Does advertising degrade the environment?

Advertising degrades- surround it?

Repeated exposure to advertising messages fuels overconsumption. Overconsumption fuels ecological crises. So, can we attribute direct responsibility to advertising in ecological crises? The Rumor Detector attempts to answer the question.

“ Advertising plays an essential role in the production of demand by inventing false 'needs' and by stimulating compulsive consumption habits, which are totally contradictory to maintaining the ecological balance of the planet ”, maintained two French researchers in 2010 in the journal Ecology and Politics

Overconsumption is all the more pernicious as it distills notions such as comfort, immediate pleasure and materialism, which are contradictory with the imperatives of sobriety, adds in 2020 a report commissioned by the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition, In France. Advertising would ruin, it says, “ any approach to ecological awareness, because these messages contradict the speeches of accountability”. 

How to measure the impact of advertising? 

But how can greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions be attributed with certainty to sales of products and services generated by advertising? An English think tank tried it out by taking inspiration from calculation methods used in responsible finance. Result: In the UK in 2022, the advertising industry would have been responsible for the emission of an additional 208 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to an increase of around 30% the carbon footprint of every Briton. 

It is also possible to focus on the effect of a single advertising campaign on the climate, as researchers from another English organization have attempted to do. Between 2014 and 2017, they calculated that automaker Audi sold around 10% more cars in Germany as a result of a massive advertising offensive, which translates to nearly 133,000 more cars on the road. . The scientists then multiplied this number by the average carbon footprint of a typical car of this brand, to arrive at 5 million tonnes of excess CO2. 

Greenwashing shift

Companies face a dilemma: how to continue to produce and generate profits while responding to the pressure on them to go green without previous. 

In theory, for them, it would be possible to exercise great influence as social actors in the fight against climate change, as more than two-thirds of Quebecers expect. , according to a survey published in The state of Quebec in 2023. The problem is that their GHG-generating products continue to sell very well. This contradiction has been reflected for more than a decade in more greenwashing initiatives, for example in the form of falsely “green” advertisements or deceptive claims of carbon neutrality. 

This is what led experts mandated by the UN to propose clear guidelines last year to circumscribe this phenomenon, in the form of instructions for assessing the degree of credibility of carbon neutrality initiatives. . In Canada, we are also beginning to see complaints being filed against companies whose advertisements on fossil fuels would constitute greenwashing. In Quebec last fall, the Center québécois du droit de l'environnement called for a better legal framework for “ climate greenwashing ”.  

Part of the Quebec advertising industry has begun a reflection on the greening of its practices. Since last fall, the non-profit organization Masse Critique has been working to offer marketing and communications professionals concrete solutions to adopt “regenerative practices”. In France, some argue for the regulation of advertising and commercial communication activities, for example in the form of an 8% tax targeting the advertising expenditure of major advertisers. And there, a law has just come into effect that prohibits advertisers from touting a product or service as carbon neutral without supporting evidence. 


The links between advertising and the environmental crisis are indirect, that is to say that advertising contributes to the increase in consumption which, in turn, leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the means and techniques used to publicize a brand or a company do indeed contribute, by creating needs, to global warming, the erosion of biodiversity and pollution. Without these marketing efforts, consumption would not reach the same level. 

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