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Sustainable Advertising: A Lesson For All

By: Rahal K.

Image by: Sebastien Thibault via Positive News

Climate change is ever so increasing as is evident from recent Californian fires (caused by a gender reveal party) or the continuous consumption of nonrenewable resources. The Earth is getting hotter and the sky is getting darker. Is this the world we pictured living in for the rest of our lives? Witnessing innocent animal lives being deprived of their natural environment whilst the smog from corporations casts gloom over lively cities? Harsh reality seems to draw near, but many corporations are trying to reverse this environmental degradation through a single initiative: sustainable advertising. Sustainable advertising “is used to advert customers to sustainable products, services and actions. It is not only focused on environmental issues and the product or service itself, but includes communication about the entire life cycle of the products.” (Wikipedia, 2020). This form of advertising can educate consumers whilst guaranteeing them environmentally-friendly products. Such education can be found through their campaigns, and such education can lead to a better tomorrow.

Over the past decade, the call for environmentalism has risen across the nation. With that being said, some individuals have made it a part of their lifestyle to be more sustainable through the products they buy. For example, opting for metal straws over plastic ones. This change in people’s behavior leaves corporations in a gridlock. The unsustainable products they sell can become alternatively safer for the environment, or they will have to shut down their business. Knowing corporations and their love for capitalism, some have taken a step to incentivize sustainable consumers into buying their items through sustainable advertising (Chang, Tsai, & Huang, 2019). Using this method has had positive results both on consumption and business. Consumers who are environmental advocates have a high purchase intention (consumer’s overall response when purchasing an item). They know that what they are buying is contributing towards a safe environment, and that they are not being wasteful. For companies, this can maximize their brand allowing them to reach larger audiences. It also sets a moral reputation for the company that implements sustainability into their products. To add on, you may have heard of appeals in English class. Appeal to emotion, appeal to logic, and appeal to authority; different ways a speaker can persuade their audience. Well, sustainable companies use a similar tactic: two green appeals known as warning-based appealed and vision based appeals (Shen et. al, 2020). Warning-based appeal aims to persuade consumers to be pro-environmental through the portrayal of harmful environmental-related information and/or graphics. Vision based appeal is more positive and emphasizes the beauty in nature. These appeals are used interchangeably in advertisements as they can induce either negative or positive responses from a consumer that persuades them to buy a company’s product to better the environment.

Since appeals and creativity tactics are essential for green advertising to skyrocket, creating impactful images is both difficult and challenging. Below are a few examples of green advertising and what effect they have had.

Advertising Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, Copenhagen, Denmark

This image depicts two paper towel dispensers. A noticeable difference is the continent that is shown, South America, has a greater green color in the image to the left versus the image to the right. Another key difference is the color of the paper. In many public restrooms, paper dispensers contain brown paper towels, but this advertisement has them in green -- the color that symbolizes the environment. A transcription reads “save paper-save the planet”. A hand is tugging in both photos. With all these elements combined, the image denotes the concept of sustainability. The more paper we use, the more deforestation we are causing. As deforestation menacingly occurs, animals will no longer prosper in their natural environments. The image on the right is the effect of our actions. Once the environment fails (in this case, South America specifically), then humans will find adapting challenging.

Image by: Sierra Club

This image depicts windmills and factories. The windmill color scheme is much more vibrant compared to the factory’s dull grey color scheme. The transcription says “Let's turn. Not burn”. With these elements combined, this advertisement is persuading individuals to invest in wind energy instead of fossil fuels, a power source for factories. By doing so, this impacts both consumers and companies with its strong poetic-like message. In order to sustain ourselves and the environment, it is necessary to implement safer methods of producing energy. As consumers witness this advertisement, it pushes various companies to heed into their own environmental message.

With every passing day, time ticks for the future of the human race. With every second another tree is getting cut down. With every minute a single factory is producing insurmountable amounts of smog worsening air pollution to the point of our air becoming poisonous. With every day, the earth is slowly getting warmer. With every year, we are drawing our doom closer and closer. It is vital that both consumers and producers invest in sustainable efforts to preserve our planet. The money that is being made and the products that are being bought are useless materialistic values if the Earth can no longer support itself. Incorporating sustainable products is necessary for ourselves and for our planet.

Some Environmentally Friendly Companies:

  1. Lego: Planning to make all of its packaging sustainable by 2025.

  2. Lush: Sustainable sourcing, minimal waste, saves water, and more.

  3. Ikea: Investing in solar panels, 100% responsible sourced wood and cotton, and more fair working conditions.

  4. Who Gives a Crap: Sells bamboo toilet paper and forest friendly paper towels and tissues.

  5. Biogen: Confirmed by MIT, has a strong company culture of sustainability, focuses on climate change initiatives, and proactive implementations.

  6. Adidas: Plans to reduce their waste reduction, energy consumption, and water by at least 20% by 2020.

  7. McCormick & Company: Sustainable sourcing, actionable goals for global responsibility, and is reducing its carbon footprint.

  8. Patagonia: Certified organic cotton, quality labor conditions, repair and reuse program, and so many other impressive sustainability initiatives!

  9. Beyond Meat: Helps reduce people's red meat consumption, uses less water, energy efficient, and less carbon emissions.

Discussion Questions:

  • Are there any other effective sustainable advertisements that you can think of? If so, what made them so impactful?

  • Were there any manipulative advertisements you have seen where a company has tried to seem sustainable, but in reality they are not?

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