Do brands really want to save the Planet?

The recent Extinction Rebellion has reminded us, once again, of two fundamental truths that we’d do well not to forget — politicians aren’t great at taking action and the environment needs help, desperately.

The ‘rebellion’ for many was born out of the frustration towards those in power turning a blind eye to climate change. We share these concerns, but wonder whether enough is being done by visionaries in the world of branding to play a role when it comes to the environment. Would a more proactive role for brands and agencies both win over customers, as well as get the backing of employees?

Like Brexit, the ‘rebellion’ has been divisive. There’s been a lot of fence-sitting when it comes to introducing a tougher stance on climate change and despite public pressure, it’s increasingly unlikely that new, stronger laws will be on the government’s agenda any time soon. There’s also accusations that the sit-ins were dominated by the ‘remainer elite’. Even the Guardian remarked wryly that Emma Thompson was giving an impassioned speech from the iconic pink boat “having flown in from LA that morning’’.

Surely this is a perfect opportunity for brands to really flex their creative muscles and help build momentum?

Brands fuel and fire

A big problem is consumerism. Brands fuel the cycle of consumerism and therefore add to the environmental disaster. How can brands then be the solution when they are inherently the problem? After all, Brands without consumerism are about as useful as Boris Johnson that time he was stuck twenty-foot in the air on a zip wire. Actually, come to think of it, I’m sure a lot of people would argue that he would have been very useful up there a few years later during the Brexit campaign.

We know that brands and consumerism are joined at the hip but that doesn’t mean brands can’t play a positive and authentic role towards the environment. In fact, this immediacy and presence in everyone’s lives gives some brands stronger relationships with customers and a relevance that most politicians wish they had. Brands can and have leveraged their power to address societal issues for social good, but they need to have credibility and a genuine commitment in doing so. Engaging in controversial issues can be high-profile but also dangerous. Read more in our recent article, Brexit is still far too divisive for brands to exploit.

Brands have more power than Politicians

Take our elegant, hovering bird of prey, Boris for example (I promise you won’t hear his name again after this). He’s admitted concern about the current state of the environment but hasn’t offered any plan of action other than suggesting the Extinction Rebellion “go protest in China!”.

Contrast this with the assets which brands have — their reach and their ability to utilise celebrities and with strategic advertising sell their product and act as a credible voice to promote their message. They can speak more eloquently to a fifteen year old than any politician could. They influence discourse. They shape our priorities. So with this at their disposal — are they taking the right steps and doing enough to tackle environmental issues?

Look at the supermarket, Iceland — they’ve certainly made small steps. Following widespread concern and confirmation of the plastics pollution crisis as highlighted in the “Blue Planet II’ series in 2018, Iceland pledged to eliminate plastic packaging for all its own-brand products by 2023.

David Attenborough once again responsible for trying to make the world a better place.

Brand strategy is crucial

The real issue boils down to how much influence branding studios have on these issues. Perhaps whether a company is ethical is a matter of embedded strategy and not branding.

Branding aside, consumer perception can depend how much the environment is at the forefront of a company’s priorities. Consumers are quick to spot a PR stunt, so environmental concerns need to be at the heart of the brand, as authenticity is key. Brands need to make sure that they’re working with companies whose ethical approaches aren’t sidelined into CSR, but are mainstreamed, company-wide and in some cases are at the heart of the product itself. This is an approach that Zogg’s are exploring with their ‘Ecolast’ swimwear range — why brands should do more to address environmental issues.

Environmental issues are firmly on the agenda at brands with B Corp certifications (legal standards of social and environmental company performance) showing that in 2019 there are now almost 3,000 deemed to have achieved this — an increase of 2,000 from the same period in 2017.

Organisations can take inspiration from companies such as Betabrand and Patagonia. Betabrand uses their sustainable campaign to specifically engage in their product and design development. They also embrace environmental issues because they’re central to their product (their range is made from ocean waste. Patagonia are another example, infamously known for their centering environmental issues at the heart of their work thanks to their founder.

What role can OPX play in this?

We’ve all got a role to play in fixing the planet, both in a personal and professional capacity.

Let’s put our creative skills to work. As designers, strategists and copywriters, we have the power to shape brands and get them to think carefully about their impact on climate change and sustainability — it’s now expected for major brands.

We can choose to work with the companies that have sustainability at the core of what they do and we can use our skills to elevate them further. Supporting organisations such as Luminate who enable people to participate in and shape the issues impacting society. Make them the brands people look up to and want to be part of. Brands that make sustainable products the norm and change people’s behaviour. Brands that are driven by positive change.


Written by Henry King, Copywriter
Credit: Zoë Coles, Senior Designer