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Here’s what to expect from climate protesters at Cannes Lions this year

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By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

May 18, 2023 | 10 min read

Climate protesters were the talking point of Cannes Lions 2022, invading beaches, press conferences and Palais keynotes to incite change in the industry. Should delegates expect the same this year?

Greenpeace Cannes

At Cannes Lions 2022, Greenpeace protesters scaled the Palais

Following a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry’s return to Cannes’s beaches last summer was much anticipated by its biggest and brightest names. But the festivities were swiftly eclipsed by a sobering message from campaigners that there would be “no awards on a dead planet,” if the industry failed to address its complicity in the worsening climate emergency.

From Gustav Martner’s intervention at the opening ceremony to Greenpeace activists swarming the WPP beach and scaling the city’s central locations, adland’s relationship with fossil fuels took center stage at last year’s festival. Attendees and observers alike will doubtless be wondering what they can expect this year.

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Simon Cook, Cannes Lions’s chief executive tells The Drum that this year the festival is prepared for protests. Due to its global reach and opportunity to discuss the most pressing issues facing the industry, “we have to anticipate and prepare for peaceful protest, with the safety of our delegates top of mind,” he said. “We work with the City of Cannes and the relevant authorities throughout the year to ensure that the festival is a safe environment for our community.”

In what would likely be welcome news to Cook, sources close to The Drum had suggested that Greenpeace would not be returning to Cannes this year – opting instead to focus its activity on oil firms’ sponsorship and greenwashing at sporting events. However, a spokesperson from the organization later said they could not confirm or deny that activists would not be intervening at this year’s events.

“The only way for agencies to be sure is to stop working with polluters responsible for death and destruction,” they hinted.

In the event of Greenpeace’s absence, the buck will inevitably pass to organizations inside the advertising industry to continue the dissent against agencies that work with some of the world’s biggest polluters. Clean Creatives has confirmed that it will be returning to Cannes this year, replicating its previous blend of in-person activations and TikTok-based social media content to inspire agencies to sign its pledge to end fossil fuel ties, which has amassed signatories from over 500 agencies worldwide.

The network has recently been seen on social media advertising an opportunity for young creatives (who do not typically get the chance to attend the festival) to join it at Cannes this year. Duncan Meisel, Clean Creatives’s director explained: “Last year, creators working with Clean Creatives generated three of the most engaged pieces of content from the festival. It was a creative, engaging, hard-hitting way to scale our activism efforts online, and led to many new agencies joining our pledge.

“We hope that our work, alongside other activist groups, has made a simple fact abundantly clear – that by continuing to celebrate the most prominent ad industry players that promote fossil fuel without interrogating their stance on the climate, the Cannes Lions’s integrity is at stake. The entire Clean Creatives network and other like-minded groups will be waiting to see what progress has been made for 2023.”

Cook would argue to Greenpeace et al that in response to last year, Cannes Lions organizers have introduced a series of new measures to make the festival “the most sustainable it’s ever been.”

He refers to the appointment of Isla, a non-profit organization founded by event professionals and industry leaders that focuses on developing a sustainable future for events. For example, it’s working to measure the carbon emissions of Cannes Lions’s operations and set a new standard. Cook adds it will be offsetting all staff and jury flights, reducing waste and energy consumption with water fountains and solar charging stations. He also reassures The Drum that “recycling is high on the agenda.”

The awards ceremony itself is set to have a renewed green focus, with Cook pointing to The Sustainable Development Goals Lions, in association with the United Nations, which “hero the work that has the potential to affect positive change, and the entry fees are donated to causes around the world that further the progress of the SDGs.”

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This year, for the first time, entrants are being encouraged to provide information about their CO2 emissions in line with Ad Net Zero’s five actionable steps to reducing the carbon impact of developing, producing and airing creative work. Although, “This information is not compulsory and will not be used as part of the judging process,” says Cook. ”But it will be used by Lions to establish a benchmark of current practices which we will play back to the global industry and share best practice that leads to positive change.”

Above all, Cook says Cannes provides a global stage “for activists and brands who are willing to demonstrate how they utilize their position to drive the sustainability agenda in practice not theory, and how to balance purpose and profit.”

Whether the festival’s renewed sustainability commitments have enough teeth to fend off activists who want to see an end to agencies that work with fossil fuels remains to be seen.

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