We talk creative responsibility with illustrator Matt Blease and Pentagram partner & Do the Green Thing co-founder Naresh Ramchandani.
As the consequences of climate change begin to become more than just a possible future, many businesses around the world are putting in place policies that show they want to be part of the solution. Even if those policies are sometimes more about being seen than actually doing.
Meanwhile, ordinary people have been taking action themselves, from reducing waste wherever they can to switching to electric cars. And joining grassroots movements like Extinction Rebellion, who are gaining momentum all over the world.
But what about the creative industries? Can those of us working in them do more – using our knowledge and skills to raise awareness, encourage people to make changes in their own lives, and add to the pressure on those with power to act on tackling climate change? There are some who not only think we can and should, but have taken action to motivate the rest of us. People like Naresh Ramchandani, who is not only a Partner at design consultancy Pentagram, but also the co-founder of Do The Green Thing, a non-profit group that uses the skills of creatives to help inspire action on climate change.
Closer to home, at Breed, both we and the artists we represent have come to recognise the responsibilities we have around social and environmental issues. And we have to consider those responsibilities with the clients we choose to work with, and how we might use our platform to promote eco-conscious brands and products.
For example, Matt Blease has worked with outdoor clothing brand Patagonia on their push for a greater focus on recycling.
We spoke to both Matt and Naresh to get their take on how they see their role and how we could all do more to improve our world.
Were Patagonia a brand you were familiar with?
Yes, for a long time! I wore Patagonia back in the 90s when it wasn’t quite as cool as it is now! I wish I still had some of those early fleeces!
What was it you did for them?
I helped bring to life a bit of a dry ‘explainer’ that highlighted the truth about what happens to our plastic items once we dump them in the recycling bin.
What kind of research did you have to do in creating your ‘Tips for a Zero-Waste Life’?
Patagonia being Patagonia had provided me with links to some really thorough articles about the processes involved. They really know what they are talking about. This is what makes them unique. They lead the way in environmentally aware manufacturing.
Do you consciously look to work for more ethically aware brands?
I consciously look to not work for brands that don’t care.
Did the work you did with Patagonia make you rethink or change the way you live?
It really did. Whenever I recycle something I can’t help but see its little journey animating in front of me.
Do you think creatives have a responsibility to actively raise awareness about climate change?
Of course, we all do. I think the biggest thing we can do is just making sure the clients that we work for have their shit together. We shouldn’t be creating work for companies that don’t care about our planet.
Naresh started as a copywriter in 1990, becoming a creative director at Chiat/Day within four years. He was key in that agency’s transition to becoming the country’s first co-operative agency St Luke’s, before founding Karmarama in 2000. In 2007 he co-founded Do The Green Thing, and he joined Pentagram as a Partner in 2010.
Did you have a Damascene moment about living more sustainably, or had it always been a concern?
Not a Damascene moment as such, but a gradual and awakening through An Inconvenient Truth, The Stern Report and some friends who were more conscious than I was about the disaster most of us were sleepwalking towards.
How did you come to start Do The Green Thing?
One of those friends I just mentioned – Andy Hobsbawn – sat me down, explained the planet was heading to a bad place and suggested that we put our comms skills together to promote greener lifestyles. Through comms and campaigns, world-class creativity makes unsustainable action desirable. We wondered if the same standard of creativity could make sustainable action just as desirable. In 2007, after a year of planning, Do The Green Thing was born to answer that question.
What would you like businesses in the creative industry to be doing more of?
Making stronger decisions about the work it should do and shouldn’t do. Thinking hard before accepting work that promotes oil companies, airlines, combustion-engined cars, fast fashion, red meat and so on, because these are the new cigarettes. Yes, it’s money, and yes, there are salaries to pay and shareholders to please, but there’s a bigger responsibility beyond that, and eventually it’s got to count.
Is there not a fundamental contradiction in members of an industry that largely exists to encourage consumption also urging people to try to live more sustainably?
No, because there are different types of consumption. There’s consumption of products that create value for owners who are all too happy to plunder, pollute and devalue the environment for their own profit. And there’s consumption of products owned by people who have a more rounded and responsible idea of who wins. I’m happy to promote the second, but not the first.
How much influence do you think creative professionals can have?
Enormous amounts. One super-smart election campaign by Dominic Cummings – combined with one shitshow campaign by Milne and co – means that the hardest form of Brexit is now happening and the rights of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised are going to be neglected by a right-heavy parliament. Creative people can make arguments sharp, ideas desirable, protests compelling and movements irresistible. All of that can and must happen for the climate crisis.
What can we do, as individual creatives?
First of all, we can understand the problem. David Wallace Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth is a great (if bleak) roundup. Secondly, we can live our lives more sustainably, and be an example to our colleagues. Thirdly, we can say no to work for firms that harm the environment, or set a point in the future when it’s more realistic to say no. And lastly, we can focus our volunteer work – the 5% of extra time we always find for pet projects – on this one issue. We can offer creative skills to environmental NGOs or protest groups. We can make great placards for climate marches. We can use our Instagram or Twitter to sing the joys of cycling, or walking. We can start campaigns for the brilliance of thrift-shop vinyl. We can even lend our time and know-how to Do The Green Thing.
Have you made a conscious effort to become less of a consumer yourself?
Last January I challenged myself to go the year without buying anything new. Apart from food, drink and socks (I didn’t especially want to wear someone else’s), it was easy, and much easier than I thought. I bought old records or gig tickets for people’s birthdays, and for myself bought a couple of essentials (replacement rucksack, replacement squash racket) and a few pre-owned clothes off eBay, with – hilarious sizing mistakes apart – few problems and lots of fun. I’ll definitely keep it up this year.
Is Do The Green Thing allied with other environmental groups?
In one way or another, over the last 18 months, we’ve worked with Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Global Action Plan, Voice For The Planet and the just-launched Laudes Foundation, so yes. We’re all working to the same end, and our work doesn’t have to be branded Do The Green Thing to be a useful contribution.
Do you see Do The Green Thing expanding its remit in future?
I’m so proud of what we do. We’ve asked screenwriters to use their enormous influence to normalise green action in the world’s films and shows. We’ve argued that our dogs can go vegan. We’ve made a case and an exhibition that explored how the patriarchy harms the planet. We’ve armed climate strikers with an O.O.O. for the Planet email response. We’ve created an alternative platform to wasteful office Secret Santa, where you can gift surprises instead of unwanted stuff. Across all this work, we point out our unsustainable values and choices, and provide imaginative ideas and tools in response. I don’t think our remit needs to change, but as the climate crisis escalates we need to be ever-present not intermittent, and reach more people.
If you had the ear of the Prime Minister, what would you urge them to focus their attention on?
I’d speak to Boris Johnson on his own terms. Tell him he’ll be slimmer and sexier if he eats less meat. He’ll be an example to the nation if he stops having love children. He’ll be the toast of Davos if he delivers a Green New Deal. He’ll be the equal of his hero Churchill if he leads a world war against climate change. I’m pretty sure that would work.
Would you say you were optimistic about the planet’s future?
As cleverer people than me have long pointed out, optimism is a choice. In the case of the environment, it’s a choice to believe that some combination of ingenuity, obligation and endeavour will come together at sufficient scale to avert the worst of the climate crisis. I will never choose to be pessimistic on this subject, because it’s a choice not to try. If enough of us try, and tackle the crisis with hard work and hope, we may find the answers.
You can find Matt Blease’s animation for Patagonia here.
Images provided by Do The Green Thing.