Scary is energising - Cannes Lions and sustainability | #CannesLions2022

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If there is one key thread running through the first ‘real’ Cannes Lions event in three years it’s a greater focus on sustainability. Is it any wonder, given the collective trauma of the last two years that ad land would be all about making the world a better and more sustainable place? Not really. But that the notorious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity would go as far as to “vow to make every ad green by 2030” is still something of a shock.

Rather tellingly, that rather bold statement came from Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, just hours after a representative from Greenpeace and former Lions winner stormed the opening ceremony to call out the agencies that worked with the fossil fuel industry with a now semi-iconic banner reading “No awards on a dead planet.

A cry for change


Gustav Martner, a Greenpeace activist and former Cannes Lions winner for his work with cars and airlines, took the stage and unfolded the now notorious banner and proceeded to make a (presumably prepared) statement to the assembled masses:- 

As a former head of a creative agency, I know the power of advertising and sponsorship in mobilising people or distracting them from crucial issues. My job was to use my ideas to help polluters sell products that are killing the planet and the people. For too long, ad agencies have escaped their responsibilities towards the climate crisis, now they must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Cannes Lions claims to be the ‘Home of creativity’, I’m here to say there’s no creativity on a dead planet.

It’s powerful stuff, particularly coming from the mouth of a man who once peddled the narrative he’s now rallying against. But is his anger completely justified given the amount of effort ad land is putting into changing its ways? Or is Martner right and it really is all just a case of wide scale virtue signalling while agencies take backhanders from the fossil fuel industry?

“We have made scary commitments to sustainability. But scary is energising” 

Michael Gillane, Marketing Director, Heineken, UK

All ads green by 2023

If Cannes Lions managing director Simon Cook is to be believed, more needs to be done. Taking to the stage alongside the aforementioned Stephen Woodford in Cannes earlier this week on the second day of the festival, Cook said: “Our industry must change quickly if we want to tackle the climate crisis. We have to see it and the ecosystem of technology companies, media owners, agencies and brands, have to come together to tackle this.

Woodford, meanwhile, expanded on his ideals (one that the UK government supposedly shares) for a completely green and sustainable future by explaining his vision: “Every advertisement has to be made by sustainable businesses, using sustainable production processes, distributed through sustainable media supply chains and promoting more sustainable products.

Of course, that’s easier said than done but he does feel it’s an achievable goal if we “rally together.” However, while the UK is fully on board, it only contributes 5% of the world’s advertising. For this to work it needs to be a global push.

“If you don’t create demand, you won’t create change”

Cristina Kenz, Chief Growth and Sustainability Officer, The Kraft-Heinz Company 

Sustainable futures

Speaking of a global push, one Cannes Lions panel that seemed to walk the walk and talk the talk was engineered by Dentsu International. Cristina Kenz, Chief Growth & Sustainability Officer, The Kraft Heinz Company, Michael Gillane, Marketing Director, Heineken UK and (once again) Stephen Woodford all joined Anna Lungley, Chief Sustainability Officer for Dentsu International on stage at the Dentsu beach house to explore what’s needed to change behaviours globally to meet the pernicious challenge posed by the global climate emergency.


Kicking off with a discussion on how consumer lifestyle changes can drive 70% of the emission cuts needed to meet climate targets, the panel examined the opportunities for positive change within the industry.

The fundamental agreements from the panel were that sustainability should be used to improve products and services and that sustainability will never make up for a drop in quality in the eyes of the consumer. There was also a focus on the potential of Sustainability as a Service. 

Speaking of his company’s sustainable beer dispenser, Michael explained: “Heineken provides a dispenser on subscription to pubs with technology that reduces carbon consumption by 50% and water usage by 30%. We get revenue from this while creating a superior experience for the user, and a reduced impact on the environment.

One area the panel also agreed on was the damaging impact of greenwashing. Stephen argued that greenwashing happens when marketers do not understand the rules of climate communications well enough. Nobody sets out to ‘greenwash’, but often businesses aren’t as rigorous as they should in checking guidelines. He said: “We need to massively up skill the industry. We all need to become sustainability experts - not just the team leads but all of any business’ thousands of employees.”

“Sustainability is everyone’s job. 99% of people in our industry are deeply concerned about their impact on the world. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.” 

Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive, Advertising Association 

Cross business collaboration 

One thing that everyone agrees on, above all else, is that this fight for sustainability cannot be fought alone. Dentsu’s Anna Lungley points to multi-sector collaborations that help address common issues such as shipping: “One key collaboration is around the impact of media and advertising, which contributes to a business’ Scope Three emissions - but clients and agencies working together have the power to reduce these.

Heinz delegate Cristina Kenz, meanwhile, highlights that sustainability is a complex issue, not a complicated one. The difference between complex and complicated is the intention: “We have a complex issue with supply chains, it’s not complicated if you have the intention to change it. I hate when people tell me it’s complicated - that’s the politics of not wanting to do it.

“This is the industry’s greatest creative brief. We have the power to make incredible changes in the way we consume the earth’s resources. But we must act fast.” 

Anna Lungley, Chief Sustainability Officer, Dentsu International

In summary, more collaboration will make the path to sustainability faster and more efficient, and this change needs to be driven primarily by businesses rather than governments, given the scale and complexity of the problem. If we can all work together, perhaps stunts such as the one pulled by Mr Martner on Monday night will soon no longer be necessary. We can but hope.



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