Broadsign’s Sustainability Pledge: Greenwashing or the Real Deal?
Making sustainability in OOH a regular fixture —Falsehood or Philanthropy?
by Benny Taubman, OOH TODAY Reporter
In a recent statement to the public, Burr Smith, the CEO of Broadsign – a large DOOH software company whose products are used by industry titans such as Outfront and Lamar – revealed that his business will be committing to initiatives to reduce the its carbon footprint. In the statement, which can be read in its entirety here, Smith claims that 2023 will “mark a new milestone for our company” and that Broadsign will be “pledging to reduce and offset our carbon footprint.” If you feel skeptical about Broadsign’s statements and subsequently think of the term ‘greenwashing,’ you are probably not alone.
For those who do not know, greenwashing describes when businesses deceptively use sustainable, environmentally conscious, or other proposed green initiatives in an attempt to appease consumers and generate public support. More often than not, greenwashing is marked by misleading claims, a lack of factual data, vague plans of action, and does little, if anything at all, to actually help the environment. In a 2022 survey conducted by The Harris Poll, 72% of 1,419 C-suite and VP-level executives at companies based in North America admitted that their own company is guilty of corporate greenwashing.
One element of Broadsign’s sustainability pledge that potentially points to greenwashing is its plan to purchase carbon offsets when and where the business is not able to directly reduce its own emissions. Pertaining to this pledge, investigations and studies have found that the $2 billion voluntary carbon offset market is largely smoke and mirrors and is practically ineffectual in truly fighting climate change.
Pointing out greenwashing and recognizing where it is occurring in the place of real, effectual corporate initiatives of sustainability is crucial to actually fighting environmental issues. This is because greenwashing both creates false perceptions of initiatives to solve environmental issues and underhandedly enables corporations to maintain unsustainable business practices. As should be the case in other industries, those in the OOH industry should remain skeptical and always take the ‘commitments to sustainability’ of business with a grain of salt.
On the question of whether Broadsign’s new pledge is greenwashing or not, we’ll let the reader decide. To help make the decision easier, OOH Today conducted an exclusive interview with Smith regarding Broadsign’s sustainability pledge.
Q: Which aspects of Broadsign’s business will become more sustainable?
A: “Our primary focus is currently reducing Broadsign’s carbon footprint, with cloud computing and travel two key areas of focus. As such, early activities will include working with cloud infrastructure suppliers to prioritize cloud computing powered by renewable energy sources and optimize usage levels, as well as developing a policy at Broadsign to specify what is considered essential business travel and creating an incentive program to encourage employees to choose lower-carbon methods of travel whenever possible.”
Q: What “team of experts” was Broadsign working with to understand its carbon footprint?
A: “We worked with the team at RWDI, an engineering consulting firm with great expertise in sustainable business. They have helped structure and guide our investigation into our carbon footprint, as well as conducted much of the ongoing analysis of the data we’re examining.”
Q: What were some of the significant challenges that Broadsign had to “address and overcome” before committing to sustainability?
A: “Sustainability is vital and a priority for us. It’s a commitment, however, that requires a heavy lift and dedication to get right. Prior to making the pledge, the pandemic hit, introducing new challenges industry-wide that we had to address quickly. This meant focusing a majority of time and resources on supporting customers whose businesses were struggling when societies effectively closed down around the world.”
Q: Given that purchasing carbon offsets is a tactic that many businesses use to greenwash themselves, what would you say to people accusing Broadsign of ‘cheap talk’ and greenwashing?
A: “Broadsign is committed to reducing emissions across our business operations. Because a majority of our work is tied into networks operated by third-parties and we don’t have a manufacturing process that we can clean up, there are limitations to what we’re able to do from a reduction standpoint, making offsets a crucial part of our plan to achieve carbon neutrality. With full recognition that offsets are not as impactful as outright reductions, we’re working to reduce where possible, and invest in offsets that have been determined by the best standards out there to be reliable, meaningful investments.”
Q: Is Broadsign utilizing the assistance of outside partners to achieve its sustainability efforts? If yes, who are they?
A: “Yes, as previously mentioned, we worked with the team at RWDI. We will also be joining the World Out-of-Home Organization’s sustainability committee and helping to steer its activities, which have industry-wide impacts, to target ambitious and meaningful carbon reduction commitments by member organizations. We’re also exploring relationships with additional organizations in and outside the industry and anticipate having more details to share by the end of the year.”
Q: How will Broadsign be advocating for and helping other companies become more sustainable?
A: “In addition to our future work with the World Out-of-home Organization’s sustainability committee we are identifying opportunities where we can best support the industry. We are also making sustainability in OOH a regular fixture in our events, content, and other initiatives we undertake to engage with customers and the broader OOH and advertising communities. For instance, at ISE in Barcelona later this month our customer summit is returning and will feature a panel on sustainability.
Finally, while we are not planning to share confidential information relating to our own carbon footprint assessment, we do intend to be as open as possible about the findings of our investigation, the process we undertook to collect and analyze the data involved, and to connect eligible interested customers with our partners at RWDI to conduct analyses of their own.”