Striking isn't enough to fight the climate emergency

Advertising should look to the TV industry for a blueprint of how to make the fundamental changes we need.

Extinction Rebellion’s wake-up call is long overdue. Many industries, including our creative one we know and love, have made very little progress in mitigating impact on the environment. However, the voice that yells the loudest will not be the one to provide tangible solutions. 

The organisation has called on the industry very loudly in recent months – with open letters, crashing parties and the Palais in Cannes, and addressing the 44 Club at the IPA. With the Global Climate Strike coming up on 20 September, it’s great that there’s even more noise. But we need to really focus not just on creatively supporting the cause, but creatively supporting a real solution.

We’re encouraged to "do more", "take ownership" and "tell the truth". Declaring a climate emergency, wanting zero carbon by 2025 and a citizen’s assembly are all valiant goals, but they are just that – not action plans. 

How do we take this energy and transform it into something workable? Everyone who attended Club 44 was shocked by the timescales we’re faced with and desperately wanted to do something as soon as possible. But what? 

All in it together

On issues such as diversity, inclusion and our gender pay gap, we demand actions, frameworks and public commitments to progress (as we very rightly should). But when it comes to being sustainable businesses, we have no governance or accountability. As a result, most agencies simply march to the beat of their own drum – however loud, quiet or out of time. 

It’s not about a race to be the best (as it so often is when pitching for a client), demonstrating your credentials for Agency of the Year or vying for differentiation against competitors. It isn’t about who can laud themselves as "the agency who saved the world from ceasing to be the way we know it" (catchy…). 

It is about every part of the advertising process: our clients, our own agencies, our production company partners – and yes, even cost controllers – coming together with the leadership and guidance of our trade bodies. It is about leaving egos at the door and coming in ready with the resources needed to make change a reality. 

We know we’re not perfect and we want to do more. We continue to grapple with the challenges of being a truly sustainable business and of ensuring we’re selecting and working responsibly with our suppliers, as well as collaborating with organisations that want to inspire real progress. 

The environment has been a priority at Ogilvy for not just the past few weeks, but for almost a decade. We have a robust environmental management system and are one of only a small group of creative agencies with an ISO14001 certification. This means rigorous reviews and continual scrutiny of activities, supply chain, building management, workflows and much more. 

Say hello to Albert

What if I told you a huge opportunity for real (and fast) progress was in front of our noses? And has been for years? Over in TV land, Bafta helped bring sustainability project Albert to life, after taking ownership of the initiative from the BBC. 

The programme (aimed at those working in TV production) comprises carbon literacy training, education partnerships, production carbon footprinting, accreditations for productions going above and beyond, and most recently guidance on how to communicate the climate emergency on screen. 

It is a fantastic blueprint that can be adapted to our industry very easily, especially with the assistance of an organisation such as AdGreen, which has been working to make production more sustainable for many years now.  

Ogilvy has worked closely with AdGreen for more than two years and we are hugely supportive of the work and vision, but AdGreen needs more supporters and investment. If the IPA, ISBA and Advertising Producers Association were to get behind AdGreen in the way that Bafta has for Albert, surely we are all on our way to significantly improving our environmental performance?

Rather than haul accusations at one another or compete to win, wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to come together, using all the amazing people we have in the industry and all the pockets of energy and action already in existence? Together, we can set a new working standard through the trade bodies, for both our on-screen content and for production behind the scenes.

Saving our planet will not be easy – and I do believe there’s a need to raise awareness on just how fundamental solving these challenges can be to our futures and the future of generations to come. 

Which is why instead of taking getting arrested in the name of climate change as a badge of honour, working collectively to create an action plan with rigour and accountability is how we will change our industry – and, in turn, the world – for the better.

Rachel Smy is environmental lead at Ogilvy UK

Picture credit: Extinction Rebellion/Gareth Morris

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