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The Killers or The Cure? Design for good lessons from this summer's festivals

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We have a shared passion for music, me and my dad. When we watched this year’s Glastonbury, he was surprised he hadn’t heard of The Killers who headlined the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night. 

I found myself trying to explain why this band exist. But couldn’t. The practiced, overconfident rock ’n' roll posturing, the contrived saccharine sound… It was like I was watching a virtual rock star, playing tunes written by AI. Thank god for The Cure, who turned up and played the most beautiful set on the same stage on Sunday as the sun set. 

Festivals can be unlike anything else, demonstrating an alternative way of living and doing, and cutting through to make meaningful connections with both people and ideas. 

For me, this year’s standout performers and speakers also represented a call to arms to creative agencies to collaborate more meaningfully – not just with the brand owners we work for but also with colleagues across the creative sector. 

Our strategy director, Lily Fletcher, went to The DO Lectures festival on the far edge of West Wales last year. She returned life inspired. DO is designed to help individuals achieve breakthrough moments through encouragement. The idea is simple – that people who do things can inspire the rest of us to achieve amazing feats, too – whether in the world of business, creativity, education, technology or wellbeing.

So, I went to DO in deepest darkest Wales this year - an event as transformative as my first Glastonbury. Our creative director Matthew Jones is going next year. I feel it’s important to go on your own and have your own experience without distraction.

At this year’s event, the roughly 25 speakers on the farm shared personal insights designed to help us reach our potential, individually and collectively. 

Highlights included James Victore – a graphic designer and punchy New Yorker talking about how life is short and you need to find your voice; Keith Yamashita of SYPartners, on how pre-stroke he was work obsessed but has now learnt to cut through the bullshit, to connect in a more meaningful way.

You only get one life, time is short, do something good now, they said, urging us all to collaborate, to cut the crap and tackle important issues like pollution, corruption and climate change by thinking creatively and laterally.

Tragically, June 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on planet Earth. If we hit all targets currently outlined by 2050 we hit 3.5 degrees warning. No one knows if life on Earth is sustainable at those levels.

And so, the weekend at DO rolled out, to its audience on a farm in Cardigan, encouraging attendees to consider their own impending death moment, to remember that we still have time and great people achieve great things.

Then the Swedish Fashion Council cancelled Stockholm Fashion Week to focus on launching a more sustainable alternative. Get in.

So what are you prepared to do to protect our planet?

What’s stopping us?

First, we all need to take ownership. To think about how our businesses operate in terms of food, energy, travel or technology. At Accept & Proceed, for some time I have been aware that, however well intended the work we produce is, it is often part of the problem. We have the ability to make enticing creative and comms that solely exists to entice people into a glossy consumerism. We are part of and support systems which must change.

So, we are working on some fundamental changes to how we operate. We are having solar panels fitted. We are changing our café from vegetarian to vegan, and looking into how we can offset our flights, (research is needed to understand what’s effective and meaningful in relation to your business), as well as crucially, questioning whether flying is really required at all. We are also embarking on the lengthy path of B-Corp status, which, like a Fairtrade stamp on a coffee, indicates that we give as much weight to our social and environmental impact as our financial returns.

Secondly, we have recognised that we all need to use our influence. While it’s hard to see yourself from inside the bubble, we have opportunities to influence clients and creative partners. We’re already working on Nike’s sustainability brand and believe that if we can continue to work with global innovators and influencers the result could quite literally be planet saving. 

Finally, we must collaborate. Open channels of communication and combine our creative strengths and networks. So, I ask all leaders of business in the creative sector to join forces to tackle the climate crisis. Design for good is a subject which unites us. There are no boundaries. We are stronger together and must actively search out partners in order to maximise effectiveness. We should unite, take action and amplify. 

Just DO it.

Let’s not be The Killers, but The Cure.

David Johnston is founder and ECD at Accept & Proceed.

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