dentsu Social Impact Forum: COP26 and Climate Action with UNICEF

Scott Sallee

Social Impact Manager

“The people most affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generation, but young people alive today.”

These were the words of Sir David Attenborough when he took to the stage this week at COP26 in Glasgow, and they echoed the sentiments shared during the fourth dentsu Social Impact Forum. Held on the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference, we welcomed representatives from UNICEF and from within our own businesses to discuss how businesses and brands can make meaningful progress in this decade of action. These are five key takeaways from the event.

The time for talking is over

During the session, we were joined by Gordon Glick, Deputy Executive Director at UNICEF and Meghna Das, Senior Sustainability Specialist at UNICEF. Meghna highlighted that the time to act on climate change is now.

“In this decade of action we have less than 10 years to make the transformation needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change”, she said. According to Meghna, “if we don’t take action now, all the development gains we’ve achieved in the last few years will be reversed and we’ll fall short of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals”.

This sentiment was echoed by Scott Sallee, Social Impact and Sustainability Manager at Dentsu, when he commented, “business as usual is no longer enough. Every brand now needs to have best in class environmental performance as a licence to operate.”

Climate change is a child rights issue

Children are the most vulnerable in every crisis, and climate change and environmental degradation are no exceptions. They are the least responsible for climate change yet bear the greatest burden of its impact. ​

This was highlighted and further illustrated by both Gordon and Meghna using the following stats:

  • Around 99% of children globally are exposed to at least one climate or environmental shock, with at least one billion children considered at high risk.
  • 920 million children (over 30%) are highly exposed to water scarcity.
  • Approximately two billion children live in areas with toxic levels of air pollution.
  • 90% of the health impacts of climate change are expected to be borne by children under the age of five.

It’s no wonder that over 70% of children consider climate change to be one of the most pressing issues facing young people today.

As the causes of climate change are so interconnected, we need holistic solutions

At dentsu, we believe that for business growth to be truly sustainable, we must accelerate the transition to a low carbon future and reduce the impact of climate change by becoming a Net Zero emissions business by 2030. And we are proud to be one of only 7 organisations globally to meet the new Science-Based Targets Standard – the highest level of climate ambition – to prevent a rise above 1.5°C to mitigate the most dangerous effects of climate change and to do so through deep decarbonisation of our entire value chain.

But we recognise that we can’t do this without the help of our clients and partners – an integrated approach is essential. And it is this notion of collaboration and integration which plays a key part in UNICEF’s climate strategy and vision.

To ensure that every child and young person – 3.5 billion by 2030 – is protected from the worst impacts of a changing climate and degrading environment and is part of a movement where healing the planet, social and economic development go hand in hand.

Gordon commented, “the private sector is at the very centre of UNICEF’s climate strategy. For resources, for novel solutions to the problems and for thought leadership. We believe that businesses and brands have a very big role to play. To use their platform to drive behavioural change and to help influence governments to bring systemic change”.

From building with recycled plastic, to eco-villages in Madagascar and eco-zones in Nepal, this collaboration with the private sector and holistic approach to climate action is already well underway.

And by placing youth at the forefront of change, UNICEF continues to deliver on their vision.

Yet brands have to do more

As part of the Social Impact Forum, we welcomed both Annabel Coombs and Tyler Christian from The Code, dentsu’s programme for young leaders and activists, to give their thoughts and opinions on the current state of play when it comes to brands, Gen Z and sustainability. Here’s what they had to say:

Annabel: “Firstly, I want to see brands stop grouping all young people together as one. Gen Z stretches from 2001 to 2015, meaning it’s a diverse group of people and generation. We don’t all think and act in the same way and we don’t want to be marketed to in the same way either.”

Tyler: “Engaging with Gen Z is not a one-size-fits-all approach for brands. Our generation is diverse and ever changing. And we’re under so much pressure to make up for the mistakes that older generations have made. We’re having to work over-time to ensure no more damage is done to the environment and to reverse the damage that’s already been done.”

Annabel: “We also don’t need to be educated by brands on the issues of climate change. We already know it, and most of the time we get our information from social media before it hits the mainstream media or brand marketing messages. What I want is for brands to show people what they’re actually doing for the environment and to tell me what I can do to help out.

“A lot of what is currently being put out there by brands feels like a PR stunt. It doesn’t tell me much about what is going on behind the scenes. It shouldn’t be just around COP26, Pride or Black History Month. I want to know what these businesses are doing to help all the time. It can’t just be centred on the big ticket moments. We don’t want to see a false narrative PR stunt; we want to know how we personally can get involved.”

Tyler: “The fact that greenwashing is even part of the conversation shows how much climate change is being ignored. Brands need to be authentic and illustrate the steps they are taking and what they have already put in place to help bring change. Transparency is so important.”

When it comes to authenticity, it isn’t just environmental issues where brands can do more

We were also joined by Lee Mabey, Growth Strategy Director at dentsu, who detailed dentsu Together – a sustainable, ethical, and diverse media investment approach. And key to this approach is the notion of authenticity.

As our society is becoming more diverse, advertisers need to unlock audiences to make lasting connections with consumers. ​Brands need to be authentic and take their time to understand diverse audiences. They must know what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) means to them if they are to create meaningful, lasting connections with stakeholders. Audiences no longer accept inaction, invisibility, or misrepresentation.​

Diverse audiences can have specific needs from and expectations of brands. Advertisers need to know how to engage audiences with authenticity.​ When activity is focused solely around key periods such as Eid, Black History Month, COP26 or Pride it’s not enough.​ An engagement and communications strategy must be year-round.​

Through activation with a diverse media supplier list and through dentsu’s DEI commitment, there is an opportunity for brands to create these authentic and lasting moments with their customers.

We all have an important role to play in the decade of action

To once again turn to the words of Sir David Attenborough, “we must turn this tragedy into a triumph. We are, after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth.” If we are to succeed, all brands and businesses have a key role to play in this decade of action.

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If you have any questions, please contact us here. And want to find out more about Social Impact Forums? Sign up for future sessions here.