Branding action on climate change, turning on alternatives beats switching off
For years, climate change campaigns have flooded us with threats of disaster, which seems inevitable in the face of inadequate behavioural change. This has left us with the opportunity for an opposing climate change story: one of unity, and tangible, effective action. Now.
Our global economy, composed of billions of people acting independently, largely depends on pumping greenhouse gases (GHG) into the light blue. Often, the focus of environmental campaigns is on individual behaviour and responsibilities: use less energy, turn off lights, install solar panels, cycle to the shop and so forth. However, according to the UN, transport and energy use in buildings contributes to just 20 per cent of GHG emissions. Large and deeply interdependent economic systems and sectors have the biggest effect. The animal agriculture industry alone contributes 14.5 per cent of GHG emissions and the energy sector 35 per cent.
So how do we address structural issues? For feminist and philosopher, Iris Marion Young, we must act upon a shared responsibility to use our social positions (professional, local, religious, etc) to influence change. Assessing how we can help bring about the changes necessary means ceasing to look backwards and lay blame: “who polluted?”, “who benefited?” As a more positive attitude emerges, that better enables us to solve a collective problem.
How can we as brand strategists and cultural insight specialists shape culture and bring about meaningful collective action that reduces the harmful impacts of climate change?
We discussed this question during a recent Flamingo ‘Open Mic’ session, relating to the three highest emitting industries: animal agriculture, transport and energy. Inspired by a recent article from Sustainable Brands, which links “green” behaviour with femininity, we set about thinking how we could rebrand vegetarianism as more masculine, lift-sharing as cool, and malformed fruit and vegetables as acceptable.
A unique idea was a “Turn On” energy campaign. Seems odd, right?
Contradictory almost? Much of the approach to energy has been to encourage people to save, consume less, and do less, to turn off. Instead, a new approach could encourage people to ‘turn on’ renewable energy for example. But we could also turn on to awareness of how much GHG we emit – in the same way people have turned on their awareness of calories they consume. One group envisioned GHG wearables that track an individual’s daily emissions.
This kind of climate branding would unite people around a collective project. Because climate change affects many major issues, such as the economy and migration, it can serve as a thread that pulls people with different values and ideals together, an increasingly important role of branding.
This role is not just a matter of shared responsibility, though. The wind has changed direction in the world of sustainability. Since the Paris Climate Agreement last year, it has become clear that both the business and policy world are taking climate action seriously. The economic argument is clear. Reducing climate change is a long-term investment, but can also help brands and other companies meet the demands of today’s increasingly aware consumers.
Consumers are finally making the transition from intention to action. Missing this opportunity is not just a matter of missing a chance to do something good for the world, but missing out on good business and good branding.
- Article by Matt Taylor