"In May 2019, the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion pointed their attention to the advertising industry and called all marketing and communications professionals to declare climate emergency and focus their efforts on fighting the destruction of our planet.
On the public letter the Rebellion issued, they asked especially the higher-ups in these sectors to use their influential powers to persuade their clients and their audiences to join the fight against climate destruction. The letter reads:
“...[Y]ou can do anything you want and you can shift mass behaviour in a heartbeat. One of the reasons we’ve got here is because you’ve been selling things to people that they don’t need. You are the manipulators and architects of that consumerist frenzy. Imagine what would happen if you devoted those skills to something better.”
The Rebellion also made clear that the letter was written by members who had dedicated years to the advertising industry and thus they would know if the measures these agencies take were just sugar-coating. They said: "making a small campaign to give up drinking from plastic straws is not going to cut it".
A month later, over 40 advertising and communications agencies have heard Extinction Rebellion’s call and signed a letter promising to declare climate conflicts within their company and committing to use their power to inspire change.
They also claimed to have heard Rebellion in terms of taking real action instead of just sugar-coating. The letter doesn’t just end with a promise to 'do their best’ but includes tangible solutions.
For individual marketing and communications professional signatories, the letter means they will refuse to work in fossil fuel projects in the future.
For agencies, signing the letter means disclosing their ‘climate conflicts’ by declaring their turnover from high carbon clients by the end of the year 2019. Four agencies, albeit ones that already have a sustainability focus, already published their “client disclosure report”.
The Creative and Climate signatories claim that disclosing how much they earn from high carbon clients is just the first step on a journey towards 'divestment'. Extinction Rebellion has yet to comment on this development/letter, however, to me, this language sounds very similar to the exact kind of cop-out the Rebellion said they didn't want to hear.
The role of advertising in the fight against the climate crisis shouldn't be 'divestment' but it should be to dismantle the high-carbon, consumerist lifestyle people of the world live and strive for; a lifestyle the industry has played a large role in promoting.
The advertising industry and communication professionals are incredibly powerful in driving change in society. As the middle people between citizens and companies, it's their job and expertise to convince people to make certain choices and companies to direct their businesses towards people's wants. It's time for the industry to take responsibility and use this power to drive the change that's going to save our planet and its inhabitants.
Cover image by Joanna Kosinska.