Sustainability in out of home advertising

Out of home (OOH) advertising presents a unique opportunity to advance climate action.  

Charlotte Cameron
Sustainability OOH advertising
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Data from Planet Mark members JCDecaux and Clear Channel shows that the audience reach for OOH advertising is now higher than it was before the pandemic, with this only expected to grow. Forecasting suggests that only digital advertising is expected to grow faster than OOH over the next few years.  

The power of OOH

OOH advertising is any visual advertising you are exposed to outside of your home, from billboards and bus shelter advertising to ads in transit areas like airports. Growing urbanisation, combined with more time spent outside of our homes and offices, has furthered the impact of OOH advertising as an effective and consistent marketing channel.  

Unlike digital advertising, outdoor advertising isn’t going anywhere, it stands out – you can’t simply scroll past it. It also works to foster brand recognition, for example, a consumer might drive past the same billboard to and from work each day.  

With sophisticated audience data at hand, digital OOH advertising offers brands flexible and targeted campaign planning by being able to switch on and off campaigns in specific geographical locations.  

As consumer demand shifts towards sustainability – in fact, studies show that a third of UK consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products – there is a critical opportunity to capture the imagination and passion of consumers to further influence change.  

Jonathan Lewis, CEO of motorway advertising company i-Media says, “there is a real opportunity to take a lead in communicating and delivering proper insight to clients in this space and raising public awareness around sustainability issues and how we can all play a part in helping with these.” 

Not only does the industry have an opportunity to communicate sustainability to the public but companies in the sector can lead by example by implementing this messaging in a sustainable way. 

Sustainable messaging and methods

Since changing ownership in 2021, sustainability has become a core focus for i-Media with a commitment to achieving net zero carbon by 2030. The organisation has focused on two carbon-intensive areas associated with OOH advertising: the energy used to run operational assets and the sourcing and waste of materials associated with running campaigns. 

“The legacy of older, traditional formats (i.e. paper and paste) and the move into digital messaging both present sustainability challenges for obvious reasons.” Jonathan explains.  

“Knowledge and awareness of the environmental impact of paper, vinyl and digital OOH is now front of mind with all operators in the industry, along with a desire to ensure that businesses are run – and campaign messaging delivered – in a sustainable way.” 

“We feel a strong sense of responsibility to ensure our investment in and use of digital assets is done in a way that does not impact the planet in a negative way, particularly as our sites are located on the UK motorway network which carries the highest volume of traffic in the UK.” 

As part of their Planet Mark certification, i-Media have committed to reducing their emissions by 5% year-on-year. Despite being at the beginning of their sustainability journey, the company has made several changes that have already helped in reducing emissions, from switching to recycled materials in the office and recycled paper for their posters, to the disposal of these posters using sustainable methods.  

Looking at the emissions associated with their digital screens, Jonathan shares that the landlord partners of their Motorway Service Areas (MSA), including the Planet Mark certified Roadchef, have sustainability ambitions that match their own.  

“The energy used to power our digital assets is supplied by several different sustainable sources, including windfarms. When investing in our digital screens we ensured we were working with state-of-the-art technology where the units operate in the most energy-efficient way at all times. These include sensors that measure surrounding ambient light and will reduce the brightness of screens during night-time hours, where they will typically run at just 2% of power capacity.” Jonathan explains. 

Roadchef were the first in the industry to introduce solar panels across most of their sites, reducing their emissions by 480 tonnes per year, with all other electricity bought from green sources. MSA operators like Roadchef will play a key part in helping the advertising industry shift to one that is more sustainable. 

In their own journey to net zero, I-Media’s team understands the importance of sustainability from both a personal and business perspective, and know that harnessing this passion is key to achieving their future targets.  

“We believe it is vital to have a programme in place that the team members can be proud of and embrace, and we’re excited at the role that Planet Mark can play in this, in terms of workshops and education. From an external perspective, we are in the process of putting together marketing, comms and social media messaging to reassure our clients, partners and the public.” 

What’s next?

As sustainability champions across the sector, i-Media want to see others in the advertising industry get on board.  

Jonathan advises, “However small or insignificant it may feel, anything and everything makes a difference. Show leadership and responsibility; understand and learn, work with all partners and staff to educate and inspire.” 

While the largest companies in the OOH sector are already taking significant strides to reduce emissions more is needed across the entire industry to accelerate net zero ambitions.  

The Advertising Association, a Planet Mark member and partner, created the Ad Net Zero programme to help drive carbon reduction across the industry to net zero. During COP26, we spoke at the Ad Net Zero Global Summit to help companies in the sector understand net zero, debunk the myths associated with it and share the benefits.  

According to a report from the Ad Net Zero campaign, over 70% of people working across the industry are worried about the sector’s impact on the planet. In order to future-proof their businesses and be part of the solution to the climate crisis, agencies must step up their own sustainability ambitions.  

And responsibility doesn’t just sit with those at the top of these agencies. As President of the Advertising Association Keith Weed says, “Every single one of us has a role to play in ensuring our industry fulfils its responsibilities to future generations and help deliver a sustainable way of life for the 21st century and beyond. It really is a case of All For None.” 


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