Stumbling Into the Future

Marketers Can No Longer Afford to Be Complacent About Global Climate Change

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Robin Raj
Robin Raj

Global warming is real, and the implications to the health of our environment, our economy and ourselves are catastrophic. As marketers, complacency is simply a luxury we can no longer afford, says Robin Raj, founder and executive creative director of Citizen Group, San Francisco. In the words of our new president, it's time to put away childish things and trade in our gold-plated Hummers for a little sanity.

Two of the most meaningful books I've read in recent years are "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," by Jared Diamond, and "Stumbling on Happiness," by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert. Both demonstrate in different ways that while we humans are the only species capable of "prospection" -- that is, the ability to look forward in time and consider the future -- we're not terribly good at it.

As someone who -- likely like you -- trades in imagining ideas and future possibilities on behalf of paying customers, this comes as somewhat troubling news. Even when surrounded by the puzzle pieces, we regularly fail to see the big picture. I cite our response, or lack thereof, to the current economic, environmental and health care crises as exhibits A, B and C. And I cite the interrelationships between all three as exhibits D though Z.

Because scientists have the benefit of data to guide them, they can see the interconnections better than we mortals. What they tell us loud and clear is that we are choking on our own poisons, largely in the form of carbon emissions. Global warming -- or ocean warming -- is real, and the implications to the health of our environment, our economy and ourselves are catastrophic.

What does this have to do with our role as advertisers, marketers or media people, besides everything?

For too long, as an industry, we have complacently gone along with selling things to people that they don't necessarily want, they may not necessarily need and that may not even be good for them.

In our globally precarious predicament, complacency is simply a luxury we can no longer afford. In the words of our new president, it's time to put away childish things and trade in our gold-plated Hummers for a little sanity.

That's why I'd like to launch a new campaign on behalf of the nice people at World Wildlife Fund and nearly two dozen of the world's most powerful companies, including Coca-Cola Co., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Nike, Nokia, Sony Corp. and others, who say: "Let the clean economy begin!"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robin Raj is founder and executive creative director of Citizen Group, San Francisco, an agency that builds brands for companies and organizations that aren't afraid to lead with their values.

This December, Copenhagen will be the stage of the next Kyoto -- the place where governments gather to try and hammer out a global climate treaty to curb carbon emissions. Interestingly, WWF Climate Savers companies are ahead of governments on this one. They know that capping carbon emissions is a foregone conclusion and that markets like stability and certainty.

Passage of a global climate treaty will create a new, cleaner marketplace that will ultimately benefit everyone. But make no mistake: It will be a hard-fought battle. What can you do? Here are a few things:

  • Engage all your audiences. Up and down your value chain, everyone has a role to play in this transformation. Here's an opportunity for all of us to use the social-media phenomenon of Twitter, Facebook, etc., for a true social purpose. Engage your company, your clients, your partners, your peers. We all need to band together to join the debate, signal our support and demand a positive outcome. Starting in June, you can do so at LetTheCleanEconomyBegin.com.
  • Metrics, not greenwashing. As more and more leading companies come to the table, use the momentum to prepare your company for the low-carbon economy. Encourage your company to learn more about Climate Savers or similar voluntary efforts. The ticket for admittance is hard metrics based on year-to-year improvement in carbon reductions, which means marketing messages that have credibility.
  • Reassess your priorities. This recession is giving both companies and consumers the chance to reflect on what really matters -- and an opportunity to live their values through their actions and through the value of the goods and services they provide or purchase. Where do you stand? We have to start asking the hard questions. We are not just marketing our products anymore but also our companies. As marketing people, we need to work harder at crafting these conversations and creating the connections through multiple channels or prepare to become the fossils of the fossil-fuel era.
  • Take your time. This is not a sprint but a marathon. If you want to benefit from the value these programs bring, be prepared for an investment that is measured in months and years. The urge is to badge quickly, to treat this as a consumer-facing marketing opportunity such as EnergyStar. But the power of these programs is that they are inward-facing. Heal thy company, and the consumer will follow. Rebuild it, and they will come.