Tim Powell

Chief Public Relations Office, Dentsu Creative PR and Chairman, Cox Inall Ridgeway

thought leadership

Can we have sustained consumption-driven economic growth without destroying the planet?

Fears that we would pollute the planet to death and consume all its resources have been replaced by a more pressing problem: catastrophic human-induced climate change. But the solution does not lie in technology or infrastructure, but rather creativity.

While the push towards net zero will be the biggest driver of innovation in our lifetime, with 90 per cent of the world’s major economies now having net zero carbon emissions targets in place, technology and infrastructure will only get us part of the way there. It is human and societal change that will cause the biggest shift.

Put simply, to survive we must change the way we live and that requires changing the way people think, feel and act.

It is humans that make decisions about what they consume, the houses they build, their energy sources and lifestyle choices. And the people who could influence those decisions are Australia’s creative community.

It is already showing leadership in how we can make better choices.

Here at dentsu, we believe we can achieve a balance between sustainable consumption to maintain our lifestyles, continuing to lift people out of poverty in developing countries through economic growth and making sure there is a planet worth living on.

Paradoxically, consumption is part of the answer.

A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired power plant.

Our journey to net zero will require us to make many pragmatic choices and not all of them are based on reducing consumption. We need the right kind of consumption.

Dentsu calls the balance Sanpo Yoshi; good for society, good for business and good for clients.

I sit on the board of the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence, a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney, the Australian Industry Group and Dentsu. Product stewardship aims to reduce waste generation through better design and manufacture of products, including the use of materials that are easier to recover, reuse and recycle.

We would like to see more stewardship rationale find its way into agency strategy, innovation and ultimately creative briefs. We would like to see more conversations with sustainable-minded product designers and creative agencies to drive innovation.

The global circular economy NGO, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, says shifting to renewable energy and energy efficient measures will only tackle 55 per cent of global emissions. The other 45 per cent will be generated through changes to land management and production of vehicles, electronics, clothes, food, packaging, construction and various other goods and assets we use daily.

To convince consumers to change their choices, the heavy lifting falls on the shoulders of big brands and their creative agencies. Product stewardship and circular thinking is starting to infiltrate leading brands.

Ikea, working with Dentsu, built a bespoke online tool for the reuse and resell system, enabling anyone to sell back to IKEA their used furniture, which is resold in the Circular Hub in their stores.

In the US, 40 per cent of all food produced is wasted, which is pretty typical of a first-world economy. US food retailer Kroger, working with Dentsu, developed Chefbot, an AI tool that helps people make the most of their food at home, helping to engage and educate consumers about sustainable behaviours and fight climate change.

The creative challenge is to make consumers feel good about changing their behaviour, even if that means being prepared to pay more for goods that can be repaired or are easier to dismantle to be reused or recycled.

Creative agencies and marketers need to think differently about how we present value, and what we value, from packaging design to how we champion product attributes.

And of course, we need to do this responsibly.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard says greenwashing is on its radar for the next year. The corporate and consumer law watchdog will keep an eye on product claims about environmental impact and sustainability and has flagged a review of various certification schemes.

The ACCC is right to challenge brands to be transparent and provide evidence from their supply chains to back their sustainability claims. Regulatory scrutiny should not stifle our collective will to bring creativity to bear on changing behaviour, it should inspire us to do better.

Truth, credibility and creativity are embedded in all great campaign ideas. So let’s get to work and show how our creative industries can work shoulder to shoulder with NGOs, governments, scientists, engineers, investors and brands to prove we can save the planet with the right kind of consumption backed with the best creative thinking.

Tim Powell is chief public relations officer at dentsu Creative PR.

This article originally appeared in The Australian.