Environmental Advertising: U.S Brands Leading From the Front on Sustainability

The atmosphere heats up, and as though in tandem, so do big brand’s efforts to showcase more sustainable practices, and demonstrate to consumers a net positive environmental impact. A few are already doing a great job; as we’ll see later. Others… not so much.   

In any case, the situation is clear: urgent action is needed to allay greenhouse gas emissions and reach net zero targets. The planet’s future depends on it. Environmental issues matter to consumers – and therefore, they matter to brands, too.

So it’s a two-sided coin. Contribute to sustainable initiatives: a), for the good of the planet, and b), to align your brand with the environmental benefits that matter to consumers. Seems simple enough, right? But if you thought green marketing and sustainable advertising were being implemented effectively, you’d be wrong.

What is Environmental Advertising?

As you might expect, environmental advertising is a marketing promotion strategy used by brands to emphasize their positive impact on the environment, or their commitment to sustainability. 

Essentially, it aims to raise awareness about environmental issues, inspire behavior change, and showcase eco-friendly practices. And – done right – it can help a brand boost its ESOV and market share. So it’s a win-win.

However, in the U.S today, environmental advertising is fraught with challenges


Challenge 1: Demand For Standards

Early 2023 saw the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announce revisions to its “Green Guides,” built on guidance to help companies steer clear of greenwashing. It’s worth saying, the FTC can take action when deceptive claims violate federal law.

Challenge 2: The Barrier to Behavior Change

Simply information-dumping the climate crisis onto audiences is, it seems, not the best route to lasting behavior change. More nuanced messages are needed to educate and inspire action.

Challenge 3: Misperceptions

The public’s perception of the most pressing environmental issues may not always reflect reality. Marketers need to focus attention on meaningful change, rather than lend credibility to misguided ideas.

Challenge 4: Compelling Storytelling

As we’ve seen many times: building long-term memory structures, and inspiring action (of any kind) requires emotionally engaging narratives. All too often, advertisers go to market with bland, uninspired, unoriginal, forgettable, or tired messaging.

The Greenwashing Trap 

In contrast to legitimate environmental advertising; greenwashing – boo, hiss – refers to the deceptive practice of presenting a false or exaggerated portrayal of a company’s environmental efforts, to materially mislead consumers who are conscious of eco-issues.

Shockingly, our The Greenprint USA research reveals that well over half (58%) of global C-suite leaders “admit that their companies have engaged in” greenwashing.

This goes to show that while many brands claim to be eco-friendly, not all of them follow through on their promises. It goes without saying – misleading green claims damage consumer trust and undermine real efforts towards sustainability

How To Do Environmental Advertising: 3 Examples From the Wild

So, environmental advertising: a tough furrow to plough. Nonetheless, there are a number of U.S brands doing it, and doing it well, as The Greenprint USA shows. See below for a selection of our favorites.


2030 Status | Mother Nature | Apple

Apple’s sustainability-focused ad, despite a plus five-minute duration, captivates viewers with entertaining storytelling and achieves a 3.6 Star Rating along with powerful short-term potential. 

Through the character of Mother Nature, portrayed by Octavia Spencer, Apple injects humor while highlighting its sustainability initiatives. The ad addresses packaging, clean energy, transportation emissions, reforestation, and water usage, even unveiling its first carbon-neutral product. 

Prioritizing hope over fear, the ad’s positive tone resonates with viewers, avoiding the ostrich effect: a tendency to ignore uncomfortable information. Apple’s portrayal of progress in reducing its carbon footprint instills optimism and credibility, further aided by CEO Tim Cook’s presence as an aspirational messenger.


Wind Never Felt Better | Budweiser 

As in its 2024 Super Bowl ads glory spot, Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdale horses serve here as a Fluent Device, leveraging the mere exposure effect to enhance brand recognition and viewer affinity. 

Since 1933, the Clydesdales have become synonymous with the brand, appearing consistently in commercials for over 30 years. Stanford psychologist Robert Zajonc’s research on the mere exposure effect highlights how repeated exposure to stimuli increases likability. 

Beyond selling beer, the commercial educates consumers on Budweiser’s use of wind power – triggering positive emotions through natural imagery and Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. By tapping into nostalgia and environmental consciousness, Budweiser drives exceptional emotional intensity.


Buy Better. Wear Longer | Levi’s

Levi’s Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign challenges conventional brand messaging by advocating for… less frequent purchases of their durable jeans. 

Tackling overconsumption head-on, the campaign urges consumers to make sustainable choices by emphasizing Levi’s famous (and ‘American-as-apple-pie’) durability. 

In a gripping story, the ad depicts the enduring lifespan of Levi’s jeans across generations. Success here lies in a narrative approach, focusing on individual stories rather than dry statistics – in line with behavioral science findings that storytelling elicits stronger emotional responses than factual data.

The journey of a single pair of jeans, complete with wear, tear and repair, weaves an authentic, relatable, and entertaining narrative that reinforces Levi’s brand values and sustainability efforts while promoting consumer engagement and loyalty.


So What Do We Learn?

  • Well first-up, the importance of authenticity and alignment with brand values is evident. Levi’s Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign successfully aligns with its durable and sustainable brand image, resonating with consumers seeking authenticity and transparency from brands. 
  • Similarly, Budweiser’s consistent use of Clydesdale horses over decades taps into the mere exposure effect, building familiarity and affinity with the brand over time. 
  • Apple’s sustainability-focused ad effectively communicates its environmental initiatives through entertaining storytelling, highlighting the power of positive messaging to drive engagement and action. 

Good environmental advertising demonstrates the effectiveness of storytelling over dry statistics in engaging and persuading audiences; emphasizing the importance of emotional connection in advertising.


Hearts, Minds… & Actions

As brands look to embrace sustainability, the opportunity to effect positive change grows larger. Through authentic storytelling, emotional resonance, and genuine commitment to environmental stewardship, brands can not only win the hearts and minds of consumers – they can drive tangible action towards a more sustainable future.

Because ultimately, the real success of environmental advertising lies in its capacity to catalyze meaningful change. Consumers grow increasingly mindful of the impact of their purchasing decisions; in step, brands have a unique opportunity to lead by example, driving real-world action and cultivating a more sustainable society.

Marketing is a money game, yes: but let’s not underestimate its power to drive positive change. 

Creativity. Empathy. Genuine commitment. These are the foundations of stronger consumer connections and a greener, more responsible culture.