B Corp status. This is a private certification to prove a company has reached a certain level of social and environmental performance.

Also in August, the Mena division of media buying agency UM said it was signing up for a tool called Impact+, provided by media platform Teads, which measures the carbon footprint of digital advertising.

Announcing the partnership, Teads and UM cited research that estimates the carbon footprint of a million advertising impressions to have an environmental impact equivalent to a flight between Paris and New York.

In February, Group M – the media-buying arm of the world’s largest advertising holding company, WPP – updated its own carbon calculator to include all media channels, not just digital.

It takes into consideration the weight of physical media, such as magazines, newspapers and lino from billboards, which can generate emissions from production, transport and disposal.

The media agencies offering to monitor the environmental impact of ad campaigns say they can reduce the carbon costs, as well as the price of advertising, through working more efficiently and effectively.

The allure of getting more bang for your advertising buck is as old as agencies themselves, but elevating environmental gains to the same pedestal shows the industry is taking its clients’ concerns seriously.

Businesses are developing an ESG conscience. Some are driven by a desire to do good. Some are driven by market forces. Most sit somewhere in the middle of this motivation scale.

As it continues to make both environmental and economic sense for brands to do the right thing, the marketing and communications industry is ready to spread the word.

Austyn Allison is an editorial consultant and journalist who has covered Middle East advertising since 2007

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