• 'Applied Green' conference review

    Environment, Communication Design

    I managed to attend the overpriced 'Applied Green' event Oct.3 (£650!!) at the British Library and feel duty bound to share my good fortune with everyone else who cannot pay this kind of money to Eurostar and Haymarket to discuss green communications.

    I arrived cynical of big brands and marketing agencies addressing an environmental agenda but interested in hearing the speakers address the subject. I was not disappointed. Jonathon Porritt (Forum for the Future) started things off with a sobering overview. Next, John Grant (of The Green Marketing Manifesto) set the tone for the day early in the morning with his memorable line about Green Consumer Research 'Brilliant at justifying. Useless at strategizing'. I took this as a good sign.

    John Gisby discussed the importance of acknowledging and working with difficult emotions. We have a tough brief with climate change – we are asking people to stop doing things they enjoy. Is it possible? Gisby looked at ways of reframing the debate by looking at the words we use, harnessing emotions to drive change, and making this change real and visible. Raising awareness is one thing, he claims, but behaviour change is another and we need to recognize that our emotions are greater motivators than scientific arguments.

    Ben Terrett of The Design Conspiracy gave a talk; 'Designers – Its our Fault' that implored industry to use designers better. Claiming that design is a way of thinking, he says to companies, 'Don't just use us (designers) to implement your shit idea – use us to create design solutions!'

    Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks was a strong advocate of action in the industry claiming non-engagement is 'shameful'. As a case in point he compared Google hits for the movie Helvetica (lots) & hits for 'sustainable graphic design' (very few). Johnson lamented the fact that whole field of climate change is chaotic; the language is confusing, and 'it is really hard to get the facts'. He brought some interesting facts to the table (ex. one glass of orange juice on your table uses two glasses of diesel). The highlight of the day came at the end of Johnson's presentation, when he asked the audience to consider that there may be some people present who are working on a campaigns now which might be greenwash, and that this greenwash is a serious threat that will make climate change yesterday's issue. This was a brave moment, as if greenwashing succeeds in convincing the public that real change is not necessary, we will all be in deep trouble.

    Matthew Anderson (BSkyB) very rightly pointed out that branding and marketing will not solve this problem – ultimately the crisis will only be resolved through political change.

    Finally, Dr. Arlo Brady of Freud Communications was emphatic: greenwashers must expect future scrutiny to be severe. Presently, he claims, it is possible to greenwash with impunity – but this will change. Communications can be used to cover up for a lack of substance – but we must take responsibility. The public is desperate for a voice they can trust in this debate; it is hard to tell what to do because the media is so confused. Brady brought up a point made often during the day; that is the need for standardized labels so consumers can make informed choices.

    For links & images visit my blog on www.eco-labs.org

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