As businesses and brands wake up to changes in consumer behaviour and strive to play an active role in delivering positive social change, creativity has a more critical role than ever. Hampering this, however, is the fact that ‘sustainability’ has historically had a hard time in the boardroom. Well, not any longer.
It’s easy to fall into the traditional trap of thinking that any call for the creative industry to be more responsible or sustainable is based on a moral argument.
Whilst worthy and true, forget morality. Acting sustainably as a business is now a hard and fast survival imperative. We have thrown our lot in with the free market, and the future of a business is dependent on its success as a global competitor.
This success is bound, as it always has been, to the behaviour of consumers. And consumers are changing. They are becoming increasingly aware of the role that businesses and brands have played in creating many of the social, economic and environmental challenges we face. They are frustrated with business-as-usual responses – the ones that Steve is advocating – and demanding more from brands: more responsibility, more transparency, more humanity.
Those brands progressive enough to respond to these trends are moving sustainability and social change issues from the periphery of their communications plan to the beating heart of their business model. Unilever’s staggeringly ambitious Plan for Sustainable Living is not a costly CSR initiative, it is a growth strategy. Paul Polman wants – and is on target to deliver – 100% growth in ten years. Likewise Walmart will now reject suppliers that don’t meet rigorous sustainability standards. These businesses are far beyond saving paper in their printers. Agencies must do the same.
We could respond to the challenge, reluctantly dragging ourselves up the agenda, ticking boxes as we go. Or we could do what we do best… and get creative. We can embrace this opportunity, use these emerging trends as a springboard for innovation, and create new forms of value for clients and new revenue streams for agencies. D&AD’s response is the White Pencil.
The inaugural White Pencil was awarded last week for a project that aims to establish the UN’s day of peace – 21st September – as a day of international armistice. Leo Burnett Chicago truimphed with their excellent Recipeace project, a simple idea aimed at building bridges by bringing people together over a shared meal.
To borrow from D&AD trustee Steven Johnson, as a species we are facing some of the most urgent social, environmental and economic challenges in our history. In a free market, sustainability is a competitive imperative, not a ‘nice to have.’ Those businesses that fail to accept this will find themselves in a landfill for the obsolete.