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By Diana Ivanova1,2 and Loup Suja-Thauvin2

The problem

It is not hard to find reasons to dislike some forms of advertising. Among other things, advertising impacts communities by:

Importantly, advertising normalises overconsumption on a planet that has already been depleted and impoverished by uncapped resource extraction, waste and climate change in the aim of profits. Advertising creates desires that are disconnected from human need and true wellbeing. Ads rarely reflect functional uses of a product and usually focus on changing perceptions around what it means to be successful, beautiful, accepted and happy. Yet, we now more than ever need to reflect on what energy and consumption contributes directly to our human needs and a good life, and what does not. 

While it is widely accepted that advertising has a huge effect on how we use resources, it is very challenging to quantify those impacts. Here we estimate the electricity use of outdoors ads infrastructure in the UK. Understanding those impacts is an important step to lowering the energy demand of our communities and living well within planetary boundaries.

The energy use behind outdoors advertising in the UK

Advertising in its various forms uses energy to spread a message. Whether it is a TV or a radio ad, a billboard or an online pop-up, ads need energy to run on various devices. We find that a single digital billboard may use as much energy as 37 UK homes. In addition, there is the energy used in the manufacturing and distribution of ad infrastructure and printed materials. There is also the energy needed to supply and use the products and services that ads encourage. In an energy world still largely reliant on fossil fuels, advertising comes at a high carbon cost.

In most UK cities, it is common to see outdoor advertising on digital billboards, bus stops and shopping centres with images of anything from fast food to automobiles. UK cities are becoming especially saturated, with more than 100,000 outdoors advertising infrastructures across the country. That includes digital and paper billboards, bus stops, phone boxes and others. Based on this estimate, we calculate that in 2020 outdoors advertising used between 84 and 451 GWh of electricity in the UK. For an average household size of 2.3 persons per household, the amount of electricity that outdoors advertising uses directly is equivalent to the home electricity use of 68,000-362,000 UK residents. For an average emission factor of 0.309 kgCO2-equivalents per kWh, this amounts to between 26 and 139 thousand tonnes of CO2-equivalents.

The following table gives an estimation for other major British cities.More about the data, assumptions and method can be found here.

CityNumber of infrastructuresConsumption (GWh/year)Home electricity use (equivalent in number of UK residents)
London14,55824 – 8419,000 – 67,000
Greater Manchester6,0424.1 – 203,300 – 16,000
Birmingham5,0623.2 – 142,600 – 12,000
Glasgow2,2621.6 – 8.01,300 – 6,500
Leeds2,0571.5 – 6.71,200 – 5,400
Bristol1,9401.2 – 5.7990 – 4,600
Cardiff1,3930.7 – 3.7576 – 2,900
Total UK107,63784- 45168,000-362,000

This only includes the electricity for the lighting and changing of images, not that embodied in the materials and infrastructure or the consumption that advertising creates. Furthermore, calculations are based on numbers from a database, which excludes a lot of the outdoors advertising in the cities.  For example, in Leeds, we find that about half of the infrastructure is missing. Therefore, we can expect that all energy figures are grossly understated, and that the true energy costs are several times higher. Even so, the calculated amount of energy that goes into running all of the ads in the UK is enormous and highlights advertising as an important area for reducing energy demand and carbon emissions. 

Where do we go from here?

The good news is that there is a lot that communities can do to reclaim public spaces with the aim of happier lives and stronger communities. We highlight several core principles that will be helpful in managing environmental impacts from advertising and increasing public engagement with our shared spaces. The principles are entirely feasible provided that there is political and social will.

  1. We need to democratise the urban landscape

The general public cannot turn off or easily escape outdoors advertising even if it so wishes. Yet, cities increasingly rely on advertising funds for the provision of basic urban infrastructure such as bus shelters, street signs and public internet access. These arrangements, while may seem beneficial, come with a myriad of hidden social and environmental costs that society pays for. Advertising displays are increasingly monopolising our public spaces at the expense of reduced non-commercial access and diversity for the locals. Some areas, particularly less wealthy ones, may suffer more from this public space monopoly, further entrenching social inequalities in the cities. 

Strategies for democratising public space could include restricting the space for corporate advertising and allowing for a proportion of non-commercial access to outdoor media or commercial community notices and public artworks. Local authorities may also tax the revenue raised through advertising, which could be used to provide public access. City planning should also explicitly consider how the capacity of different publics to access the outdoor media landscape and space changes.

