Developing an internal carbon offsetting strategy likely isn’t on most marketing teams’ agenda, but at Ovo Energy it’s a top priority.
The energy provider is looking to spearhead change by introducing a marketing strategy that pus the focus on sustainability rather than visibility. That will see the company prioritise digital marketing and no longer use non-digital advertising in public places. Door drops are being removed from its marketing strategy, while digital outdoor will be powered by renewable energy.
Renewable will also be a requirement for any energy used in creating content, and if that is not possible then carbon use will be offset. It is also shifting its policy on flying, telling staff they should not take “unnecessary” flights and where they cannot be avoided the company will pay for emissions to be offset.
The strategy is being led by Sarah Booth, Ovo’s new director of brand and marketing who joined from Asos only four months ago. A move from fashion to energy might seem an odd one, but Booth says that having become “passionate” about sustainability in fashion, this seemed like “the next logical step”.
It also comes as pressure mounts on the advertising sector to do more to tackle the issue of climate change from groups such as Extinction Rebellion
“It’s remarkable how much consciousness there is around climate change, or the climate crisis, but how little we consider some of the easiest steps we can take to make a difference,” Booth tells Marketing Week.
Booth says the strategy at Ovo came about after the company’s marketing team recognised how important is it is to “walk your walk” from a sustainability perspective.
“The team and I started to discuss what [sustainability] meant from a brand perspective. Naturally those conversations progressed to, ‘how should we be behaving? And what are the standards we should uphold for ourselves?’,” she explains.
“We talk about the sustainability of our product but marketing itself, we all know, has a carbon footprint.”
The first step is holding ourselves to account.
Sarah Booth, Ovo Energy
Having outdoor only powered by renewables was one area that came up as the team discussed the strategy. Booth admits it probably isn’t possible for all brands to power out-of-home advertising in this way, but she hopes the fact the brand has had conversations with media owners will get them thinking about the issue too.
“Using out-of-home that is only powered by sustainable renewable sources wasn’t necessarily in our original list, but it was a question that came up and was a question we were able to ask media owners,” Booth said.
“Some had thought about it and some hadn’t, so it’s likely not possible for everyone in the country to power their digital out-of-home via renewables.”
Thinking collectively, not competitively
Booth is very aware of the challenges this focus on sustainability presents. Ovo Energy is not the only provider hoping to set itself apart by focusing on the renewables sector, with Shell Energy and Bulb both positioning their brands in this space.
However, Booth says this strategy is not an attempt to beat competitors but to think about how the energy industry can address the issue of sustainability amid the wider climate change crisis.
It’s remarkable how much consciousness there is around climate change but how little we consider some of the easiest steps we can take to make a difference.
Sarah Booth, Ovo Energy
“When we think about the climate crisis, we must think collectively and not competitively. We should be sharing the practices we develop with other brands and other marketers, or companies that want to take steps for themselves. Our power is in our collective,” she says.
“As marketers we are trained to want to want to have ownership of our initiatives at a brand level and this is the opposite for me. There have been questions around: ‘What if a really big brand did it, would we got lost in it?’. I really don’t care because it’s not about us.”
There must also be a concern, in putting the focus for media on sustainability rather than visibility, that marketing effectiveness might be challenged.
“It’s a question people are consistently asking about different media anyway. What we have found is, we were able to find equally effective media formats elsewhere,” she says.
“The challenge I’ve always applied to every part of my career, whether it’s about sustainability or not, is if a media channel needs to be left out the challenge creatively is finding something that can do the same job rather than falling back on the status quo and admitting defeat.”
She also believes that because she has internal buy-in on the strategy, and support from everyone in the business, up to CEO, that Ovo’s marketing will be judged on different criteria.
“There’s naturally a question about commerciality,” she admits. “But everyone is very much ready for it.”
How far to go on sustainability
One of the challenges in the strategy is how Ovo thinks about carbon offsetting. Critics would say it’s better not to use the carbon in the first place, rather than offsetting it, while there are questions over which schemes work best.
Booth admits it won’t get it right first time. But it is working with organisations such as The Carbon Trust to calculate its offset and Booth says getting help will be key.
“There’s absolutely no way we’re going to get it right first time. But the fear of getting it wrong can stop us from getting started,” she says.
“We’re coming into it with a genuine desire to remove our impact from a carbon perspective and to have a learning experience on that journey and inspire people into the conversation.”
The hope as well is that in the end offsetting won’t be necessary because, for example, all outdoor ads will be powered by renewables. “Long-term we might be able to make that an absolute statement, but at the moment we ask the question and offset. Media providers can come with us on that journey.”
In terms of measuring the new strategy, Ovo will be looking at the wider industry picture and whether they’ve helped spark a conversation and triggered change.
“[Success is] about not killing ourselves from day one. The first step is holding ourselves to account,” she says. “[Then] I’d like to see other people taking it up, reporting it themselves. I’d love to see that it is something that is recognised [in the industry].”
“There’s a space for us in the renewable sector and the sustainability landscape but we need to think beyond the source of the fuel to the behaviours we have.”