4 Steps for Inspiring Marketers to Take Climate Change Seriously

It’s beyond time that all agencies get involved

Overhead view of people walking over shadows of trees and hills
At Cannes, Extinction Rebellion (XR) called on the industry to use its power for good. Getty Images
Headshot of Lucy von Sturmer

This story is part of a weeklong series on climate change and sustainability. It’s in partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global journalism initiative to cover climate change in the week leading up to the U.N. summit on climate change in New York on Sept. 23. Click here to learn more about the initiative and read all of Adweek’s coverage on how sustainability and marketing intersect.

As most in the U.K.’s creative industry are aware, Extinction Rebellion (XR) made an explicit call to the industry to use its power for good.

In case you missed their letter in May, it read: “Advertising has helped promote high-carbon lifestyles and hyper-consumption. However, if we’re to survive, this must change rapidly.” The call to action was simple: “Declare a climate and ecological emergency and act accordingly. Persuade your clients and their audiences to do the same.”

Strong words—and very timely ones.

In the U.K., the message landed and businesses are using their platforms to take a stand. Change agency Futerra launched the Creative Climate Disclosure, calling on agencies to disclose climate conflicts. More than 100 agencies have signed up. The cultural and fashion sectors have stepped up, too. Last month, The Tate Modern declared a climate emergency, and fashion icon Stella McCartney partnered with XR activists to raise awareness.

For a movement that began in October 2018, a lot has been achieved. Four countries—the U.K., Ireland, France and Canada—have declared a climate emergency, meeting the first of XR’s demands. While most in the U.K. have now heard of the movement, the response elsewhere and in the Netherlands, where I live, has been muted at best.

I’ve been accused of being a bit of a downer recently. Engaging with the science is bleak, and this has been a summer of climate grief. It’s hard to comprehend; we’re pushing society to the brink. I’ve grappled with letting go of any expectations of the nice life I’ve built, aware that in the next 10–30 years or facing societal collapse and a home below the sea.

Having followed the movement closely, and witnessing the rebellion hit the Croisette during the Cannes Festival of Creativity, my business partner and I decided to initiate the Creatives for Climate Summit in Amsterdam. We’re bringing together the creative community as well as Extinction Rebellion, Patagonia and former ad exec turned brand activist Mark Aink.

While the scale might make it easy for businesses to believe themselves inept at making an impact, according to the Carbon Majors Report, only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of the world’s carbon emissions. The creative industry has the power, influence and skillset to inspire action and change behavior.

So, what can we collectively do to take a stand? Perhaps we need to talk explicitly about the crisis with our clients and partners. Perhaps we need to push back on certain briefs or join Extinction Rebellion as individuals and get active in the streets.

A lot of people have been asking if we’ll be spearheading a new manifesto or a joint commitment. One of my insights from working at the heart of sustainable fashion is that there’s a lot of replication in the sustainability movement. With the intention to drive action over words and point to initiatives and demands that already exist, this is the framework we intend to discuss with the industry at large relevant for creatives worldwide.

Tell the truth about the climate emergency 

Talk about the science and make the climate emergency real. Do this in boardrooms, in meetings and in private conversations. Use your power and creativity to tell this message across campaigns on billboards and on screens.

Declare a climate and ecological emergency, and act accordingly. Then persuade your clients and their audiences to do the same.

Join, sign on and use your creative talents to get active

Here are some organizations you can contribute to: 

The Creative Climate Disclosure: Join more than 100 agencies who’ve signed on to the Creatives for Climate Disclosure to disclose income based on industry, including fossil fuel and other high carbon clients.

The Global Climate Strike: Sign on to create and strike, joining more than 20 U.K. agencies that support the Global Climate Strike. Commit to giving staff time off to join the strike and dedicate your talent to amplify this message.

Global Rebellion Week: Support Extinction Rebellion during Global Rebellion Week starting Oct. 7. Your local Facebook chapter will have all events and touchpoints listed.

Need inspiration? Find the world’s largest database of climate protest posters here.

Move from a competitive to a collaborative mindset

While many already working in this positive impact space want to devise our own solutions, building a sustainable society is a massive, complex and system-wide challenge. There is power in numbers. Get collaborative.

Realize that you’re not too small to make a difference

You are in a position of power and influence, therefore you have a responsibility to use this power and influence to drive this message.

Our house is on fire. The heat waves that hit Europe this summer broke world records, Greenland’s ice has melted at a rate scientists didn’t expect to see until 2070 and the fires raging across the Amazon right now strike a further blow to this challenge.

Like many, I am inspired by Greta Thunberg and her message that no one is too small to make a difference. As author Alice Walker once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Change starts with us, and change needs to start now.

Lucy von Sturmer is the founder of The Humblebrag.