How to become carbon neutral is one of the biggest questions for all businesses and trade advertising should be no different. Ensuring that communications are sustainable is one of the biggest challenges for trade publishers, media houses and agencies, and we believe that the ones who get this right will be the ones to survive long-term.

Titles that put sustainability at the hearts of their operations will ensure that their platforms remain focussed on reaching the right audience. Given that sustainability is the number-one concern for Gen Zs, it is critical for trade agencies and media to be on the front foot to attract today’s upcoming talent to our sector.

UK advertising agency CO2 emissions exceed 84,000 tonnes per year. Granted, compared to energy and transport, this is certainly down the smaller end of the scale. It’s the equivalent of about 15,500 people.

But as companies across all sectors announce ambitious net-zero goals, many ahead of the government’s 2050 target, it’s important that trade activity isn’t left behind.

Print vs digital

A shift to sustainable advertising does not mean a departure from print. In fact, it’s a myth that print advertising is more harmful to the environment than digital. Paper and print products are among the lowest greenhouse gas emitters. Only 17% of UK consumers believe that paper recycling rate exceeds 60%. The recycled paper content of UK newspaper is just over 63%.

Can trade media publishers boast the similar rates? We should support the ones who take this challenge seriously. We urge trade print newspapers and magazines to look at how they deliver their titles too. Are they using electric vans or more efficient fleets where possible? If trade titles find efficiencies by being delivered alongside other publications, that’s a huge win they should shout about.

The case for targeted advertising in trade

This is only half the battle though – the second half is making sure that titles and adverts only reach their intended target. We know there are free titles out there with inflated circulations. They print more copies than there are business decision makers in that sector. We also know there are titles that rely on requested delivery who seldom clear their database because there is a business incentive for them to send six copies to a company that shut five years ago.

As agencies, we benefit from these inflated numbers. We pass them on to our trade marketing stakeholders who also want to see big numbers, and so on and so on. Let's break this cycle. We must support titles that are brave and move to smaller, more targeted circulations – ones that can prove they are better engaged with than their peers. This should be the new point of difference, not big numbers.

It's the same for online advertising. Online advertising in total consumes as much energy as a small country. Viewing five online ads is the equivalent of turning on a small light for one minute. This adds up quickly. We know consumers are able to stumble onto most trade websites and see adverts. But, with smart usage of data, trade sites could make sure adverts only show up for those who are logged in and registered as the target business.

Again, this may mean some difficult conversations about reduced viewership. But the rewards will be reporting higher dwell times from engaging the right audience.

Starting the carbon net-zero journey

In consumer advertising, a coalition of 100 agencies including Google, Dentsu and Unilever have united to form Ad Net Zero. This group has a mission to eradicate carbon emissions by 2030. Its ‘All for None’ report offers a handy guide on how to get started, from identifying what to measure, to making more sustainable decisions in your business.

Not all of this is applicable to trade but its general 10-point plan is a good place to start. It contains advice around communication and establishing a cross-department ‘green-team’, explains what data to use to begin tracking measurements and gives advice on achievable target setting.

We need to start with looking at the right data. Agencies and publishers should start by considering our energy usage. Are we using 100% renewable energy? What about our cloud, server and web storage? What is our annual electric usage and what would be an achievable target to reduce it by?

At MTJ, we're thinking about sustainability in everything we do. We’re at the start of our journey and we don’t have everything right. But we will be measuring energy and setting carbon reduction targets. We will also make more effort to support the magazines, newspaper and websites that are doing the same.

Smaller numbers, carbon-neutral results

The move towards sustainability for trade media and advertisers is not going to be easy, and will require journalists, publishers, editors, communication experts and suppliers rethinking what success looks like, what has the most value and what should be supported and encouraged. The push towards carbon net-zero is the incentive we need to move away from big numbers and start rewarding titles that deliver higher engagement from the specific target. Let's keep talking and find ways to support each other on the journey.