“Dangerous, Irresponsible, Unethical”: Young Adlanders Are Having Their Say About Climate Change In Comms Declare’s Future Leaders Survey

“Dangerous, Irresponsible, Unethical”: Young Adlanders Are Having Their Say About Climate Change In Comms Declare’s Future Leaders Survey
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It’s unquestionable that the world is currently in the grips of a climate crisis – and organisation Comms Declare wants Australia’s advertising industry to take responsibility for its role.

To do this, it has set up the Future Leaders survey, calling for people under 30 in the industry to have their say.

Belinda Noble, Comms Declare’s founder, said, “We’re absolutely hearing that young people want to work for agencies that take an ethical stand, and increasingly that excludes larger agencies with big energy clients.”

“Our agency survey last year found 87 per cent agreed that climate action is important to attract employees, but there’s still a disconnect between what agencies say and what clients they are willing to take. We say fossil fuels are the new tobacco, you can’t proclaim to be ethical while enabling their business.”

The ethical and moral questions for agencies abound: is there ever a justification for continuing to market companies that actively harm the earth?

B&T spoke to two young adlanders about the industry’s relationship to the climate, and what we can do better.

Maya Halilovic is a senior creative at 303MullenLowe. From her perspective, agencies have a significant responsibility what it comes to climate action.

“I think agencies should play a massive role in confronting climate change, if only because we are part of the reason that it exists. It’s kind of a difficult one to stomach, because if you think about it, BP and Shell Oil and Chevron and whatnot – the sort of giant polluters of the world – have and will continue to rely on agencies to lift their profile, and to talk about a ‘cleaner and greener’ future that is increasingly just a vaguer and vaguer concept,” she said.

“We have a massive role in reversing that, because we are directly contributing to it.”

Ultimately, any business or agency has a moral or ethical responsibility when it comes to taking on clients.

“If you don’t, you’re just kind of contributing to the existing problem,” she reflected. “I just feel in 2021,  I don’t really know how to continue to market something like a BP or Shell. I’m not sure what you can begin to say.”

“For all the rural the events that we host, and all the panels that we host, and all the Zoom talks that we give on a sustainable future in advertising, the first thing you need to do is to not take on clients that are digging up the earth.”

She reflected on a business and ethics class she took at university where they discussed mining. One of her fellow classmates said something that has stuck with her.

“He went: that company exists because it digs holes in the ground. So if you want those holes to stop happening, if you want to stop digging, that company has to shut down.”

“This company can’t exist.”

Sian Henderson, a senior account manager at The Bravery, shared similar reflections. She believes that, as communicators, agencies have a responsibility to lead the conversation on the climate.

“There’s many things in terms of advertising agencies and communication agencies and their roles to play. They’re literally the communicators between clients or businesses and the consumer audience, and other industry players, depending on who your client is. So there’s a huge responsibility there to make sure that we are communicating and educating and driving that awareness around climate change,” she explained.

“In another sense, it’s just a fantastic opportunity: you’ve got the biggest issue of our time happening, and as communicators that sit in the middle, we are in a position where we can really be those people to educate our clients, and people on the other side, and consumers, to understand the issues around climate change, and how people can get involved.”

Capitalising on drive and passion around the climate, she said, is a powerful tension point.

It’s clear that the climate is a priority for young people. Indeed, Henderson pointed to The Power and the Passion report published by The Bravery in collaboration with Republic of Everyone and Mobium Group this year.

It found that 36 per cent of both Gen Zs and Millennials were ‘extremely concerned’ about climate change. 82 per cent of Gen Z and 80 per cent of Millenials were also overall concerned about climate change.

This is something employers must recognise.

Lauren Piro, Quiip Brands’ human resource director said, “we know that millennials are much more values-driven and want to work for organisations with a social purpose. We find that we have applications coming to us rather than needing to advertise as people appreciate our commitment to climate change action and ethical business practice”.

Ethics are something Henderson has prioritised in her career.

“When I first went to transition into a more career oriented role, I was only looking at ethical job searches because I only wanted to work for a company that aligned with my values. That was for two really strong reasons,” she explained.

“One was, I only wanted to contribute to a positive future. We work five days a week, the majority of our lives. So, therefore, the best way to do that is to make sure that I’m aligning with a company that also does that, and we can work together to do that. Secondly, I think another interesting point is that being younger and being under 30, we have more flexibility to make those choices of who we work for, and why.”

“When you go into a workplace, or you go to school, to do something, anything that doesn’t align with who you are, there’s so much disassociation around it. I think people – especially with the pandemic – are kind of like: I’m done with that. I want to live the life that I want, I want to live, I want to feel present, I want to make sure I’m pushing for that change.”

Both Henderson and Halilovic felt the importance of agencies taking an active stance against fossil fuel-producing and climate change-enabling clients.

“If we’re not working towards a future that is sustainable, what are we doing? Where are we going? What’s the point? It’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible, it’s unethical.  I understand that not everyone feels that way, and there’s probably education that needs to be had around certain areas. But really, where we’re at now is pretty crucial,” Henderson reflected.

“We do need to start really pushing for some of those harder action items, such as saying, ‘no, I won’t work with you, you know, I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to support that’.”

But to do this, agencies need to be committed to giving young people a voice – and actively choosing to listen to it.

“Agencies hire young people because they want a youthful perspective, they don’t want to be out of touch…they want people that have their finger on the pulse,” Halilovic said.

“But sometimes they also just don’t want to hear what young people have to say. I think the opportunity is there, but you need to be empowered to do it. You need your agency to support how you feel about climate change. It is difficult to oppose it and then do work for Shell Oil or Chevron.”

Henderson explained that often, young people don’t realise the power they have. However, “in terms of actually making change, I think it really just comes down to the employer.”

She is hopeful, though, about the potentials of young people using their voices.

“What I really realized is that we have so much more power than we think we have as an individual. Then that feeds into the collective power that we have in these workplaces: just to tap into that, and see how that goes.”

You can find the Future Leaders survey here.

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