The disruption to the way people live their lives caused by the Covid pandemic means there has "never been a better time" to embed more sustainable behaviours in society, Google's Matt Brittin said in a panel discussion at Cannes Lions Live.
Brittin – the tech giant's EMEA president, business and operations –said: "If we're talking about behaviour change, then there's never been a time when habits have been more broken, and new habits are going to be formed, than now.
"There is a moment of opportunity, in the context of changing behaviour at scale; we really need to rush in and seize together. It's probably the next 12 months where we have that opportunity to reset habits and form new ones."
Brittin appeared on an industry A-List panel alongside WPP chief executive Mark Read; Dentsu International CEO Wendy Clark; Unilever chief digital and marketing officer Conny Braams; and Maher Nasser, director of Outreach, United Nations.
In an introductory statement, Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general at the UN, said it had been inspiring to see rival advertising companies working together to achieve a more sustainable future.
In order to fight climate change as an industry, agencies should know when to collaborate and when to compete, Clark argued.
"This is a time to come together and worry about the planet, and worry about its people and bring our best thinking," she said.
"We've made a commitment now to reduce our air travel by 65% by 2030 and actually just last week I said to the team, could we share this plan. Since we've already done the hard work to assess and understand our air travel, could we share this with our colleagues and peers so they can jump to an outcome where they too can do this.
"We need to start sharing because it makes all the sense in the world, and we're doing it because it's the right thing to do for society and the planet."
Braams noted that acting to prevent climate change is very much an industry challenge, not a one-player challenge. Rather than just serving consumers, she said, Unilever believes in operating under a multi-stakeholder model, serving its customers, suppliers, the planet and society, which in turn serves the stakeholders. She added that Covid has accelerated changes in consumers, moving them further into the space of "cautious and conscious consumption".
Pointing to the industry's long track record of driving behaviour change, Read argued that learnings from past successes could now be used to drive sustainability.
“We've been responsible for people wearing seatbelts, road safety, drinking milk, all of the perceptional shifts we've had over the years,” he said.
“And I think that much of that can now be put in the service of more sustainable development in the world, and that, I think, is a good thing and that's certainly something that at WPP that we would like to see, and I know that our people most importantly would very much like to see that.”