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Empowering Viewers: The Role of Media in Driving Sustainability

François Polarczyk

Sustainability Director

May 14, 2024

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Image: ITV's show "Emmerdale" is leading sustainable production in the UK.

The promotion of sustainability in media is gaining traction as an urgent societal priority. However, two key pieces of the puzzle need to align to drive impactful change: media companies and the viewers. Media companies possess unparalleled cultural influence, yet turning this into positive, sustainable outcomes remains a challenge. Viewers are becoming increasingly aware of sustainability issues and are looking at media for guidance, but gaps exist in how these narratives are presented.

How do we turn the wheels of change to push forward the sustainability agenda? This blog explores the synergies and challenges that arise between media companies and their audiences while outlining strategies to bridge these gaps and advance the sustainability agenda.

Media has great power and responsibility

It is not an exaggeration to say that media and content hold the power to shape global behaviors, influencing consumption patterns, community building, and well-being, perfectly positioned to make huge impacts in sustainability promotion.

With its cultural relevance and role in influencing consumers, investors, and even policymakers' decisions, the media industry can leverage various tools and materials to inform and educate consumers.

Advertising as a catalyst for change

Advertising has always been a powerful tool; the question lies in how it can be wielded responsibly. In Accedo's consumer research in which we surveyed users of video streaming services across the globe, over 70% of participants acknowledged that adverts are influencing their purchasing decisions and viewing habits to an evident extent. This is strong proof of how advertising is fertile ground for sowing the seeds of sustainability.

Media has a significant role to play in this process. It is the gatekeeper of the content that shapes public discourse, and the choices in curating and delivering advertising content can dramatically influence consumer behavior.

Sustainable advertising shines a spotlight on products and services that align with environmental, social, and economic sustainable principles, encouraging eco-friendly habits and reshaping societal norms. Highlighting the positive aspects of sustainability, advertisements can challenge outdated consumer behaviors and spark a shift in public consciousness toward greener, more responsible choices. 

One prime example of this is Patagonia with its initiative, The Footprint Chronicles, which provides consumers with visibility into the supply chain and the lifecycle impacts of its products. Through the project, the brand reveals both the positive aspects of its production practices and the areas where the company faces challenges in achieving sustainability. This effort not only showcases the brand's honesty and commitment to transparency, but also enables consumers to make more informed buying decisions.

Telling stories through content

The Behavioural Insights Team’s report found that viewers are more inclined to adopt climate-friendly practices when they see relatable actions modeled on-screen. Storytelling in this case can bridge the gap between intention and action by connecting audiences to the underlying values and beliefs that drive sustainable behaviors. 

Viewers are more likely to take steps towards sustainability if they see these actions presented as logical extensions of their everyday lives. Therefore, when approaching consumers via storytelling, it is best to avoid fear-mongering or a preachy tone that alienates audiences and risks creating a sense of apathy or hopelessness. Instead, the stories should focus on empowerment and a sense of possibility, offering practical solutions and relatable examples that viewers can easily emulate. 

With great power comes great responsibility. The media industry also holds the obligation of providing transparent information about its own sustainable practices and equipping audiences with knowledge that empowers them to make conscious, sustainable choices.

Sustainability focus is growing among media companies

The challenges are very real for companies who want to embrace sustainability wholeheartedly. Many media service providers rely on advertising revenue, which can create conflicts of interest when promoting sustainability. For example, advertisements from sectors that heavily affect the environment, like fossil fuels and fast fashion, can generate considerable income. On the other hand, moving toward sustainability-focused advertisers can pinch the bottom line since smaller eco-friendly brands often have tighter budgets.

Despite these challenges, media organizations are starting to walk the talk. Some are reducing waste and conserving energy in their own operations while championing more sustainable content-creation practices.  By adopting environmentally friendly practices in their production processes, such as minimizing waste, conserving energy, and reducing their carbon footprint, they are setting a precedent for other industries and individuals to follow. 

A growing number of media companies are also embracing sustainable storytelling, which seeks to connect viewers with the deeper values behind sustainable actions. The ITV’s show “Emmerdale”, for example, is one of the more forward-thinking productions in terms of sustainability within the UK television industry. Set in a fictional village in the English countryside, it focuses on the lives and dramas of the families and residents of the village. In making the show, its production team has implemented various green initiatives to reduce its environmental impact, such as utilizing energy-efficient LED lighting and solar panels to reduce energy use, recycling sets and costumes, waste management and so on. Additionally, the show promotes eco-friendly transport options among the cast and crew and incorporates sustainability themes into its storylines, reflecting its commitment to environmental conservation.

Noteworthily, the latest Subtitles to Save the World report points out a significant mismatch that persists between media coverage and the most impactful climate issues. Discussions around transport and energy, which carry the largest carbon footprints, often receive less attention compared to topics like waste and food. A more balanced representation of sustainability topics is crucial to offer a comprehensive view of climate issues.

Media consumers share their part in propelling green initiatives

Media consumers play a crucial role in creating demands for and supporting sustainability advancements within the industry. However, when companies lack transparency about their environmental impact, consumers struggle to make informed choices. 

The truth is that viewers actually desire more sustainable content, as it helps them understand available solutions and fosters discussions about eco-conscious practices among family and friends. Our recent consumer research also indicates that globally, 29% of video service users consider the service’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions crucial for continued use, with only 18% finding it unimportant, though with certain regional differences as South America and Asia place greater emphasis on sustainable practices compared to North America. Younger viewers, especially those aged 18-24, prioritize carbon emission reductions, with 33% considering it essential. Even so, less than 30% of all age groups view these concerns as insignificant. The data makes it clear that sustainability is undeniably a present focus and will continue to be a crucial trend in the future. As a result, the media industry must align with these preferences and adapt its operations to prioritize sustainability, ensuring it remains relevant and resonates with its audience's values.

In the face of advertisers and content companies’ varying levels of sustainability commitment, consumers should stay informed about the environmental impact of digital technology and streaming. They can engage directly with streaming services, encouraging them to invest in renewable energy, reduce carbon emissions, and promote eco-friendly content. By remaining proactive and vocal, consumers can help media companies become more sustainable, ultimately advancing the industry's progress toward environmental responsibility.

How can media streaming companies effectively engage their consumers?

This is where ECOFLOW comes in.

ECOFLOW, a project co-lead by Accedo and Humans not Robots, with support from champions such as ITV, the BBC, RTL Netherlands and the European Broadcasting Union as well as other technology vendors and organizations supporting sustainable streaming practices -  confronts the Media & Entertainment industry's critical challenge: the environmental impact of streaming. 

Despite a growing consensus on the need for environmental responsibility, the industry grapples with standardized measurement methods for streaming's energy consumption. This project not only seeks to develop a unified approach for assessing environmental impact but also aims to pinpoint energy-saving opportunities across the end-to-end technology supply chain. 

Addressing this, ECOFLOW will provide actionable blueprints and best practices, empowering the industry to reduce its carbon footprint significantly and fostering consumer awareness and involvement in sustainable streaming practices.The ECOFLOW project is competing in the IBC’s Accelerator Program 2024. Learn more about it here.

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