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Marketing and Comms
This Platform Turns Your Branded Video Content Into Support for Nature Conservation

With Ecoflix — a nonprofit streaming platform on a mission to be the ‘Netflix for nature’ — brands can produce compelling sustainability content that also helps protect nature and wildlife.

In 2016, filmmaker Mark Downes was in the South of France for the annual Cannes Lions Festival. As a seasoned ad-video producer, he had been to the event many times before — but that year, something happened that changed his life.

“I had my ‘purpose turn,’” he tells Sustainable Brands®. “I happened to be in the room when Ban Ki-moon came on stage to deliver a keynote about something called the Sustainable Development Goals — and my mind was just blown, totally blown.”

Downes’ chance encounter with the South Korean diplomat, who was the UN Secretary-General at the time, encouraged him to quit his job and pursue a career dedicated to using brand communications to turn the dial on sustainability. Since then, he has graduated from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, conceived an animated series to help teach children about sustainability, and picked up a regular gig tutoring for AdGreen — helping his peers understand climate science and what it takes to create commercial films in a low-carbon-impact way.

Then, 18 months ago, he joined the team at Ecoflix — a nonprofit streaming platform on a mission to be the Netflix for nature-, wildlife- and environment-themed movies and documentaries. Backed by philanthropist and retired litigator David B. Casselman, it was borne out of his frustration at the difficulty in distributing documentaries about nature — a subject close to his heart; Casselman has dedicated much of his life to animal-welfare causes, with pro bono legal work to help protect wildlife.

With Ecoflix, he has created a subscription platform giving people access to “science-based, positive storytelling to try and inspire people,” as Downes puts it.

“The main mission is saving animals and the planet,” he explains. “We have around 70 NGOs on board as our partners. While they are amazing, they’re also underfunded and understaffed. But they have great access to incredible content. They’ve got hard drives of great stuff, but they don’t know how to craft a film. So, we’re using our skillset to help craft their stories.”

On sign-up, subscribers can choose which NGOs or charities to support: “If you’re crazy about elephants, you can support Tusk. And we will make sure they get your subscription money each month.”

The content featured on the self-described “Netflix for nature” is not intended to be binged as with most streaming services. And the films are not designed to highlight environmental doom and gloom — there are no shots of animals in distress, for example. And the filmmakers ask themselves whether a five-year-old would be frightened if they saw their film: “If the answer is yes, we edit it accordingly.”

But Ecoflix is keen to tell stories beyond its own online platform. It’s new ‘thing’ is Ecoflix Media — a new commercial arm to the organisation that is designed to make films for brands that will not only realise the benefits of working with great filmmakers, but also be encouraged knowing their investment is flowing back into nature and wildlife conservation.

“We want to work with sustainable brands, but we don’t want to sell their products,” Downes asserts. “We’re not interested in creating adverts; we want to tell the story about who they are, what they do, their essence, their positivity, and how they celebrate that internally or externally. Ultimately, we want to tell inspiring stories. And the brands can choose which NGOs they want to support. Most already have charities they work with, anyway.”

In the face of threatening greenwash (“we need to be careful we’re not a magnet for people who want to use us to greenwash their claims, because we’re squeaky clean”), Downes is keen to tell the stories of not only the leaders, but also the companies who might be at the very start of their sustainability journey to “turn the ocean liner around.”

“A lot of people are afraid to start talking about [sustainability] out loud until they’ve figured it all out. They’ve locked in how they’re going to do it, and then they will shout about it. But, actually, the initial stage of that journey is really fascinating and inspiring — because nobody’s doing it perfectly. You’re more likely to inspire other people to start that journey by watching a film like that, rather than somebody who’s doing it perfectly and winning awards. You know what I mean?”

Right now, there are more than 16,000 production companies in the UK alone. It is a crowded market, but Downes — Ecoflix’s Head of Sustainability — is confident the organisation can stand out. Alongside him is COO Aimée Anderson (“a powerhouse of ideas and energy”), Head of Content Peter von Puttkamer (“a three-time Emmy judge”) and Head of Conservation Ian Redmond OBE (“an amazing character who’s currently in Kazakhstan at an animal migratory conference”).

Downes is infinitely inspired to keep things positive in his storytelling because of his young children. Whenever he takes them to the supermarket, they always pick up products to check the labels for things such as palm oil, he says. It’s not something he’s ever mentioned to them; they’ve just picked it up from school.

“They’re militant. We’re doing this for the right reasons — not for my kids or their kids. It’s for seven generations down the line.”

It is this ethos that drives the filmmaker’s passion to find new narratives and cinematic techniques to drive awareness and education.

“That’s the thing that really bugs me about sustainability. If we didn’t have solutions, we’d be in a right pickle. But the fact that there are solutions, means it’s just an awareness and education thing. That’s where my positivity comes from.”