Danielle Guirguis on the green future of the marcom industry

September 6, 2022

‘We see a worldwide growth of brands that opt for sustainability,’ asserts Danielle Guirguis, CEO of the Amsterdam-based Smarthouse Creative Impact Studio, one of the more notable trailblazers in this regard. As Executive Board Member and ‘green conscience’ of the international film producers association ACE, as Impact Branding Mentor at Startupbootcamp and as spreader of the AdGreenNL-gospel, she exposes in the following how polluting is the ad industry and how ad agencies can take action to produce commercials as sustainably as possible.

How are we doing internationally? In other words, how polluting is the advertising industry?

‘That is a tricky question, but lately all kinds of insight-giving calculations have been released. And there is, for example, a lot of information about it at weareadgreen.org; the originally British organization committed to eliminating waste and carbon impact in the advertising industry. Traveling and especially flying plays a major role. So​,​ ​as you can see on their website – ​if it’s about the average TVC to be shot in Barcelona, ​​by an agency from London, it amounts to 6.62 tons of CO2 emissions. Cape Town, greater distance, more people, more overnight stays, more meals, 35.78 tons of CO2. If you fly business class that becomes quite a bit more because the emission figures are related to the space that your seat takes up in the plane. The more seats in an airplane, the less emissions per seat.

Still difficult to see what that means exactly for the environment.

‘Yes I understand. Fortunately, a number of environmental aspects have also been investigated here in the Netherlands. For example, the University of Utrecht has calculated that a small feature film with about thirty shooting days and a budget of 1.2 million euros produces just as much waste and CO2 emissions as ten Western European households in a year. That might give you a clearer perspective.’

What are the most polluting components of the advertising industry?

‘Travel ​and​ housing​ / living​, the electrical department if they use generators instead of the power grid and catering when using a lot of meat. AdGreen uses the Carbon Calculator that allows you to work out the carbon footprint of motion, stills and audio projects within advertising campaigns so that you can assess the environmental impact of your production activities. The tool is free at the point of use for the advertising production community.​’​

What are the most obvious steps you can take as an advertising agency to produce commercials as sustainably as possible?

‘We just shot a film in Curaçao and worked with local crews as much as possible. That limited the carbon footprint, because there was less travel. And if you look at social sustainability there was a wealth of knowledge transfer involved because we brought experience that was not there. We did the catering without plastic packaging, disposable cups and cutlery, and as vegetarian as possible. We have also drawn​-​up ​the ​Green Guideline for ACE, the international association for feature film producers. The list of possibilities is long and ranges from looking closely at options in the script, electric transport, replacing diesel generators for sustainable energy supply, sustainable batteries, and reusing hard disks in post-production. It is gradually becoming the norm to appoint an eco-manager; someone who is responsible for implementing and keeping track of all sustainable practices. And you can already see that the Carbon Calculator keeps environmental awareness top of mind. Ultimately, of course, we have to move from measurement to certification; that is to say, assessing whether all practices meet the predefined requirements.

Most people like to do the right thing but behavioral change is not so easy to achieve. The big question of course is what’s in it for the advertising industry other than a cleaner planet?

‘Yes that is indeed the question and there are some highly motivating factors. More and more multi-billion-dollar companies are taking the green, diverse, transparent route. Bonduelle, Danone and Gerdau, you name it. Marketing giant Unilever has for years been getting most of its growth and profit from their Sustainable Living Brands. In other words, the market is moving in that direction. Moreover, the green movement is mostly driven by Millennials and the somewhat younger Gen Z-ers. They very much prefer to work for marcom companies that are doing their part. So when it comes to attracting talent it is of great importance​ as well​. And they are young, so what’s going on now, and what of course also drives the multinationals, will continue to play a role in the long run. In addition, sustainable production is often much cheaper. Think of local crews, flight costs, hotel costs, less travel on location, lower energy costs, et cetera. And last but not least, in more and more countries, including the UK, laws are on the way to regulate it all.​ It will become more or less mandatory in the foreseeable future​.’

So how do you see the future?

‘It won’t happen at the same speed in all countries, but we’re facing some pretty big changes in the short term. And what is striking is that almost everyone in the creative industries is open to it. That is quite logical because the consumer is moving in the right direction. The energy transition is constantly in the news, you see climate protests everywhere, people are eating less meat. We just cannot stay behind. And we are on the right track.’