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Don’t Cop out, we wrote this story

The role of advertising and the creative industries in the climate crisis hasn’t gone unnoticed

It’s time to sober up. If we go beyond 2C of global heating then civilization as we know it is in serious peril. Up to 500 million people could be displaced by sea level rise. Crops will fail. Storms will batter our towns and cities. We will have failed to counter the climate crisis.

In many ways, adland wrote this story. The world’s marketing and advertising industries have played a pivotal part in selling every petrol-hungry SUV, every cheap flight and every disposable piece of fashion. It’s almost impossible not to track every tonne of CO2 back to the campaigns and promotions that fueled more than a century of incredibly unsustainable consumption.

And like carbon emissions worldwide, the trend is up and not down. This year international advertising is set to grow by 12.6% to $665bn. Literally hundreds of billions of marketing dollars will be spent stoking the fires that have brought us to the brink.

Sell. Sell. Sell.

The role of advertising and the creative industries in the climate crisis hasn’t gone unnoticed in the run-up to Cop26, and earlier this week here on The Drum, Ellen Ormesher outlined some of the protest groups and industry activists that are putting new pressure on the industry to reform.

For our part at Creative Concern, we’ve joined with a global network of over 50 creative agencies across 18 countries to launch a campaign to ‘change the story’ on the climate crisis. The ‘Change Something, Change Everything’ campaign issues a call to action to others in the marketing, advertising and design industries to ‘stop selling carbon’ and do more to address the twin global challenges of mass extinction and the climate crisis.

The campaign has been created and launched by a Latin American group of design and marketing agencies called ATI, and a partner group drawn from across Europe, of which we are a founder, called Do Not Smile.

'Change Something, Change Everything' includes a campaign website where global agencies can sign up to join the global alliance and find out more about how to become a sustainability-focused practice. The site also features artist collaborations, blogs and links to participating agencies.

Across our networks of creative agencies this campaign will be tailored for local audiences, but the calls to action – directed at the worldwide creative community – are clear:

  1. Communicators across the world need to make the global environmental crisis the ‘new storyline’ for advertising, marketing and public relations. It’s as critical and important a theme as Covid-19 recovery, diversity or human rights. Make it the new story we tell.

  2. Stop selling carbon. We’re calling on agencies who want to be seen as responsible to immediately drop any accounts that promote the use of fossil fuels. If you retain these accounts but make some kind of pledge to get to net zero, you are greenwashing – pure and simple.

  3. Get your own house in order. Establish a plan to get to net zero. Set a target. Switch your energy to green energy. Travel sustainably. Retrofit your offices and studios. Pull your bloody finger out, in other words.

As the Clean Creatives launch in the UK last week showed, pressure is building against those agencies and actors in our sector that continue to be part of the problem and not part of the solution. If you sell carbon, promote the unsustainable and have a part to play in what many are calling the sixth great extinction in our planet’s history, you will be called out.

Creativity is a beautiful thing, and human communications in its many forms, as the sociologist Raymond Williams once wrote, is about the dynamics of social change and, when done well, a more progressive future. Selling mindless and unsustainable consumption – and with Black Friday on the horizon we have a first-class example right in front of us – is far from progressive.

The creative industries worldwide have a responsibility to change the story, and that’s why our global alliance of agencies dedicated to sustainability has come together to launch our campaign. Every aspect of our lives has to change, and change quickly. How we work, travel, eat, live – there are changes we all have to make to deliver a safe and sustainable future for our children.

Nobody knows better than the world’s marketers how to change the way we live. If we can ditch the dirty accounts and clean up our act, we’ve got a vital job to do in the climate crisis.

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