Branding and Environmental Issues


Went to a D&AD talk at RIBA last night, “Branding and Environmental Issues Forum”: “How do brands and agencies communicate to people in an environmentally friendly way whilst maintaining sales? Would brands be better off spending their money on actually helping the environment and not wasting it telling people they help the environment? Whose responsibility is it to push sustainability up the corporate agenda?

Some thoughts after coming home, in no particular order and with no attempt to link them together:

Those with the greatest positive potential effect on the environment are those that currently have the greatest negative impact: in the words of one speaker, the ‘reformed sinner’. If one person working for or within a large company that is currently having a huge negative impact and in some way reforms that company, or steers it in a direction that is even just a little bit positive, then they will probably have done a greater act – in practical terms, at least – for the environment than somebody who starts a small company that has little or no impact – or even a positive effect. The first person may be ‘working for the evil conglomerate’ but their net positive effect is potentially huge. That said, it shouldnt take away from people like David Haiett, one of the speakers and founder of howies – completely beyond the physical benefits (he mentioned an average nonorganic tshirt uses 8 teaspoons of pesticides [my memory is fading at the actual figure] and something similar for fertilisers), they’ve made people think, and for some people succeeded in making being eco friendly ‘cool’ – which may or may not impact their further behaviour in other things, but it’s a start.

(Photo: Russel Davies. Thank you.)

I thought Piyush Pandey (chairman of Ogilvy India) had perhaps the most interesting things to say, and he said them briefly and clearly (and without powerpoint or any other visuals). Essentially contrasting how we (we in the ‘developped world’) see these issues of global warming and climate change to the view of a country with a massive population and perhaps more immediate or at least more visually obvious concerns, both at a government level but also often a personal one – education, poverty, etc.. He encapsulated it nicely by asking if he should tell the guy who sleeps on the street in front of his house and burns a tire to keep himself warm that he was harming the environment, and suggested that the man might prefer to consider ‘personal warming today, global warming tomorrow’. A contrasting view, probably shared by a rather large proportion of the world (purely due to the a large portion of the world going cold and hungry on a regular basis…). A pity none of his points were picked up on during the discussion afterwards.

All the people on the panel were from the advertising world (although there was somebody from a ‘green’ research company) – i found that interesting, in the sense that advertising never really deals with physical products directly, only indirectly. I think it would have changed the discussion if the panel had included a printer, or a product designer, or a service designer; somebody who directly worked with the physical world. A couple of the speakers touched on industrial design, and the need to ‘redesign modern life’, but nobody took that any further.


M&S got a lot of mentions. I noticed their campaign (above) in-store the other day – surprisingly bold, surprisingly prominent, and from a surprisingly (and refreshingly, in this context) mainstream and traditional retailer. Yes, in many ways it may well be (is) a well orchestrated marketing ploy, no, of course they aren’t doing it purely out of the goodness of their hearts, but as one of the speakers said – who the hell cares if it’s done for good business reasons? It’s still done.

And I really like Russel Davies‘ way of putting it: “Maximim Idea, Minimum Stuff”. He kind of skipped that slide (it had the writing in the sand, see link below), I’m not sure why. perhaps it was just a bigger idea than the 5 minute slot would allow discussion of. But as a concept it makes product design in its traditional sense seem rather wrong – product being simply another word for ‘stuff’. This post is a summary, of what he actually said, or at least what he was hoping to say, most of which he did say, but shorter. Oh, and it’s odd seeing somebody in real life who you ‘know’ so well but not at all due to reading their thoughts on a regular basis.

I’m not sure I learnt a lot in terms of actual new thinking, other than a couple of interesting tidbits and stats, and there wasn’t the time for any of the speakers to really go into any great depth, but it was good to have ideas and observations to listen to, viewpoints to agree and/or disagree with, and an evening to generally provoke thoughts. Pity nobody had a simple solution to the whole problem, though, eh?

They were busy filming and recording the whole evening, so maybe at some point the discussion might be available for download. There were times I wish I was taking notes, so it’s probably worth grabbing if it becomes available. If.

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