Sustainability in Advertising: George Monbiot

George Monbiot makes some excellent points in his video Sustainability in Advertising for The Guardian on Monday.

He kicks off by acknowledging the hypocrisy of the position he is caught in by calling advertising "a pox on the planet" with its drive to make us consume more (and the environmental and social ills that consumerism causes) and that working for his particular employer is extremely important to him personally. The contradiction of being a green and having your wages paid by airlines and gas guzzlers is certainly a harsh position to be in.

What would you do? Give up your job with a media group that is one of the few stalwarts of green flag waving and go to a more "ethically pure" organisation that lacks clout or stick with the pain of taking "petrodollars" and use that money to shout louder and be heard by a greater audience?

The point he raises is an interesting one regarding his conversations with editors and senior journalists; firstly filtering out the adverts for "unsustainable" products & services may be seen as both patronising and against freedom of speech, afterall, adult readers of  The Guardian, and other publications for that matter, are old enough and wise enough to make their own informed decisions. Secondly, Guardian media is dependent on the revenue raised by advertising for its continued existence, particularly in these tough economic times where ad revenue has "gone south" and traditional print publications are either struggling to exist or have already "gone under". To reject money outright from advertisers would be seen as "economic suicide" he recalls. But that's not what he's asking for.

Media editors exercise control over what is published regarding headlines and content in their publications. Advertising is, as George Monbiot highlights, outside this remit to a certain extent, saying:

"...we allow these corporations, as long as they pay, to make grossly-biased, unchallenged statements in favour of their products."

Whilst it is argued that what people see and read should not be filtered, the advertising itself is filtered, he points out, especially pornography and gambling. And yet anything that causes excessive consumerism, environmental damage, lesser (than porn or gambling) social issues, is still allowed.

What is being called for here is an extension to the filtering of advertising: if porn and gambling are deemed as socially unacceptable and their ads are not shown then why are excessive CO2 emissions still promoted with wild abandon? Oh yes, because they pay well. There is also the fact that the ills of flying and new big cars are lower down the scale than the immorality of the sexually explicit and betting against stacked odds.

George Monbiot says specifically that ads for vehicles that produce over 150gm/km of CO2 and ads by airlines should be filtered out, finishing on the question:

Is that too much to ask?

They are all fair points and, as George Monbiot states, the call for a "tightening" on the filtering system is not too radical. Calling for this degree of control at the publication level is certainly up to The Guardian to consider and would not be against the standards of the majority of the loyal and understanding readers. Casual readers, particularly of the online version, might not have the same degree of understanding, especially when it comes down to finding the publication via organic search - anybody can read, not just those of a social, ethical and moral persuassion.

So is taking out the ads of gas-guzzlers and airline too much to ask? Is it?