Tomato soup, big pink ships and a climate bra from Kim Kardashian. The last five years have seen climate messages reach us in new, louder, ways. They have been lifted out of science reports and transported to our social media feeds and supermarket shelves. Done well, these messages are more colourful and more compelling than the science alone can ever be.
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Don’t get me wrong – when it comes to climate, the science is everything. But when science is married with story – well, that’s when facts can take flight, and impact the collective imagination.
The annual climate COP conferences are an opportunity for science-backed stories to lift off. This year’s COP is number 28, and it will open in Dubai on 30 November.
Surrounding the official proceedings in Dubai will be a carnival of installations, conversations and broadcasts. Different voices will tell new stories and explain how others can do the same. These sessions will be gold for marketers who want to bring sustainability into their story and do it right.
Creative minds are just as important as legal and scientific ones when it comes to driving change on climate. Take the flutter of 20,000 moths made from recycled milk bottles that adorned the ferns at COP26, sent by people around the world who couldn’t attend the conference but wanted to express support for a clean energy transition. Or the immersive artwork at COP27 that transported people to climate heaven or climate hell, depending on their answers to questions about their environmental behaviour.
Here are just some of the campaigns and communications that will be taking climate messaging out of the lab and into conversation this year at COP28:
Winning the story war
A shameless self-plug here for a panel that I’m super excited to speak on: EIT’s ‘Narrative and storytelling in service of climate action’ discussion is going to get right to heart of why stories matter if we want to change the world. I’ll sit alongside some serious storytelling wizards, including Indian film director and actor Rishab Shetty and American science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. (Honestly, my inner geek can hardly contain herself). We’ll talk about how stories can normalise a whole new, wonderful way of living and create a vision of a future we can all move towards.
A place where optimism rules and solutions are the name of the game, Hope House is the creation of communications agency Time for Better. Comms experts and other climate folk will get together in their green, leafy space to discuss how to make change, including a session on climate storytelling across cultures that will discuss how culture shapes climate narratives. Attendees can even take a spin in their podcasting studio, to record content with the help of experienced mentors.
The Extreme Hangout
Inspired by a love of adventure sports and a belief that young people have climate wisdom beyond their years, the Extreme Hangout has been hanging out at COP for the last couple of years. In between, they have run numerous other events and hosted over 300 speakers – videos of which have racked up a whopping 5 million views. The story they are telling? That young people’s voices need to be heard, and that change really is possible.
Events and conversations like these can do what my agency, Futerra, called for in a campaign we created for the UN in 2021: they can flip the script. Done well, new stories on climate can turn fear into hope, doom into determination, confusion into confidence.
Sustainability is the most exciting story that is only just beginning to be told. We don’t have an ending yet – but we creatives, marketers and storytellers are the ones who can help write it.
COP stands for ‘conference of the parties’, and it brings together world leaders and political representatives from around the world to hash out the action plans and legal changes needed to tackle the climate crisis. It’s not perfect: discussions can be fraught and decisions delayed. But it’s a couple of weeks each year when climate is centre stage. The political and media spotlight shines on the problems and – most importantly – the solutions to the greatest global challenge of our time.
Legalities, science, politics – this doesn’t sound like the usual remit of a marketer. But as someone who has been working in climate communications for nearly three decades, I can tell you that the happenings at COP28 absolutely should be on your radar.
Marketers can help tell the story, and we can expect – at least, I certainly hope – to see more brands harness the hope-filled (and science-backed) potential to build a better world. Will yours be one of them?