Will our industry be part of the crisis, or part of the solution?

Owning an agency is a funny thing. Every owner and leader is driven by different things - it’s often perceived that they are driven by money or power. In my case, it’s never been anything except truly representing young people.

Ever since I set up THINKHOUSE – this is something I’ve always tried to live up to.

I never ever want to let down young people. Whether they’re 12, 18 or 28 - I listen to them, involve them, respect them and celebrate them. I will always be inspired by their outlook, their innovation, their creativity, their curiosity. I will also look to them to challenge convention and shake things up. I trust young people to show us the future – I always have. And they have never, ever let me down.

But I have let them down.

We have let them down.

All it takes is the words of Greta Thunberg, the 16year old activist, to demonstrate that: “I have Asperger’s syndrome and to me, everything is black or white. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet, they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop, then we must stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilisation, or we don’t.”

To me, when it comes to the role of industry – that too is black or white. We either become part of the crisis, or part of the solution.

In 2029, 10 years time (the time that scientists estimate we have to transform society to limit climate change to 1.5°C), I will not look back and regret my apathy, my in-action or my ignorance. I will not look back and say to young people, my children, my colleagues or my clients; ‘I should have done more.’ I will not say; ‘I didn’t know how.’ I will not say; ‘I was too scared to act.”

I will instead say:

"I remember 2019 very well. It was the year we changed. It was the year we signed the open letter pledge to tackle Climate Crisis. It was the year we truly became a better agency – for our clients and our team. It was the year we told the story of THINKHOUSE in 3 ways: FAME, TRANSFORMATION, PLANET – making our Climate Pledge part of who we are and how we show up in the world. It was the year I was scared – because I worried that our valued clients might reject us for fear of the Climate Crisis pressure being ‘too enormous’ or ‘not on brand.’ But I recall, back in 2019 that it was those very clients, made up of some of the brightest, most brilliant people, that truly helped us affect change. 2019 was the year that they listened (to young people, scientists and activists) on the climate crisis. 2019 was the year they responded to young people’s biggest fear, the 6th mass extinction, through action. What I see clearly now, ten years on, is that it was the organisations who had the courage to face the problem, and respond to the climate crisis through fearless leadership and action, that won out in the end.”

In May, the Irish Government declared a Climate Emergency. The global scientific evidence is clear.

In her incredible book ‘Climate Justice’, Mary Robinson, explains; “There is a universal agreement that total global warming should be kept below 2°C or as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial revolution levels. Two degrees of warming has traditionally been considered the threshold beyond which the effects of climate change move from treacherous to catastrophic, but most experts agree that we are already on track to exceed that. To go above 3°C or 4°C, scientists warn, will initiate a ‘tipping point’ in our planetery system from which there will be no turning back.”

We’ve only got a maximum of 10 years to transform society to limit climate change to 1.5°C.

Reversing climate change completely (to pre industrial revolution levels) however, is probably, even for an optimist like me, incredibly unlikely.

Geoengineers are responding to the climate emergency with promising inventions including; glacier scaffolding (made out of sand to prevent glaciers from collapsing); oceanic fertilisation (to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton which absorbs carbon dioxide); stratospheric mirrors (to reflect the sunlight back off our planet); cloud manipulators (spraying clouds with sea water to make them whiter and reflect sunlight off our planet); Ocean Trash Eaters and even artificial trees. This innovation is exciting but it feels like a colourful solution to a black and white problem.

The solution is within us. WE need to think and act differently. This will require action from all sectors of society, including the marketing industry.

Where do we start? Who do we surround ourselves with, to get active?

They say we’re the average of the 5 people we spend most time with. My view is, start there.

At THINKHOUSE – a small team of us, the PLANET TEAM, woke up to the climate crisis, and got active. Following a 1 year ‘training and sharing’ (via Reclaiming Agency) we’ve trained and inspired a new generation of leaders that have the frameworks, skills and tools to successfully navigate our changing world. In just one short year, this has influenced how the entire team now does everything - allowing us deliver our multi-faceted service in a more mindful, informed way. We’re changing, not just how we work, but how we live.

If we are the average of the 5 people we spend most time with, let’s surround ourselves with change makers who are happy to put their neck out, stand for something and listen (to scientists, change-makers and young people.) I am privileged to work alongside a team, and a client base, who are facing the climate crisis and responding with courage, creativity and action – the kind that is truly contagious. Let’s surround ourselves with people who are truly walking the walk:

Dee Forbes, Director General, RTÉ: “In response to the climate crisis, the RTÉ ON CLIMATE season will tackle every aspect of this complex and challenging issue. As the national public service media, RTÉ's role is to host a national conversation of scale and impact, and in particular to really grasp that positive action we have seen from young people across Ireland. They have shown their great passion on tackling the climate crisis; they are committed to finding solutions, and RTÉ is listening. That's why we're enabling them to raise their voices even louder by partnering with the Houses of the Oireachtas to convene a special Youth Assembly on this issue of great importance to us all.”

Nick Johnson, Managing Director, Unilever Ireland: “By 2030 our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products as we grow our business. Already, in 2019, we see that this is possible. Our purpose-led, Sustainable Living Brands are growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth. Since 2008 we’ve reduced CO2 emissions per tonne of production by 52% and over the same time period achieved a reduction in total waste sent for disposal by 97% per tonne of production. Our vision to be the global leader in sustainable business is well on track.”

Kathryn D’Arcy, Director of Corporate Affairs, Heineken Ireland: “At HEINEKEN Ireland, we have been on a sustainability journey for over a decade, so to be fair, the internal shift has already taken place. Our entire business is involved in our sustainability strategy with different functions leading the six pillars: reduce carbon, reduce water usage, responsible consumption, grow with our communities, sustainable sourcing and health and safety. Our prioritisation of sustainability is backed up by an action-driven approach with measurable outcomes. The global strategy, Brew a Better World, is our sustainability roadmap and our compass on a journey that started over a decade ago towards becoming a truly greener brewer and it now permeates every part of our brewery and business.”

DJ McAllen, Director of Frank & Honest (owned by Musgrave Ireland): “This is a very exciting time for Frank & Honest. We’re at the early stages of an incredibly fast-growing coffee company and we’ve the privilege of making informed long-term decisions (about our product and business) that will not burden our planet. Last year we became the first national coffee brand in Ireland to introduce 100% composable cups and lids - diverting millions of coffee cups from landfills. In 2019 and beyond, we will maintain our focus, and positive energy, on delivering great tasting, sustainable products for tomorrow’s coffee lovers.”

Megan Stack, Head of Internal Comms, Dropbox EMEA: Sustainability can only become more than a buzzword if employees are actively engaged. Here in Dropbox Dublin, our facilities team put in place a fantastic infrastructure—from waste management systems to abolishing single-use plastic in our cafes. But real change has to come from action, and that’s where Planet DBX, our employee resource group focusing on sustainability, comes to the fore. Two Dropboxers took it upon themselves at a company “hack week” to dive into the company’s carbon footprint data and built a program to mitigate our impact. From there, Planet DBX was born, and we now have active groups across the globe who are driving grassroots initiatives designed to educate and change behaviour. This mix of organisational focus plus bottom-up activism has helped us up our game and create more energy around our sustainability efforts.”

At THINKHOUSE, our work is a vehicle for the change that we want to see in the world, born out of our mission to have a positive impact on the lives of today’s younger generation and our planet. We’ll put our hearts, bodies, minds and money on the line to do the right thing. The right thing to do is to protect the very existence of our planet through our gift - which is creative thinking, communicating and problem solving.

By Jane McDaid, Founder, Thinkhouse

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