Will the region’s adland ever turn green?

March 31, 2009

Across the world the words ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco’ have become the buzzwords for a host of conscience-tweaking brands, leading some to demand that their advertising agencies mirror these ideals. A new sub-industry of ‘green’ agencies has taken root, whose entire operations centre on their ability to deliver communications of low-environmental impact using eco-friendly technology. But could such set-ups flourish in the Middle East and is the region really ready to think in terms of greener media?

heroes-of-uaeLeading the ‘yes’ vote is Dr. Tony Youssef, CEO of Dubai’s Ecocube, the region’s first eco-centric communications company. “Everybody needs media here and it’s a fast running region. So they started thinking about the environment, but why don’t they start thinking of the environment in the media sector? We can show entities how they can keep doing their traditional media, but instead of using the normal PVC they could use the environmental friendly PVC, which is 60% faster recycled than the normal one. As for the print, instead of the normal print we provide them with chlorine-free print or soy print.”

Though for others, that any campaign could be 100 percent environmentally friendly is a claim to be wary of.

“I think one of the challenges is there’s not much of an evaluation of the total manufacturing process,” says James Duthie, CEO of Touchpoints Consulting, the agency responsible for the environmentally aware ‘Heroes of the UAE’ campaign. “For example, you can print on the most environmentally friendly stock with the most wonderful environmentally friendly inks, but unless you take it right back to the manufacturing process of the product that you’re trying to sell, it’s not going to have an effect.”

In view of the current downturn, other agencies suggest that ecological issues have gone to the back of the queue of clients’ concerns. “As an agency we don’t have a policy to push green initiatives down the throat of our clients. We can direct towards things that we learn about that would be, with an equivalent cost, more of a greener thing. But at the end of the day clients are going to want to know ‘Do they achieve brand awareness? Do they achieve their objectives?” says Clark Williams, COO of Bates Pan Gulf in Abu Dhabi, whose clients include alternative energy specialists Masdar. “To me ‘green’ probably means more expensive.”

Sympathetic to these concerns is Isabel Kurata, managing founder of Act Responsible. The France-based non-profit organisation promotes ethical and eco-friendly practices across the industry and encourages the use of creativity for the greater good. “I think that the pioneers that have already put in a sustainable development process will probably suffer less from the global financial crisis, because they already have made the economies and the savings,” says Kurata. Though she suggests small gestures such as printing less and fully shutting down computers can have a huge impact. “Take it step by step and don’t think ‘I need to be at the top of the mountain,’ before you’ve started climbing it. If the Middle East is not yet the best example, then great, because you’re going to be able to do really good by just doing a few things.”