  1. We need to get rid of the most harmful advertising

Not all products that are advertised are equal. Advertising of some products – such as cigarettes and fast food – is already restricted in some areas to ensure the safety of children and adults who are exposed to the messages. Banning advertising of carbon and energy intensive products and activities such as fossil fuels, SUVs and frequent flights can have a great effect on the social norms, practices and consumption patterns surrounding these activities. For example, Amsterdam wants to become the first city in the world to ban fossil fuel advertising

We need to consider the social and environmental impacts of advertising from a system perspective. How is the normalisation and encouragement of problematic practices through advertising considered? Currently planning officers may reject outdoors corporate advertising based on road safety and amenities concerns, but they do not make climate and energy considerations. They also do not necessarily consider the impacts on social equality, communities and well-being. The lawfulness of advertising should be scrutinised against these wider social and environmental concerns.

Greenwashing and spreading of miscommunication through advertising should also be a major concern as it may hamper local actions for climate neutrality and community well-being. Encouraging a public debate and transparency in advertising  will support city planners and regulators in their judgements. 

  1. We need to reduce the scale of advertising altogether

Advertising provision in the cities is self-interested and for-profit and at best only partly considers the broader social and environmental issues in the city. Prioritising the provision of information in advertising and establishing stricter criteria to allow advertising in public spaces is key to reduce growth dependence and make cities more livable and resilient. Moving away from advertising is necessary to build resilience as it will allow a shift away from damaging activities and will support the development of alternative, solidarity society and use of public space.

  1. Get involved in the movement

AdBlock Leeds, as a part of a larger Adfree Cities network in the UK, holds corporate advertising in the city accountable for the hidden costs associated with it. Our vision is one of happier lives and stronger communities and we welcome everyone who shares it. Social movements are powerful initiators of change, so if you are concerned about the amount of advertising in your city, join or start such a group.

Together, let’s reclaim our public spaces!

This piece was updated on 5 April 2021 to make minor corrections to figures

1 School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

2 AdBlock Leeds, https://adblockleeds.wordpress.com/

On September 23rd, you can support the WWF in making that a reality. WWF is hosting a webinar with WEAll’s Amanda Janoo, and Club of Rome member and WEAll Ambassador, Sandrine Dixson.

The ideals of a wellbeing economy were endorsed by the European Union (EU) in October 2019 and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in January 2020, adding to the growing number of governments that are interested in the co-creation of a wellbeing economy in their areas.

The WWF is now calling for the European Commission, European Parliament, and the Member states to take direct actions to implement a wellbeing economy, which are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

In its 22- page report to be released on September 23rd, the WWF outlines it recommendations on which new measures of progress are needed to guide a wellbeing approach.

With the SDGs as the guiding tool, the recommended Wellbeing Economy strategy would:

  • Balance the social, environmental and economic dimensions of the recovery from the current health and economic crisis
  • Respond to calls from the EU Council for a common EU approach to the economy of wellbeing
  • Provide an EU strategy for implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, five years after their international adoption

Learn more about what it will take for the EU to adopt a wellbeing economy at WWF’s upcoming webinar on September 23rd. Register here.

Guest speakers include:

  • Amanda Janoo, Knowledge and Policy. Lead,  Wellbeing Economy Alliance
  • Estelle Goeger, Commissioner Gentiloni’s Cabinet, European Commission
  • Ester Asin, Director, WWF European Policy Office
  • Taru Koivisto, Director, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland

By: Nikita Asnani, WEAll Youth Member

The link between money and sustainability has not been adequately discussed. We often take our monetary system as given, like the laws of nature: A broken mirror, that cannot be replaced, no matter how distorted the image, as long as it serves those who made it.

We know that 80% of environmental impact reductions can be made in the design phase of a product or a service.

Can our economy, the web encapsulating all of goods and services, be designed in a way that harnesses this opportunity?

This article aims to explore how.

Let’s suppose that you have two potted plants in front of you. One is kept in the open air, where it gets enough sunlight and is kept well-hydrated. Naturally, it is flourishing.

The second plant is kept in the shade and is not well-watered. As a result, its leaves have turned yellow and are drooping.

The two pots are akin to the haves and the have-nots in our world: sharing the same geography but divided by race, class and wealth.

Similar to how we would address a dying plant – it makes sense that we take steps to nourish the people of colour, working class and the poor, who have been denied equal access to economic resources made available to the white and the rich.

Here comes the ‘But…’

“Economics is the study of the efficient allocation of scarce resources. Sunlight and water may be in plenty, but economic resources, unfortunately, aren’t.”

