5 Ways to Build Greener Campaigns Using Environmental Science

Too often we still see insincere gestures from brands

Unfortunately, many brands use Earth Day as a marketing opportunity and nothing more. - Credit by RLT_Images/Getty Images
Headshot of Deb Morrison

You might fondly remember Earth Days past when poetic responders covered our various screens to give us all the feels. Many of those were brands celebrating the happy glow of loving the planet we’ve taken for granted. Crayons, furniture, beer, clothing, pharma concerns, condoms—name your category, and there’s an Earth Day homage tucked away in the advertising annals of the last 50 years.

To bring the Earth Day irony full circle, ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel conglomerates regularly showed up with messages reminding us to love the planet.

But as I say, it’s 2020. We know everything—to put it mildly—has changed. I’d like to suggest that in terms of thinking about the planet today and ever after, our best bet is to radically reimagine the way we understand and use the earth.

That, of course, includes brands and their advocates.

In simple terms, the Anthropocene era, which is named for the human-centric forces radically changing the planet, is us. Us humans equal all the actions we take to tame, control and use the world, even as the “us” is defined more by privilege than population.

For matters pertaining to advertising, “us” includes creative strategic professionals using our skills simply to sell more. Advertising and brand management success should not be defined by more growth. Instead, success should be providing more value to people. If that is done well, the brand will be successful on several counts, including sales and job security for its keepers.

If you’re enjoying the pandemic, you’ll love the impending climate emergency that increases the likelihood of tragic and unbelievable events happening in the coming years.

Here’s some truth that underscores the importance of that value proposition. If you’re enjoying the pandemic, you’ll love the impending climate emergency that increases the likelihood of tragic and unbelievable events happening in the coming years. It’s all connected. Overcrowding and overconsumption across the planet means viruses jump easily from species to species.

At the same time, according to a 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history. That decline affects the economy, agriculture and health systems on which we all depend.

Climate change is one of the significant drivers of this loss. In turn, climate change is propelled by many human activities but especially by those that include carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Just about every product this industry works on becomes part of that system of carbon emissions through manufacturing, transportation and distribution. To the point, that brief you’re working can be traced with six-degrees of separation accuracy to melting glaciers or mega-droughts or horrific wildfires or the end of a rainforest home to species not accustomed to human connection.

You wield planetary power with the entitled decisions you make to do your work. And so, I’d like to propose a few Earth Day resolutions. These are huge pivots, not easily accomplished yet doable if we’re serious.

Sharpen your science literacy

Connect the work of climate science and scientists to your messages as a strategic communicator. The best way to honor the planet is to understand the science that governs it.

Build a culture of science and solutions within your organization

This will make your work more relevant to people as you solve problems. If you’re in an agency, it will make your work more valuable to clients as you lead them to cultural relevance and social good. If you’re with a brand, you will turn heads with your ability to be human and reflective.

With every brief and every brand, build in a planet assessment 

What are the effects of this brand and this campaign on the planet? How can we change a process or reorganize our thinking?

Look for the first responders 

Your enlightened creative brethren already gather: Potential Energy Coalition, Purpose Disruptors, Blue Climate, The Comms Lab, Climate Designers. Heroes among us build space to consider the right way to approach the climate awareness-action-activism continuum. Listen and learn.

Reimagine the profession

Now’s the time. Here’s a big ask: Move away from being vendors that sell more and evolve into the cultural intellectual force that brings value to society. Be the change at a time that demands it.

Happy Earth Day. May you find courage to love the planet and its people with your brave work.


@debkmorrison Deb Morrison is the Carolyn Chambers distinguished professor of advertising and directs the advertising program at the University of Oregon. She is also a member of our Adweek Academic Council.