March 30th, 2022 — 3 min read

We must harness the lessons of the pandemic to future-proof our industry and build a sustainable future


Last month, in his annual letter to global CEOs, Head of BlackRock, Larry Fink, outlined his view that ‘every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net-zero world’, and that switching to a sustainable future is crucial to a company’s survival in the long run. After years of looking the other way, big business is finally taking sustainability seriously, and there is a growing understanding that doing so is not only the right thing for the planet but a core business model that is vital to future survival. 

In the advertising and production industries, we can certainly expect the effects of these decisions to reverberate down the supply chain. As more businesses build environmental impact into their procurement policies, any agency or production company with an eye on the future should be placing sustainability at the forefront of their own offering moving forward.

With the signatures to AdNetZero – our industry’s programme to achieve carbon-neutral status by 2030 – growing steadily, it’s clear that many are taking this shift seriously. But achieving net zero is going to require more than just pledges. Between now and 2030 our industry will need to make drastic changes to the way it operates on every level, particularly when producing projects globally. 

This, however, needn’t necessarily be a cause for fear. Our experience throughout the pandemic has ironically left us in the strongest possible position to succeed. 

After 2 years of zoom meetings, virtual presentations and dialling into shoots from our bedrooms, the idea of getting back on planes and on set is – for many –  very welcomed. But before we rush back into the old days, we should pause to consider what is worth holding on to. We should see the pandemic as a galvanising experience, and the innovation and resourcefulness our industry has shown can be harnessed to create a more sustainable future.

A lot of these innovations have been technical. Remote viewing software, virtual production and cloud computing systems have all developed rapidly over the last 2 years, making collaboration easier without teams being together in person. More important has been a shift in mindset, from an assumption that great work can only be made in certain well-worn ways, to an embrace of fresh perspectives and approaches. 

Whereas before we may have assumed that we needed a UK director to fly out to a country to film, thanks to the pandemic we’ve learned that a local director or team can be just as successful, if not more. Instead of everyone being on set or location all the time, we’ve learnt we can sometimes just as easily review remotely. Huge productions with complex setups and extensive crews work for some briefs, but we’ve seen that we can produce just as successful work by being creative with other mediums. Multiple satellite crews in different countries can achieve the same results as one crew travelling from place to place. 

At its core, production is a human-centric business, and the best results come from fruitful collaborative relationships. There is often an attraction to playing it safe – working with teams and collaborators that we know well – but the pandemic put paid to all this; forcing us to collaborate with a wider range of talent, partners, and friends worldwide. It showed us these fruitful relationships can be fostered anywhere, and you don’t always need the extensive production add-ons and globe-trotting full teams to produce great work. By being flexible, agile and open-minded to new collaborations and approaches, you can achieve just as great results.

The dangers of COVID may finally be subsiding, however, the challenges of the climate crisis aren’t. If we really want to achieve net-zero by 2030, and futureproof our industry in the process, then we’re going to need all the resourcefulness we can muster. Over the last 2 years, we’ve shown tremendous resilience, innovation, and collaboration; proving we can rethink and rebuild our processes from the ground up, whilst continuing to make successful and beautiful work. In the process, we’ve made huge strides in establishing more sustainable practices that could be vital for our future success and survival. Let’s not throw them away now.

This piece was originally posted online on Shots