I urge you to think differently, radically:

Isn’t it funny that nature, the most complex and intricately designed system, provides for all beings, without any form of differentiation… yet we choose to rely on an economic system that allows for massive inequality based on the idea that wellbeing is a zero-sum game? 

Is it possible to engineer an economic system, that promises sustainable abundance for all, without exception?

Unravelling the patterns that got us to where we are today, can help us detach from patterns that no longer serve us.

New Money for a New World (2017) proposes a unique approach to our relationship with money – which I believe has the potential to accelerate a shift into a healthier, happier and wiser future for all.

The book outlines how all conventional, national currencies today, are Yang currencies. They have a positive interest rate, which means that a user benefits from accumulation (the more you accumulate, the richer you become) and encourages competition (Lietaer, 2002).

The book then takes us back to ‘the Golden Age’, which as the name suggests, was a time in history that was characterised by sufficiency, not scarcity; generosity, not greed; and faith, not fear. Every household was prosperous, as people were able to raise enough money to serve their needs, without having to raise taxes, redistribute wealth or rely on government support!

A river that freely flows becomes the ocean. It is the forced stream that gets trapped in a dam.

The secret ingredient of the Golden Age was its reliance on Yin currencies. The key component of a Yin currency is its negative interest rates, which means that I am not any richer today, than I was yesterday, just by stacking cash under my bed or in my bank account. As a result, a Yin currency encourages circulation of cash towards where it is needed the most, be it infrastructure, education, health, agriculture, etc, rather than stockpiling it (Lietaer, 2002). In other words, a Yin currency incentivises investments to increase social capital, rather than individual wealth.

Our economy is a web of closely-knit industries that are interdependent on each other. If we truly want to achieve social, emotional, physical and mental wellbeing for all, our economy must be built on a solid foundation of nurturing feedback loops, not self-destructing ones.

The potential for increased social capital (connections with neighbours) as a result of positive feedback loops is depicted by the Participatory Cities’ research-basedBenefits to social capital: The Multiplier Effectdiagram.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Based on the idea of building social capital, the organisation Slow Money, channels investment capital into community development projects, where it is needed most. By making 0% loans to farmers and small food enterprises, they are saying ‘NO to Oil, and YES to Soil’, thereby building towards a restorative economy. Their model shows that positive, mutually reinforcing change can lead to positive outcomes for wellbeing.

This feedback loop of creating physical, natural capital, financial and social capital could be achieved at a global scale, by an economy that is based on both Yin and Yang currencies.

Such an economic system would allow every person, every being, to get their fair share of sunshine and rain.

About the Author: Nikita Asnani is a 19-year old student based in Dubai. She is passionate about design thinking and systems change for a circular economy. She joined WEAll Youth because it offered her hope in the ability of young people to catalyse a new economic system, by harnessing the power of localisation, as an alternative to globalisation.

References

Belgin, S. and Lietaer, B. (2010). New Money for a New World

Lietaer, B. (2002). The Mystery of Money: Beyond Greed and Scarcity. Munich: Riemann Verlag

It used to be the case that focusing government efforts to growing the Gross Domestic Product made perfect sense. Post-WWII Finland was a poor and agricultural country devastated by the war where the oldest people still remembered the great famine of 1866-68 when over 100,000 people – over 5 % of the whole population – died of hunger. Against this background, the rapid economic growth that has made Finland one of the richest countries has been a remarkable success story: Not only are Finnish people materially well off and protected from famine but also – according to World Happiness Report – the happiest people in the world in both 2018 and 2019.

However, two key concerns force governments to refocus their aim away from increasing GDP and into measuring and improving human well-being more directly.

First, for wealthy Western countries, GDP growth no longer produces well-being. In low income countries economic growth often helps to lift people out of poverty, thus contributing to well-being. Money that buys food on the table buys happiness for the family. However, there is a threshold beyond which the needs that money can satisfy are satisfied. And thus money no longer produces happiness – not for countries and not for citizens. As for citizens, a recent study published in Nature Human Behavior utilizing data from 1.7 million individuals from 164 countries demonstrated that beyond annual incomes of $95,000 money no longer contributes to life satisfaction and for experiencing positive emotions, the satiation occurs already at $60,000. As for countries, the wealthy Western countries have passed decades ago the satiation point beyond which pushing for economic growth produces only marginal gains in well-being. If even that.

