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Beyond buzzwords: protecting real change in the face of greenwashing

The Impact Jury President on how purpose-driven ideas rely on people doing the “hard work in the dark”

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

In September 2022 the word greenwash entered the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as “To make (something, such as a product, policy, or practice) appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is”. For brands and the creative industry, the introduction of this term was a telling reflection of how unhappy consumers were with their practice of using buzzwords over making a real difference to people and the planet.

“Honestly, I think this area (sustainability) is heavily under attack, but I feel it's right that it's scrutinised,” says Kwame Taylor-Hayford, co-founder of Kin, a creative agency-meets-consultancy working with brands to advance social change through culture, and D&AD Awards 2023’s Jury President for Impact. Speaking from his studio in Brooklyn, Taylor-Hayford argues that purpose has become a buzzword in recent years: “Not enough people, in my opinion, are choosing to do the hard work in the dark, to have their moment in the light. There's been a little bit of jumping on the bandwagon and wanting to chase the headlines.” But this, Taylor-Hayford believes, is also where the opportunity for real, juicy creative work with substance begins. The challenge hinges on pinpointing that unexpected yet completely simple idea that gets people to lead and participate on the big issues.

A common pitfall for industry veterans and young creatives alike is spending a lot of time and effort crafting and executing a message versus designing “a program or an initiative that actually moves the needle on issues or topics.” Taylor-Hayford sees Impact as a category more like a ladder, “putting in place something material and of consequence that can drive a real change on the issue you’re addressing.” It needs to land an impact today but climb towards a greater and more enduring impact tomorrow.

“Not enough people, in my opinion, are choosing to do the hard work in the dark, to have their moment in the light”

Taylor-Hayford has always been curious about the issues of the day, but it’s his parents who instilled the importance of acting on them. Growing up, his father worked for the UN and his mother was an architect. “We talked about the state of the world and how we all had a responsibility to make a positive contribution.” But fast forward to the early years of his career in advertising and those values sometimes chafed against reality. “I struggled a bit; I couldn't see a clear path to making (those ideas) integral to my day to day,” he explains.

Even so, Taylor-Hayford remains infectiously optimistic. It’s due in part to a lightbulb moment that came after he started leading in-house creative at yoghurt company Chobani. A workplace that, he explains, takes their responsibility to positively impact the world very seriously. Watching the purpose-led work that Founder Hamdi Ulukaya was driving — “from the plight of refugees to animal welfare to making a healthy product that’s also accessible to everyone” demonstrated that making great products and providing a genuine benefit to society beyond the product can and should be interconnected: “If you do them together, and if you do them, well, they become a force to accelerate a business.” Taylor-Hayford says

“Putting in place something material and of consequence that can drive a real change on the issue you’re addressing”

Being a member of D&AD’s Impact Council too has brought with it community, inspiration and camaraderie with people “as passionate as I am about this need for brands to step in and really provide a benefit to society,” says Taylor-Hayford. D&AD Impact celebrates creative ideas that are driving the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are long term objectives, and so some of the Impact and Future Impact Award entries that stick in his mind were not only refreshingly simple but designed to endure. Initiatives such as  Pinyapel (Future Impact Pencil winner in 2019) and Piñatex, (Impact White Pencil for Sustained Solution in 2022), centred on creating a cruelty-free and sustainable leather alternative from pineapple leaves — an otherwise wasted and emissions-heavy by-product of pineapple production, for example. “To me, that's it. How do you bring a new point of view to something that was previously just trash, and give it a new life in a way that it's scalable?” The success of the ideas is in the simple reimagining of things that otherwise don’t have value, Taylor-Hayfrod explains: “It’s easy to understand, easy to implement, easy to communicate. They’re both super clear on the problem that they're attacking and the solution they're bringing to the table.”

Written by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

D&AD Awards 2023 is now open for entries. Download the entry kit and submit your work here. Read more insights from jurors into their corners of the creative industries here.

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