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Full Report: Creatives for Climate Amsterdam Summit

September 18th saw the first Creatives for Climate summit take place in Amsterdam: an event that invited the leaders of the city’s creative industry to help tackle the climate crisis. Below is a full report of what occurred, as well as concrete actions.

Initiated by thought leadership agency The Humblebrag, The Creatives for Climate Summit featured talks from climate activist group Extinction Rebellion; Alex Weller, European Marketing Director of sustainable outdoor clothing brand Patagonia; and ethical brand activist Mark Aink of Native Circles.

Lucy von Sturmer, founder of The Humblebrag opened saying: “We received more than 400 RSVPS which confirms that many of us are concerned about the climate emergency, and want to know what we can do to act. Many of you are already working on initiatives in this direction already. Which is great, because as creatives, we have the power, influence and skill-set to inspire action and change behaviour.” 

Moving to a larger venue to accommodate a larger crowd, the event took place at the Amsterdam offices of Patagonia, where an auditorium packed to maximum capacity accommodated 140 key stakeholders from the Dutch advertising and marketing industry. 

At the beginning of the night, Lucy warned that the problem they were here to talk about was, as she described it, “terrifying and incredibly depressing. It’s so big and so scary, that often we don’t even want to think about it.” She went on to say that this has been her summer of climate grief.

“When I started to engage with the science, I got climate anxiety, and what is now known as climate grief. The prospect of runaway climate change terrifies me.”

That all changed, when at the Cannes Lions this past June she and her business partner Jessica Hartley attended an impromptu Extinction Rebellion panel. They decided then and there to join forces to do business for good, and explore what creativity could – and should – do in response to the crisis. Lucy said: “We looked at each other and said: let’s help to take this conversation further.”

Fast forward to last week, and the idea that was hatched in Cannes has been eagerly snapped up by the Amsterdam creative industry. During inspired talks, Extinction Rebellion first presented the hard facts, then called on the creative industry to declare an emergency, help reach the Dutch public, and offer  honest information about the climate crisis. 

Linda Moerland, one of the speakers of Extinction Rebellion: “The main thing you can do to help is to spread the word. Tell the truth. Get the word out to the masses and to people who aren’t up to speed with the latest science. Which is practically everyone. We need to tackle this the way the “influencers” do.”

Known for their highly visible protests and manifestations, Extinction Rebellion has a clear goal in mind: to ultimately change the system, which they say is broken. According to them, there is no diplomatic way to achieve this. “It’s about being disruptive, it’s about taking risks,” said Tim Polaszek of Extinction Rebellion.

“The reason Extinction Rebellion works well, is because we go out onto the streets and cause economic disruption. It’s controversial, but nobody ever changed something without pissing someone off. When people lose money, they start listening.”

During his talk, former ad exec turned brand activist Mark Aink called upon those present to use their creativity to inspire change. “I’ve been in the industry for 35 years,”he said, “and I’ve seen great change happen almost overnight through fantastic campaigns and ideas. As the creative industry, we have the power to actually make these changes happen. I would love to invite you to do this.” 

European Marketing Director of Patagonia Alex Weller warned that change comes at a price. “A principal isn’t a principal until it costs you something,” he said. “And being part of this movement doesn’t come for free. You have to make hard choices, and often these cost time, labor and money. But people want to take action, including consumers.”

After the Extinction Rebellion presentation, a moment of silence was held, allowing people to collect their thoughts. Ideas and responses were written down on cards handed out upon entrance. Emotions were palpable, and although Lucy said they had been specifically asked not to make people cry, some visibly struggled to hold back their tears. But alongside sadness, shock and anger, there was also a strong sense of urgency and collaborative action.

The second part of the night featured an open dialogue with creatives from a wide spectrum of agencies and brands, with the objective of hearing ideas directly from the audience to start co-creating a plan of action. Clearly feeling overwhelmed, one of the very first questions was from someone who accurately summed up what undoubtedly many were left wondering: so what do you want us to do? 

Mark Aink was quick to answer:

“This is called “Creatives for Climate’, and you are the creatives. So think about it. We need to come up with ideas, work together and self-organise. It’s up to us.”

Fortunately, there were also plenty of ideas to go around. 

 “What if we organise a hackathon with creatives, corporations and startups?” someone suggested. 

 “We need to be storytellers for the climate scientists, and help build trust between them and the general population,”  another offered. “Learn to speak the language of the people we are trying to convince.”

There was also room for reflection and a critical view of the industry. 

 “Everybody, individually and collectively, has to be willing to be really uncomfortable. Right now, we are all so afraid. So how can we judge companies and judge the general public, when we, as an industry, aren’t willing to step outside our comfort zone ourselves?”

 “We need to create better branding for sustainable living. Coca Cola is the master of branding: people buy it because something speaks to them. So we need to look at what emotions move people, and use massive cultural storytelling to shift the narrative about what the good life means.” 

“There’s been a lot of talk tonight about how to change consumers’ behavioural patterns. We have creatives here who work with some of the biggest brands in the world, people with massive influence. The best sales people, the best creative minds. I think we need to change the conversation with our clients.”

Looking back on the summit, Lucy von Sturmer says she feels overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of support and resulting actions. “My partner Jessica and I put all our efforts into giving the Amsterdam creative industry a boost,” she says.

 “We decided to put our money where our mouth is, get off our ass and do something. We wanted everyone to take home the fact that as creatives, we’re really powerful. We have the ability to inspire people and change behaviour, as storytellers, imaginative thinkers, writers, videographers, designers, marketing directors, CEOs, shareholders and even as interns. Thankfully, our call to self-organise and act has landed. It’s wonderful to see how the community is now taking this forward.” 

Following the event… 

  • More than 20 agencies - including the ADCN (Art Directors Club the Netherlands) - have signed onto the newly launched Creatives for Climate Amsterdam pledge to collectively declare an emergency and commit to action.
  • Over 500 creatives have connected in the Creatives for Climate Amsterdam Facebook group to exchange thoughts and ideas, and collaborate.
  • The concept of a pop-up Extinction Agency has been brought to life and individuals as well as agencies and companies are offering their time, skills and technical support to aid the cause.
  • In response to the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands: Tell the truth, agencies such as HarrimanSteel and Nomads, as well as independent creatives have shared banners and posters to create a database of free imagery for anyone to download and use - free of charge.
  • Ideas include blacklisting and boycotting companies who cause the highest environmental damage, and adding the link to the Creatives for Climate Amsterdam website in your email signature have been taken up by individuals.

The Humblebrag is currently involved in organising talks at agencies upon their request. The Dutch climate march on Friday, September 27th in the Hague is Creatives for Climate Amsterdam’s first call to action. Email hello@thehumblebrag.co for more information.

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