Decoupling desire? Food, advertising, consumption and the question of limits

Each day, the average British consumer will see around 3000 commercial messages – on billboards, on their screens, on television – and 15% of these will be for food. Advertising is part of life.

And although most of us may not ‘see’ most of the ads we’re exposed to any more, advertising clearly works – it gets us to buy things. The advertising sector estimates that in the UK alone, nearly £90 billion worth of products were sold as a result of its persuasions. But while advertising may be good for the economy, it’s making the climate problem worse. One recent report estimates that emissions generated by the increase in UK sales that arise from successful advertising amount to around 186 mtCO2 eq. This is equivalent to about half the UK’s domestically produced emissions.

That said, if advertising is clearly part of the problem today, could it also be reconfigured to become part of the solution? Could the sector rise to the challenges of helping achieve a 1.5C, net zero world, and, more specifically in the case of food – a food system that is healthier, fairer, and less environmentally damaging? Could it play its part by persuading us to want, and to consume better, differently – even less? Can we, in short, decouple desire from damage?

Please join TABLE for a panel discussion, hosted by the Oxford Martin School, bringing together representatives from the advertising and food industries, from social enterprise and academia to explore advertising, food, desire and the question of ecological limits.