Late last month, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its second report, warning the impacts of global warming are likely to be ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible.’ It’s considered the most comprehensive assessment to date, providing ‘overwhelming evidence’ of the scale of these effects.
Yet, it’s now eight years since Al Gore coined the phrase ‘an inconvenient truth’ and we still seem much closer to where we started than the place we wish to get to. Worryingly, one of the concerns about the UN report was that the language was so ‘apocalyptic,’ it portrayed climate change as a battle already lost.
The Chair of the report, Dr. Chris Field, insists that there is nothing inevitable about climate change. Rather, that we ‘have to re-frame climate change as an exciting challenge for the most creative minds.’
I wholeheartedly agree.
This is a call to action for our creative industries — one of the UK’s biggest assets. Statistics show the creative industries are now worth as high as £71.4 billion a year to the UK economy, outperforming all other sectors in terms of growth. It’s one of our biggest exports and a resounding success story. So is this not the time to put that challenge to them?
They have the creative minds, the tools, the skills and the position of influence to meet the challenge laid out by Dr. Field. They are trusted partners of the biggest corporations in the world, called upon to provide innovative solutions to a full breadth of business challenges. In fact, these are seriously smart people. They wouldn’t deny the existence of climate change and I imagine many do their bit at home. But when it comes to work, the social conscience is left at the door.
Advertising in particular is an oft-maligned industry. Fundamentally it is a sales tool. It’s designed to drive profit; that’s how it’s used and that’s how it’s judged. But all kinds of marketing and design can be a force for good, if agencies can find the sweet spot where doing the right social thing is also the right commercial thing.
There's plenty of examples of this already occurring. Last year’s D&AD White Pencil winner, ‘Help I want to save a life’ is a perfect example of the kind of creative thinking that Dr. Field is calling for. Australian agency Droga5 was charged with the task of signing more people up to the bone marrow donor registry. Ingeniously, they partnered with a well-known plaster brand ‘Help!’ to put donor kits inside existing first aid products – targeting people when they’re already bleeding.
As a shopper, would you buy regular plasters, or the ones that could help you save somebody’s life?
Another great example of creativity for social good comes from Unilever’s Lifebuoy — which produces soaps, hand wash and other hygienic products.
Diarrhoea still kills 1.1 million children annually in developing countries, so during the Kumbh Mela festival in India (which attracts 100 million people), Lifebuoy heat-stamped the message ‘Lifebuoy se haath dhoye kya?” (Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?) onto some 2.5 million rotis, delivering a potentially life-saving, unmissable message at the perfect time.
And lastly, on the subject of climate change, there is the wonderfully simple idea from Barton F. Graf 3000 in the United States. Unfortunately, there are still some important and powerful people in US politics that don’t believe in climate change. The solution? To rename the storms wreaking havoc with the names of the politicians that denied the existence of climate change.
It’s these kinds of challenges that the creative industries have thrived upon for decades: when resource is low and the need for creativity is high. But with less time for old-fashioned R&D, many feel pressure and don’t want to upset the status quo, where sustainability isn't currently part of the conversation.
It takes bravery to drive that conversation, but encouragingly I think the pressure will come from new creative talent. They are unburdened by convention and ‘the way we’ve always done things,’ while also impudent enough to question that status quo. Millennials absolutely want to be doing good — and at least have some of that present in their daily lives, making a contribution to society.
The IPCC report confirms what many of us already know and the pressure is building, but not fast enough. We can’t afford to be sitting here in another eight years, as a new report provides new ‘overwhelming evidence’ of the effects of climate change, having this same discussion.
Laura Jordan-Bambach, our D&AD President, puts it succinctly: “We’re in an amazing position as communicators, taking what is intangible to the world and making it understandable to everyone.”
So it’s time for the creative industries to take up the gauntlet and find ways to make the climate change solution the most profitable solution. Because if companies do well and shareholders do well, then you can be sure that global warming will be at the top of everyone’s agenda.
Break the Silence is an experimental project from D&AD seeking to engage the creative industries in climate change. Watch the trailer and follow the project at http://breakthesilence.swarm.gd/