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In a green new world, agencies must drive the sustainability conversation

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By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

October 22, 2020 | 6 min read

2020 pulled the rug out from under society's feet – and now it's time to restart, rebuild, reset from scratch. As part of The Drum's Agencies4Growth festival, ad experts have shared their thoughts on how agencies can drive sustainability conversations in a post-pandemic world.

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Why do agencies need to drive the sustainability conversation? / Unilever - Persil

Across the globe, 2020 has been an unsettling time, and a period of change that has forced us all to stop and reflect. Slowly but surely, the world is now piecing itself back together, but what will this brave new world look like?

The pandemic has doubtless heightened environmental awareness, making people more conscious of how they consume and the lasting impact their actions have on the planet. With 2020 changing people's eco-friendly habits, experts in conscious consumption share their thoughts on what agencies can do to drive conversations with sustainability, explaining why this year has given agencies a new blueprint for a positive change.

What should stay and what should go

“The world has changed since Covid-19. Agencies need to decide which bits should go, and which bits should stay – and then accelerate the good bits,” stresses Trewin Restorick, founder and chief exec of Hubbub UK, an environmental behaviour change charity. “Agencies need to use this pandemic to speed away from the bad stuff to embed the good.“

He says that Covid-19 was an enforced deep breath for the country and research shows that people don't want to go back to the old normal. “And so brands and agencies have suddenly realized that they've got to place people at the heart of their purpose-driven strategy. They've suddenly realized what the impact of an unexpected risk is on their business,“ Restorick explains.

Redefining 'sustainability'

“We need to look at this from both an environmental and social point of view. It can't be one thing without the other as they impact each other,“ says Leila Fataar, founder of Platform 13. “We need to redefine sustainability to include all these things. And so everyone is thinking about people and the planet.“

She explains that the Black Lives Matter protests opened people up to the idea of learning. “We have this new openness to receive information. And that acknowledgement of people's roles within that, subconsciously or not, is massive because that will impact how we are at work,“ she explains.

“Brands are not brands with other people in it. That's what people don't understand. They look at brands as this kind of personality, buts its the people in it that make it whatever it is, and that's really important.“

It's not going to happen overnight

“It's a really long term process of change,“ admits Tom Stancliffe, co-founder of Tribe Performance Nutrition. “It requires real clarity of vision and knowledge of where you are going. It's not a tactic or a campaign.“

He says that the pandemic has offered a chance to rise above the madness and reimagine what we want things to look like. "Let's pick a date for a year in the future. What do we want to look like then? How can we be better and use this as a strategic period to rethink how we're going to look the other side of it. The big question is how do you reposition yourself in that period and use the opportunities to be more strategic and set new strategies in motion."

Are you sitting comfortably?

“Covid-19 has forced us all to spend a lot of time alone and get comfortable with ourselves in order to be able to survive,“ explains Alice Salisbury, co-founder of the consultancy, InklingCC.

She says agencies need to be confident that they are making decisions they would make on their own. “Are you comfortable with the decision you've made because we're going to spending a lot of time sitting at home analyzing who we are and the decisions that we've made the next few months?“

“You say that agencies are made up of individual people. If all those individual people feel really comfortable with who they are and what they've done, then things will get better.“

The panellists spoke with The Drum at Agencies4Growth Festival, a week-long online event celebrating the power of agencies to support businesses. You can watch the interview in full here. Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Agencies4Growth schedule here.
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