Why sustainability is the industry’s greatest creative brief


Adland has driven demand for products and services the world for decades but now it’s time to use this superpower in a more enlightened way.

At the Cannes Lions in 2019, Dentsu hosted a workshop for the Young Marketeers Academy – the future leaders of our industry. The workshop focused on the launch of #BrandsForGood, an initiative involving Sustainable Brands and household names including P&G, Visa, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Nat Geo. We talked about the need to make sustainable behaviours aspirational and rewarding, and accelerate the shift to plant based lifestyles, electric vehicles, renewable energy and a circular economy. The energy in the room was amazing. This is what Gen Z want to work on.

Three years later the industry will convene again. And this time the call to action has become urgent. Sustainability is on everyone’s lips. And we are under pressure to change. 

This is no longer about purpose marketing. On 22nd April 2022, the IPCC released its final report. It included for the first time a chapter devoted to “|demand-side activation” – the need to create demand for low carbon products and services, to reduce dependency on the lifestyles that got us here in the first place.

That’s a challenge directed at our industry. And the prize? A reduction of between 40% and 70% of global emissions. A prize worth fighting for. And the greatest creative brief we’ve ever been given.

For the past 70 years, we’ve driven demand for products and services the world over with little consideration of the carbon emissions generated by those sales – or arguably the water consumed, or waste generated. It’s time to use this superpower in a more enlightened way.

Cannes Lions – a chance for real change?

At Cannes this year, there will be no escaping this debate. “Advertised emissions” has been hotly debated – a concept highlighted at COP26 by the Purpose Disruptors and long-term climate activists including Futerra’s chief executive Solitaire Townsend. 

It’s time to pick a side. But is this even up for debate? Our role as an industry is to help our clients, and their customers, plan for what’s next. A world where media plans are optimised for carbon, as well as performance. Where inclusive design is not optional, and where consumers will boycott your brand if they don’t believe it is acting in the best interest of society and the environment. It’s also our role to help our clients thrive, navigating the inevitable disruption of the net-zero transformation. 

So, as all the biggest names, brightest creative minds and influential businesses unite on Le Croisette, we must not miss this chance to use that creative firepower to do more than congratulate ourselves on getting through the past two years – years marked by Covid, the climate crisis and conflict. 

The industry’s path to net zero

We must leave Cannes with an action plan, united in a common goal and with the inspiration to help create change. 

To start, our commitments to sustainability – particularly net zero – must be authentic, transparent and underpinned by Science Based Targets, with plans to deliver demonstrable progress. We also need to recognise that net-zero is not just an environmental challenge – we need to think beyond carbon to adopt strategies, business and resourcing models that are net-zero, circular, restorative and inclusive. Strategies that work for people as well as our planet. Dentsu’s social impact strategy sets out targets across three pillars: a sustainable world, a fair and open society, and digital for good. They are deeply connected, and diversity, equity and inclusion run as a theme throughout. 

And we need to recognise that net-zero strategies apply to our entire value chain. That includes the products and services we sell to our clients, and the impact generated by them, both positive and negative. We have the opportunity to help our clients transform their business models, bring new and inclusive, low-carbon products and services to market, and – as highlighted in the IPCC report – inspire people to buy them. We can help consumers reduce meat consumption, rent clothes instead of buying them and buy electric cars over petrol. Every business needs to look through the lens of sustainability and reimagine the future using creativity and expertise to create a new status quo for consumerism. We can facilitate that.

So, after two years that have changed how we work and live forever, we’re excited about the opportunity to come together again with colleagues from around the world to celebrate the best that this industry has to offer, and to recognise our ability to use our creativity and passion to be a force for good. Let’s make this moment count. 

Anna Lungley is the chief sustainability officer at Dentsu 

This article first appeared in www.campaignlive.co.uk

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