At a time when greenwashing is emerging as an important issue on Madison Avenue, the Institute for Advertising Ethics (IAE) is planning two industry events to discuss, educate and develop guidelines to help advertisers, agencies, PR and lobbying firms to build awareness and prevent it.
The events follow a week of Congressional hearings about the practices of big and independent agencies and PR firms paid by fossil-fuel companies to distort what they are actually doing to about the climate crisis, as well as the release of a Congressional report citing examples by divisions of big agency holding companies, including Interpublic’s UM unit’s work for ExxonMobil.
This also follows Interpublic’s decision to revise its policy of accepting new business from fossil fuel companies that don’t meet its own climate and ethical standards.
“Most people in our industry are engaged in good practices and doing their job,” says IAE COO Andrew Susman, adding: “The fact is, there are only a small number of people engaged in the worst practices. We want to build off of the congressional hearings to help identify some of the risks they raised there and see if we can come up with some solutions.”
Susman says the first event will be an online symposium the morning of Oct. 19 that will assemble a diverse panel of experts from government, academia, media and the ad industry to have the “first national dialogue on the risks of greenwashing and ways to avoid it.”
He says the symposium is open to the industry and will focus on summarizing the impact of ongoing congressional investigations, as well as climate lawsuits related to greenwashing, and to come up “priority actions, frameworks, and practices that lead to transparent, fair and ultimately trust relationships” supporting the IAE’s core principle: “"Advertising, public relations, marketing communications, news, and editorial all share a common objective of truth and high ethical standards in serving the public."
Susman says that based on the initial symposium, the IAE plans to hold a second one in December to share the findings, as well as any new principles and tools it is able to develop from it.
Ultimately, he says the IAE plans to develop a new “greenwashing module” to its industry executive certification program in order to help educate advertising professionals about good and bad practices.
One of the symposium speakers, Generous Films CEO Christine Arena, was a star witness during one of the congressional hearings and when asked how lawmakers could address greenwashing she recommended “rules around disclosure.”
“We are not anti-greenwashing activists,” Susman says of the IAE’s role in the process. “We are an educational organization.”