Ad Spotlight: Sebastian Munden, Chair, Ad Net Zero

  • 6 minutes read
  • Global
  • 05/05/2023

Welcome to the Ad Spotlight series where we hear from a different guest from the industry each month to get an insight into the landscape of advertising as well as their own personal experiences.

Our guest this month is Sebastian Munden. Sebastian spent over 30 years at Unilever, applying the principles of business as a force for good for all stakeholders. And, for the past three years, has served as Chair for Ad Net Zero, the advertising industry’s climate emergency global action programme.

Seb works at the intersection of industry and public policy to drive real change around sustainability, and we sat down to discuss the past, present, and future of sustainable advertising.


Q: Why did you choose a career in media?

A: I was president of the College Drama Society at university and also managed a venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I loved marketing our shows and getting the audience in to see people like Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, and Al Murray. What drew me to consumer products specifically – and kept me there for 30 years – was creating products that make people's lives a little easier or a little better, and over time I realized we could also make a real impact on living more sustainability too.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?

A: The two things I hear most when speaking to people in the industry is the search for talent, and where the industry is going to land in terms of taking responsibility for driving sustainable products and services. And I think they’re connected.

If companies step up on sustainability and responsible behaviour, they’ll get talent. People in this industry want to be on the right side of the debate. If companies take the initiative to be a force for good in tackling the climate emergency, I absolutely don’t think they’ll have a talent problem.

Q: Sum up the future of advertising in three words…

A: Death or glory!

I don’t think you can expect companies to survive if they aren’t taking issues that people care about, like sustainability and fairness, seriously. If they’re having the opposite affect and making things worse? They won’t be around for long.

Q: What is your biggest career highlight?

A: When I started at Unilever at the very end of the 1980’s 200ml was the normal dose of liquid for a washing cycle. Today, it’s about 20ml. I’m proud to have helped play a part in that consumer behaviour change through my role on the marketing side, as the Great British public came on that journey, expecting us to solve it.  

But going forward that kind of change needs to happen much quicker. We don’t have 30 years. That’s why we need the power of advertising to reframe behaviour and create new norms.  It can make real change through the messages it presents to the public - and advertising itself should also be one of the easier industries to decarbonize.

Q: Your favourite (TV) advert?

A: Apple Macintosh’s ‘1984’ advert. It probably only aired once nationally in the US (during the Super Bowl) but has become iconic. It shows the cultural impact advertising has and can have – how it can capture the zeitgeist of a generation and reframe an industry.

They totally reshaped the perception of the computer with a message of personal emancipation and empowerment. I guess that’s definitely helped when Ridley Scott directs your ads!


Talking about encouraging and introducing real change, let’s discuss how the advertising industry can and must evolve to play its role in the climate change battle…

Q: Can you talk a bit about Ad Net Zero and what it hopes to achieve in the next 3-5 years?

A: Ad Net Zero is about changing the way we work and changing the work we make across advertising. Unpacking that a little, “changing the way we work” is about the end-to-end decarbonization of the advertising industry – from brief to script, to making the ad and appearing in media.

Of our five ‘actions’, four are dedicated to getting our own house in order. For most companies that starts with addressing energy use and transport, as well as specific production-related or media-related activities.

The second part – “changing the work we make “ – is going to have a lasting impact. Creating an industry which is a force for good using the powers of advertising to drive more sustainable behaviours and promote sustainable products and services. As an industry, we can accelerate that transition. And there is no time to lose.

Honestly, in the next 3-5 years we should have pretty much sorted the decarbonization of the advertising process. That should be table stakes. Scaling up the impact of the work we make is the real challenge. Right now, of The Drum’s top 100 ads, probably five are about more sustainable behaviour. Our aim is every ad becoming a greed ad. Although it may not be important for citizens to change behaviour for green reasons as long as the change is made.

Q: What change can be made to help accelerate sustainable media planning and buying?

A: I believe that ecology and economy go hand in hand. If you’re conscious about using less of things it not only saves materials and carbon, but it saves money.

But the industry needs to be able to track and measure its carbon footprint and supply chain. Now, we’re getting that information in a somewhat haphazard way. There needs to be one standard framework or calculation for measurements which media owners and production houses can supply and take as a reference to reducing that carbon footprint moving forward.

At Ad Net Zero, we’re putting our energy in getting that global definition in a way that represents all stakeholders. Once that exists, everyone can put their creativity into reducing the footprint and implementing change.

Q: What role do you see addressable TV having in boosting industry and wider sustainability?

A: It can be a real force for good. Imagine there are geographic areas where, for example, there’s less uptake on electric vehicles or sustainable energy. You could use the power of targeting to increase awareness and drive interest to those specific groups. The same goes for public information advertising. Significant behaviour changes are going to be required around recycling or food waste or fashion to reduce greenhouse gases. Addressable could have a big impact there - and decarbonize its own supply chain.


Enjoyed this Ad Spotlight? Check out previous editions to see how other names across the industry found their way into advertising, and what they predict for its future – including Kelly Parker (CEO, Wavemaker UK) and Sue Unerman (Chief Transformation Officer, EssenceMediacomx).