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Experts say sustainability has taken a backseat in advertising but AI can help, here’s how

As AI automates major functionalities of advertising, sustainability has taken a backseat. However, when brands combine sustainability & AI, the result will not only make consumers happy but also have a positive impact on Mother Earth. Here's how.

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Sneha Medda
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sustainability and AI

Brands have often spoken about connecting with GenZ and Millennials by standing for social and environmental causes. However, marketing initiatives rarely lead to concrete actions, resulting in greenwashing. Climate change is a serious issue that the world is facing today. As the scare of resource depletion and global warming increases, the voice for sustainable and eco-friendly measures should echo louder in ad campaigns, especially with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

However, in the first half of 2023, the number of ads containing sustainability messaging drastically fell by 47%

Amitt Sharma, Founder and CEO of VDO.AI said, “While AI has become increasingly integrated into virtually every aspect of advertising and marketing campaigns, sustainability, at times, has taken a backseat. However, AI can play a pivotal role in making sustainability a top priority for brands.”

Earlier this year, GroupM predicted that AI will impact at least half of all ad revenue in 2023. As AI has been married into every single segment of the advertising industry, it is now time to remember sustainability goals and integrate AI to fast-track the objective of saving the planet through marketing initiatives.

“AI is our ally towards sustainability,” said Samyu Murali, Creative at Talented. 

Murali also pointed out a survey conducted by MIT, which showed that a majority of executives link Responsible AI to their respective organization's CSR practices. She further noted, “From award-winning ad campaigns like WWF’s Climate Realism to real-world use cases like cleaning Africa’s air quality, AI alleviates the burden of mundane tasks from creators - giving them the time to conceptualize broader and better solutions.”

Can AI help brands be more sustainable?

As far as sustainability is concerned, we can’t manage what we don’t measure, says an old adage. Once measured, AI can step in and help companies manage their ecofootprint. 

AI can look at past data to forecast trends, empower real-time decisions, and automate eco-conscious processes. 

In 2016, this was proven true by Google's DeepMind when it reduced the energy used for cooling its data centers by 40% using AI, showcasing how technology can drive efficiency. 

This was long before the AI wave had taken over the advertising and marketing world. With the speed at which AI is progressing, this technology has immense potential to drive change. 

“With its ability to analyze massive amounts of data and make intelligent decisions, AI is a powerful tool for driving sustainability initiatives forward,” said Ambika Sharma, Founder and MD of Pulp Strategy.

For example, IBM's "Call for Code" initiative uses AI to address global humanitarian issues, such as natural disasters and climate change. They promote sustainability by encouraging developers to create AI-powered solutions to these problems. This initiative invites developers and problem-solvers from around the world to build and contribute to innovative technology solutions that address social and humanitarian issues while ensuring that solutions are deployed to make a real difference.

Founder of AI-first marketing communications company Megalodon, Rashi Agarwal suggested ways in which AI can be used in marketing initiatives. 

She said, “Brands can wield AI's power to fine-tune operations, minimize waste, and craft products in harmony with sustainable ideals, ushering in a greener, brighter tomorrow. When we marry these AI-driven practices with creative communication, we not only boost brand image and positioning but also create a win-win scenario for all – socially, ethically, and from a brand perspective.”

Globally, brands that have jumped on the AI bandwagon to further their sustainability cause have used it to calculate the environmental and climate footprints of their products. 

Closer home, India is seeing a huge boom in businesses. At the same time, their carbon footprint is also ballooning. 

One such industry is e-commerce, which is growing by leaps and bounds, but so is its carbon footprint. As per a report, Indian e-commerce is expected to grow 1000%, and emissions will shoot up by 8 million tons (80 Lakh) by 2030. 

A few environment-focused NGOs have started leveraging AI for their objectives, and India can take notes, too. For example, One of the UNEP-led initiatives includes the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), which leverages AI to revolutionize the approach to monitoring and mitigating methane emissions. AI is used strategically to interconnect this data with action on science, transparency, and policy to inform data-driven decisions.

“Brands today can perceive AI not just as a tool but as an integral collaborator,” said Dakshin Adyanthaya, Founder of Pixelated Egg.

Adyanthaya further gave suggestions on how Indian companies can leverage AI to become more sustainable:

  • Sustainability Diagnostics: AI can serve as a brand's personalized environmental consultant. Through intricate data analysis, AI highlights a  brand's carbon footprint or waste patterns, providing a clear snapshot of areas needing green interventions. 

  • Eco-Friendly Design: AI, combined with design tools, can suggest eco-conscious materials or methods during the product design phase.  

  • Eco-Innovation: Brands can use AI to drive R&D, identifying new methods or materials that are both groundbreaking and green.  

  • Consumer Feedback Loops: AI-driven platforms can garner real-time feedback on a brand's sustainability initiatives, allowing for quick pivots or enhancements based on consumer insights. 

  • Holistic Ecosystem Analysis: AI can predict how changes in one aspect of operations might impact others. This holistic view ensures sustainability is embedded at every level and not just in isolated pockets.

 



AI can also help ad agencies to reduce their emission. The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has started using AI to optimize its online advertising efforts. By targeting the right audience with personalized messages, they aim to reduce wasted ad spend and, in turn, lessen the environmental impact associated with digital advertising.

Sharma said, “AI's capacity to craft personalized, contextually relevant content has the potential to significantly reduce unnecessary consumption and thereby minimize the carbon footprint of advertising campaigns.”

A wide range of consumers are attracted to simple, jargon-free sustainability messages. However, studies suggest that the copious amount of greenwashed ads has also made them sceptical.

Earlier this year, Shell, a UK-based energy company saw backlash for resorting to greenwashing because it failed to tell its consumers that most of its business is based on environmentally damaging fossil fuels such as petrol. 

A survey by Harris Poll suggests that 72% audience that resonates with sustainable ads also think that companies and brands exaggerate how much they're doing for sustainability.

This is where AI can help by combining marketers’ favourite -- personalization with sustainability.

“AI's power lies in personalization. By understanding consumer preferences, AI can tailor sustainability messages, making them resonate with individuals,” said Agarwal. 

The promising future of AI & Sustainability

Staying away from just greenwashing and genuinely embracing technology to lead the charge in preserving the planet is how AI can help truly make a difference.

Globally, companies like Ikea, Coca-Cola, IBM, L'Oreal, and more have integrated AI into their sustainability causes. In the future, AI will play a big role in India, too. 

“AI will become the backbone of sustainability efforts,” said Rashi Agarwal. 

“The future of AI and sustainability is undeniably intertwined and promising,” agreed Amitt Sharma. 

Sustainability is slowly and steadily taking center stage as brands are compelled to embrace eco-conscious values. This emerging partnership has great potential to open up opportunities that can foster environmentally responsible advertising practices. 

“It's time for brands to integrate AI not as a trend but as a tool for amplifying their commitment to sustainability, making it a core value,” asserted Rashi Agarwal.

Experts said that AI has immense capabilities in measuring a company’s footprint, analyzing data, and personalizing sustainability messages for advertisers. It can be used as a stencil of sorts to lay out a blueprint for brands and help strengthen their efforts for sustainable causes. 

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