Amsterdam creatives, you must confront your clients if you truly care about climate change

Last night the leaders of the creative industry were called upon by Extinction Rebellion, Patagonia and the HumbleBrag to take a collective stand for the climate.

The actual facts and numbers that were presented to us made us sad and angry. This message should not stay in this room, it should be spread all over the world! We should use our collective power to create impactful messages to wake up the broad audience (whatever that means). We talked about making sustainability cool. Because we, the people of the creative industry, we are woke. We were there last night, all willing to contribute, so that should mean something surely?

Yes it means something. It means a lot. But showing up is not enough. If we truly want to change things for the better, we should change ourselves first.

It is the obvious thing to do to focus on creating campaigns to raise the public’s awareness on the topic. But it is a safe bet. Looking at a ‘broad audience’, judging them, those we don’t see and only know in numbers.

Instead, we need to focus on changing our clients’ behaviour. We need businesses to change radically if we want to be able to address the huge challenges we are facing today. We need their capital. We need their reach. We need their resources. And that is where our task lies. We must collectively start pressuring organisations to change their policies, not their tagline.

Last night we were listening to the speakers and each other, we were nodding in agreement and applauding. And then we wondered what we could do. What we should do.

Do this.

Lead by example.

We ask so much of the audience. Eat differently. Fly less. Shower shorter. Buy sustainable products. In other words, hand in a lot of your comfort.

We are only allowed to suggest to others what to do, if we do it ourselves. And we must do it better. We should be so uncomfortable it hurts. We must do the thing that is most unnatural to anyone in a client serving industry, but it is the thing that is needed the most.

We need to confront our clients.

We need to stop to believe that pleasing them is helping anyone. We must challenge our (future) clients, the same way we want to challenge the broad audience so badly.

Tell them the truth. Give them the numbers. Ask questions.

Stop applauding them for every little thing they do. Don’t pretend that introducing recycle programmes of fast fashion brands are the way forward, it is not. Help them thinking of ways to produce less instead.

Stop helping clients covering up their messy business by creating impactful campaigns, help them cleaning up instead.

Set up your own set of principles, live by them and share them proudly. Don’t judge others and don’t fear criticism. You will be criticised, accept it. It is part of the offer you have to make.

I work as a freelance strategist and I don’t work for companies that promote eating animals. There is absolutely no way I will be using my time and brains to find ways to convince people to eat animals. I’d rather use it to find ways to convince them to not eat animals. I am aware that does not pay the bills, but that is the price I have to pay. I will have to trust that there is a growing demand for authentic and truthful work.

Having been openly critical about many brands, my experience is that many companies actually appreciate honesty. Not all of them, not always, but in general, everybody wants, no needs, sincere feedback even though it can be confrontational.

These brands may not want to work with me today because I have a message for them they find too hard to swallow, but I believe they will turn around and will open up tomorrow. If you speak out about your own values, you attract people and organisations who share those principles eventually.

You just need to have some trust.

I truly believe all the greenwashing power cannot fight the changing attitude of consumers (yes also ‘the broad audience’). Consumers want honest products. They want to contribute towards positive change. A better future. And they have already lost so much trust in companies and government, they want to buy from authentic and honest brands.

These consumers are also future employees. If the most critical people no longer want to work at companies that cause harm and the most forwards agencies do not want to work for them anymore, they run out of the creative power they desperately need in these times. The same goes for agencies. If they don’t act on their principles, they will lose valuable people and do not attract new talent. And with that, they will lose their clients eventually.

So I think we, as an industry, should focus on helping to transform the organisations we work for. If they radically change and have a message to be proud of, we can make beautiful work to bring it across. And then we can be proud of the work we make and actually make a contribution that matters. Will it happen overnight? Of course not. Be we will have to start today.

So stop being scared about the wrong things. Be scared of harming the planet and be fearless in speaking out. To your clients. To your boss. To your co-workers. To your friends and family. To strangers in the bus.

You may think you have a lot to lose, but the only thing we have to lose that is irreplaceable and irreversible is the planet we live on.

So use 27th of September to strike. To protest. Take some time to write your own set of principles. Make sure to add immediate actions you can take to act upon it.

For now, if you agree with this statement, don’t be afraid to share it. More importantly, sign up to the Creatie Climate Change Disclosure on now.

We have the power to make a difference, but as Alex Weller from Patagonia stated last night “a principle is not a principle until it costs you something”. Think of how uncomfortable you are willing to be for positive change.

Words by Nadine Ridder / Photo by Peter van Alphen 

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  1. I could not agree more!

  2. “If you speak out about your own values, you attract people and organisations who share those principles eventually.” ok, this is hitting home. I’m going to just let this sit with me today.

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