Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bringing Sustainability to the Mainstream

Internationally, the sustainability movement is a wake-up call. The world as we know it will not support human life for much longer and actions must be taken to stave off imminent self-destruction brought about by climate change, overpopulation, the depletion of resources and what have you.

Vancouver is a city that is very much immersed in sustainability. We started Greenpeace, and Adbusters, and one doesn’t have to look far to see that we live in a pocket of mountains, trees, oceans and blue sky. This city, more than any other I can think of, is synonymous with environmentalism.

But sustainability is also a culture. Like skater culture, or fashion culture or punk culture, it is founded on an ideology. With an ideology comes a certain rigid set of values that one is obliged to maintain to be pure, hardcore, legit etc.

Like any established culture, sustainability culture does not want to have their values co-opted by advertisers once their issues become marketable. They don’t want to sell out by bringing their value system to the mainstream where it will be damped and watered down by the trend-setters and wannabes for the sake of fickle profit dollars. It will turn sustainability into a fad.

And the problem with fads is that they fade. They lose their allure and cool and are as quickly dropped and dismissed for the next marketable ideology to take its place.

Saving the world may be sexy today – but tomorrow it might be opulent consumerism and the fat-penguin-suit-look with monoliths to one’s own accomplishments that is all the rage.

So, it is easy to understand the resistance a sustainable company would have with anything that could come across as attacking its own integrity. To some, even making a profit is frowned upon

Ironically enough, I write about the intersections between sustainability and advertising almost every day, and Creative Wonders as an agency works as much as possible with sustainable companies.

It’s an interesting position to be put in. Our job is to spread sustainability for the sake of awareness and profit for the businesses involved, but the very movement is reluctant to do just that. We like to work with companies that are about bettering the earth, because, well, it beats hawking cigarettes and hamburgers to ‘tweens. Why not work towards something positive?

This is where there is a bit of friction. Sustainability as a whole is pretty much opposed to advertising because they don’t want to make their beliefs accessible, however, sustainability just happens to be an issue that is bigger than preservation of a lifestyle.

At this point in human existence, it is not enough for sustainability to be a fashion alone, it needs to be legislation, policy, and paradigm shifting. The more information is spread, the more likely it is to reverse some of the damage that our Earth has suffered since the Industrial Revolution. By making sustainability accessible to the masses, it may soften the edge of the vigilant, but even diffused, it can spread, and then grow in the minds of the mainstream.


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