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Creativity Isn’t Neutral

As we all step into the unknown of 2021, Futerra and Clean Creatives put their heads together to think about how we can make it a historic year for transparency and clean communications in the PR and advertising industry. To open up this conversation, Futerra’s Head of Marketing and Advocacy Hannah Phang, and Clean Creatives’s Campaign Manager, Duncan Meisel, hosted a webinar this Tuesday 12th January, led by sustainability leaders Solitaire Townsend and Bill McKibben, and interactively attended by an engaged industry audience.

For far too long, the PR and advertising industry has been a crucial aid to the fossil fuel industry. But it doesn’t have to be. We wanted to harness the power of the growing movement of creatives, executives and their clients that are coming forward to say that it’s time to disclose the work that agencies do for fossil fuels, and to stop working for the corporations that are responsible for climate change. In this digital event, Futerra and Clean Creatives were delighted to not only host Futerra’s Co-Founder, Solitaire Townsend, and Author, Educator, Environmentalist and Founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, but to also invite attendees to explore how they, as creatives and executives, have, can and will play a crucial role in making this moment of change possible.

Here are some of our key highlights.

“Creativity has consequences, and they ain’t neutral”

“The climate emergency is a creative emergency as well as a chemical one.”, boldly opened Solitaire Townsend. When we talk about the impact of the creative industries we aren’t just talking about their Scope 1-3 emissions. We are also talking about their material impact, or ‘brainprint’ as we like to call it at Futerra. An illustrative example that Solitaire gave of this, was the revelatory results of the Ecoeffectiveness Framework published by the Purpose Disruptors, which showed that the uplift in sales and therefore greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from one Audi advertising campaign (from 2018) was higher than the GHGs the whole country of Iceland generated in 2017. The same brilliant, creative minds that came up with this ultimately damaging and destructive piece of work, could instead use their talents to encourage positive human behaviour, establish new behaviours and normalise low impact decisions.

The fossil fuel industry alone is spending $200 billion a year on advertising and public relations. Clean Creatives have released a report showing that for over 100 years, PR firms and ad agencies have creatively sent the same message to consumers that fossil fuel companies are part of the solution. We know this isn’t true. We need to rewrite the narrative to be that which is true and honest. As Bill McKibben declared: “it’s not ok to wreck the world, and it’s not ok to profit off wrecking the world”.

The enormous job that now lies in front of the creative industry is “to convince 7.5 billion consumers (especially the 1 billion over-consumers) to invest in the solutions. We’ve got to sell the solutions: the political, technological, and personal actions, and make them more desirable than the problem,” Solitaire wisely said. As part of this webinar, we opened the floor to the audience to share the barriers they’ve encountered when trying to make this transition to fuller transparency and cleaner communications, and we collectively discussed potential solutions to the problem. As Solitaire neatly put it: “we need to work together to divest the talent of the advertising industry from serving destruction and reinvest it in serving the solutions.”

“The creative industries are zeitgeist engineers, put them to work to do amazing things”

As professionals our objective should be to create as much institutional change as possible. As Bill said to the audience, “no one solution is anywhere close to sufficient for getting the job done. The larger goal is to change the zeitgeist: we need to change people’s sense of what is normal”. Once that shift has occurred and something is considered normal, natural and obvious only then is the zeitgeist changed. Thereafter, policy and legislative changes come much easier.

As creatives we need to lead the charge in changing the zeitgeist through our respective channels and mediums. Our industries can engineer the sustainable future we need through creatives deploying their specific talents – whether that be memeifying or writing dense blogs – to change the zeitgeist and the narrative. Our starting point? To immediately “cut the supply of creativity and the supply of money to fossil fuel industries” stated Bill.

“To build a movement, we need to do it together”

We know there is appetite amongst the creative community for change: over 300 agencies and individuals have signed the Creative Climate Disclosure letter committing to using their power to inspire change and disclose any climate conflicts; over 30 agencies have compiled and published climate disclosure reports, disclosing the percentage of their turnover from high carbon clients at the end of the year; the Clean Creatives campaign, supported by the Fossil Free Media team, have convened a huge community of creatives, pledging to decline any future contracts with entities that are, or work with, fossil fuel companies, trade associations, or front groups. Building this solidarity on a foundation of shared values, mutual respect and collaboration, is key to creating the momentum and movement needed to make real change. When it comes to campaigns we don’t even need to start from scratch: as Bill noted, we can all ‘do amazing things in conjunction with people who are already mounting important campaigns for climate justice…the opportunity [we have now] for people to help is astonishing’.

This event left us feeling ‘excited by the privilege to meet and work with the creative minds willing to put their resources behind this’ (Bill McKibben) – let’s make 2021 a year of positive change, and a step in the right direction as we approach 2030.

A huge thank you to Bill McKibben, Author, Educator, Environmentalist, Founder of 350.org, Solitaire Townsend, Co-Founder of Futerra, Duncan Meisel, Campaign Manager at Clean Creatives, and Hannah Phang, Head of Marketing and Advocacy at Futerra, for their participation and partnership, as well as to our viewers for their probing and inspiring questions and comments.

Inspired and want to know more? Access the full recording of the ‘Creativity Isn’t Neutral: how creatives can help solve climate change’ webinar here.

 

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