In the last ten years, the US economy has continued its growth. At the same time citizen happiness and even the average life expectancy of citizens is declining. Since 1999 suicide rate has increased by a third, while drug overdose deaths have quadrupled. The economy is getting better, the citizens are doing worse. Unfortunately, the politicians focusing on the former are blind to the latter, which provides one key explanation for the populist backlash against the establishment that we have seen in recent elections in US, UK, and many other countries.

Second, it is no longer possible to deny the devastating impact of economic growth on our planet. Intergovernmental Panel in Climate Change has made it clear that keeping the global warming below 1.5 C requires rapid globally coordinated action to mitigate the worst-case scenarios. There is currently much talk about whether it is possible to decouple economic growth from environmental impact by taxing emissions, switching to cleaner energy sources, and various technological solutions. Many experts are skeptical about the possibility of achieving decoupling fast enough to allow for ‘green growth’ while still stopping the global warming.

But the true question is not whether it is possible to decouple economic growth and environmental impact. The true question is why we should care about economic growth if it has decoupled from human well-being. Decoupling human well-being from environmental impact is what really matters. Economic growth used to be the means to growth in well-being. Now that it no longer works, we should stop fetishizing the means, and concentrate on the target.

True enough, some economic growth produces well-being. However, other economic growth – like medications for the burned out, petrol consumed while stuck in traffic, or treating lung cancers caused by polluted air – are symptoms of ill-being. Accordingly, we need to distinguish between economic growth that produces well-being and economic growth that produces ill-being. Getting rid of the latter is good from both human and environmental point of view.

To get there, we need reliable and timely measures of human well-being.

A few decades ago citizen happiness was an impossible policy goal for two reasons: 1) There was not enough reliable annual data that could be used to track how happiness of the citizen is developing within a country. 2) Given the lack of data and subsequent lack of research, there were not many evidence-based policy recommendations that politicians interested in improving citizen happiness could apply.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Commissioned by French president Nicolas Sarkozy two Nobel-winning economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen wrote in 2009 a report on broader measures of well-being that initiated a new era. UK Office for National Health started to track citizen well-being extensively in 2010, OECD has tracked the well-being of its member countries since 2011 through its Better Life Index, and World Happiness Report has tracked citizen happiness around the world annually since 2012, with various national efforts to make happiness the key policy goal underway in countries ranging from New Zealand and Scotland to United Arab Emirates.

This has led to an explosion of research on how various institutions and policies affect citizen well-being, demonstrating, for example, the importance of social trust, rule of law and low corruption, and the extensiveness of welfare benefits and labor market regulation for citizen happiness.

Finally, we have the tools and measures in place that make it possible to realize the true aim of every democratic government, as articulated already by Thomas Jefferson in 1809: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the only legitimate object of government.”

So, if we want to still save the planet and if we believe that the true object of governments ought to be improving the well-being of citizens in a sustainable way, then now is the time for paradigm shift: Instead of tracking GDP growth as the prime measure of government success, we need to track citizen well-being more directly.

Achieving this paradigm shift requires action from us all: Media should use as much space to report well-being metrics as they now use to report economic metrics and hold politicians accountable for shifts in people’s life satisfaction. Political decision-making should become two-dimensional: Assessing both the economic and well-being impact of policy proposals ought to be a routine part of all policy-making (see figure above). And we, as citizens, should be mindful in our voting decisions and push for our representatives to take the issue of citizen happiness seriously.

Time is running out. Blind economic growth for the sake of economic growth is pushing us beyond planetary boundaries – often without contributing to our well-being. It is time for well-being economics and well-being politics that ensures that economy serves people and their happiness, not the other way around.

Photo by Singkham for Pexels

Uniting the world for one massive clean up
September 15, worldwide

150 countries cleaning up on the same day? No problem!

So far, over 16 million people in 113 countries have joined us in cleaning up illegally dumped waste. Over the next couple of years, we have an ambitious plan of engaging 150 countries for one massive World Cleanup Day in September 2018, making it the biggest positive civic action the world has seen.

We understand what a challenge this is. By the time we’re through, we will have organized the biggest international clean-up the world has ever seen, and probably the biggest positive civic action movement ever.

In 2018 – World Cleanup Day on September 15th

Much of 2018 will be devoted to preparations and execution of the World Cleanup Day. But we will also be very focused on awareness and debate about sustainable waste solutions worldwide. After all, as much fun as the World Cleanup Day will be… we only want to do it once!

We already have staff working around the clock in preparation. But whether we truly succeed in cleaning up the entire world in one day really hinges on one thing… you.

If you’re interested in being a part of a historic, challenging, rewarding, and fun event, don’t wait. We need you now! Check out all the ways you can get involvedand be inspired.