D&AD White Pencil: Social Change, Sustainability & Advertising
This is an event report, first published by Stylus.
Held in London on June 11, D&AD’s White Pencil Laboratory symposium enforced the belief that sustainability and social change are a commercial imperative for the creative and communications industries – and no longer just a moral argument.
The White Pencil Laboratory aims to become a movement that can drive the agenda behind D&AD’s prestigious White Pencil Award – namely, to realise the power of creativity as a force for social good.
Jo Confino, executive editor of UK newspaper The Guardian and a consultant on sustainable business, stated that the advertising industry hasn’t brought sustainability into its core as it’s making too much money in the old way of doing things; agencies are responding to clients, but not driving change.
“Are you just not creative enough?” he provocatively asked the audience. “[The advertising industry] can help us make enormous headway in getting out of this mess – as it helped get us into it in the first place.”
Lucy Shea of UK creative agency Futerra, which aims to make brands become truly ‘restorative businesses’, said that sustainability is “not philanthropy – it’s about businesses responding to mega changes.”
Global consumer goods giant Unilever was the event partner, highlighting its Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed said: “Sustainability is still an emerging challenge. We need to make sustainable living commonplace… But isn’t sustainability a huge distraction? No, it’s a core thought… The Unilever Sustainable Living plan is not CSR [corporate social responsibility], but a strategy that touches all products across all countries, looking at environmental footprint from cradle to grave, taking responsibility for the entire value chain.”
Some of the main conclusions from the event are:
• Address what you can control: Look at where your environmental impact is heaviest and address that. We can’t solve all issues all in one go.
• Consumers should get sustainability for free: Not everyone is committed to the cause, so build sustainability into a product – just as Unilever has done with a detergent that reduces rinsing, and therefore water usage. Consumers don’t want goods and services because they are worthy, but because they are excellent products from trusted brands.
• Act collectively, think digitally: Use innovations from the digital world, such as crowdsourcing, to engage (see our Media & Marketing industry trend Thinking Digitally for more on this).
• Be prepared to deliver bad news: All consumers are trending towards more sustainable behaviour, but it’s happening more slowly in the developing world. Finding ways to make it easy and attractive to engage consumers may mean telling bad news – like the fact that very low-cost clothing always has a cost somewhere.
• Associate sustainability with reward, positivity and fun: Avoid misery mode and don’t shame consumers into better choices. But beware of turning this into ‘positivity as denial’.
• Close the loop, design differently: Sustainability should be part of a strategy across all departments, not just marketing. Think about how you can integrate and drive brand value from it. Build loyalty with your consumer so they can close the loop with you. Think about dyes that can be reused, for example, or about products that can be disassembled or repurposed.
• How does your product fit into a sustainable life? Worldwide, 84% of millennials think that fixing global issues is their problem (90% in China alone), according to global sportswear brand Puma’s Justin DeKoszmovszky, head of global sustainability strategy. We are all consumers, yet we are segmenting our lives in terms of how we approach sustainability, recycling one minute, and then flying the next. How can you help build a sustainable lifestyle?
• Engage through empathy: Don’t live by research alone, but use it to gain alignment and become more human-centred in order to generate empathy. A non-linear, more open and conversation-driven approach is needed with both consumers and all brand stakeholders. For more on this, see our reports on Ethnographic Research and The New Feminism Opportunity.