A fossil fuel ad ban is wrong – consumers need to know which brands are taking climate action

Advertising executive Mike Spirkovski argues that a ban on fossil fuel advertising in Sydney won't reduce emissions or save lives. Consumers need to know which carbon-intensive brands are making a genuine attempt to cut their climate impact, he argues.

Sydney could become the first major city in Asia Pacific to ban fossil fuel advertising.
Sydney could become the first major city in Asia Pacific to ban fossil fuel advertising. It would be smarter to promote the good high-carbon brands are going for the betterment of carbon reduction, as long as their claims real and backed by action, argues Mike Spirkovski. Image: Brian/Flickr

The sad part about the move to ban advertising in Sydney is that it won’t save any lives or reduce the carbon our planet so desperately needs to be reduced.

Just like many years ago when banning tobacco advertising didn’t really stop people smoking en masse.

What reduced people smoking governments and businesses working together to ban smoking indoors at restaurants, bars and public places – in conjunction with a national marketing strategy that positioned smoking as an uncool habit that could kill you.

Education is key in everything we do as advertisers. It would be smarter to promote the good these brands are doing to decarbonise, but it needs to be real and backed by action – not greenwashing and empty promises.

This is what ad agencies and media companies would prefer, rather than banning these behemoth brands we all rely on every single day to survive and operate.

Consumers want to know about the good brands are doing and how they are changing for the better. Knowing change is happening inspires others to do the same and provides hope.

This is not a time to reduce communications but to increase awareness and educate everyday Australians on what type of carbon reduction solutions are out there and available to them.

I agree that we shouldn’t be promoting any brand that is doing bad in any way. But I think that consumers want to know about the good brands are doing and how they are changing for the better. Knowing change is happening inspires others to do the same and provides hope.

This is a very important part of changing consumer behaviour on a national and global scale.

As someone who spent decades promoting carbon-intensive companies, I know they are changing and doing what they can to be more sustainable.

I’m not defending them, but I know most of these business are legacy brands. Change doesn’t happen overnight and at the pace we all want and need.

The positive news is that these brands have no choice but to change since consumers have finally accepted global warming is real and carbon creation is a major problem and our planet is in trouble.

Importantly, governments and business need to act much faster and do much more to make the positive change so desperately needed to save the destruction of our planet and species.

Consumers also need to stop feeding the beast and supporting carbon creators by driving gas guzzling cars and buying energy from coal-fired power companies.

Consumers need to start with simple acts like installing solar panels at home, exchange their gas guzzling cars for an electric vehicle or hybrid, and switch to a green energy provider.

They should also ensure they avoid investments in businesses that are not focused on sustainability as their number one priority. It’s a lot easier said than done, but it does make a difference.

Education is what the City of Sydney and the advertising industry should be focused on, and sharing all the good businesses out there are doing – even some of these so-called carbon creators.

But let’s not ban brands completely. As a consumer, I want to know which energy providers are focused on sustainability and carbon reduction, just like I want to know which EV will be my next car.

Completely banning brands from advertising doesn’t create change, or inspire these brands to make much-needed change by providing new, better products and services that are better for people and planet.

Petroleum companies know they are running out of time and must decarbonise, so are pivoting to renewables.

Automotive brands are bringing out EV vehicles as fast as they can – and at times without the EV charging infrastructure. This is something local governments like City of Sydney and rural and regional councils should be focused on.

It’s tough for legacy brands to make radical changes given their processes and products are from a carbon creation era, but they have no choice but to change in order to survive.

Let’s not point the finger and be hypocritical and work together in smarter ways to inspire change, and most importantly educate consumers on the little things they can do to be more sustainable.

Demand will create the change we all so desperately need to help save our planet.

Mike Spirkovski is the founder of Sustainability Revolution, a sustainability-focused advertising agency. He’s the former chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Australia. He has created campaigns including Earth Hour, Unicef’s 5 Fund, and the Toyota LandCruiser Emergency Network.

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