Let's get sustainability and equality working hand-in-hand
A view from Chris Gorell Barnes

Let's get sustainability and equality working hand-in-hand

If we champion equality in isolation, we risk overshadowing an issue that's equally as important, writes Adjust Your Set's founder and chief executive.

2018 seems to be the year when we might just stop paying lip service to gender equality and instead start taking tangible action. As an ardent feminist, this is music to my ears.

Using our industry’s unrivalled comms prowess to tear down gender stereotypes makes me incredibly proud. And using our forward-thinking nous to lead the business world in striving for a more gender-balance workforce is to be utterly celebrated. But there’s one slight fly in the ointment. If we champion equality in isolation, we risk overshadowing an issue that’s equally as important: sustainability. 

When women are put in charge, they tend to use their power and budgets more responsibly

Movements like #MeToo show that, despite decades of chatter, women are still living in dire times when it comes to being respected as equal. With half of the world’s population suffering harassment and discrimination on an alarmingly regular basis, it’s hard to go out on a limb and say that other issues are just as important. And yet it’s impossible to deny that equality becomes entirely academic if we have no planet left on which to practice it.

When you boil it down like this, the inconvenient truth is that there can be no long-term equality without sustainability. 

The good news is, however, that there’s a natural symbiosis between equality and sustainability. Studies show that when women are put in charge, they tend to use their power and budgets more responsibly. From family units in the developing world to boardrooms in the corporate world, we see this happening time and again. So as the world slowly crawls its way towards more gender-balanced leadership, will sustainability – as the responsible choice – organically start playing a greater role? It leaves me hopeful the drive towards equality will have the unintended but happy consequence of more focus on sustainability.

Perhaps more saliently, though, there’s a compelling marketing argument for creating parity between equality and sustainability. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past six months, you’ll know that women’s rights now form a crucial part of the public consciousness. And quite right too. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room left for awareness and debate around sustainability.

Increased awareness means brands are now more likely to be able to implement sustainability measures throughout the supply chain

Single-use plastics, marine conservation, climate crisis… they’ve suddenly sky rocketed up the public and political agendas. From Evian committing to 100% recycled plastic by 2025, to Iceland promising to ditch plastic on all its own-branded goods and Theresa May’s 25-year plan (not that we have 25 years, but don’t get me started on that), sustainability is suddenly everywhere. It’s even the number one theme at Davos, the agenda-setting World Economic Forum that I’m lucky enough to attend this week.

It’s no coincidence that this heightened awareness comes hot on the heels of the BBC’s spectacular Blue Planet 2; a programme that beat Strictly and The X-Factor to become the UK’s most viewed TV show of 2017. The fact that 14-million of us were glued to Blue Planet 2 is solid proof that far from wanting nothing but an empty-headed diet of celebrity fluff, people are craving more meaningful and caring environmental storytelling.

And this gives brands an amazing two-fold opportunity. Firstly, increased awareness means brands are now more likely to be able to implement sustainability measures throughout the supply chain. Secondly, the newfound hunger for environmentalism hands brands a way to shape culture, build advocacy and become a key part on the national debate.

Combine this with the power of unstereotyped comms and – who knows – maybe, just maybe, advertising really could change the world.

Chris Gorell Barnes is founder and chief executive of of Adjust Your Set and co-founder of Blue Marine Foundation

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