Cannes Lions 2022: Sustainability Within the Industry of Brand Film and Advertising

Carlijn Postma, Speaker and Author of 'Binge Marketing'

In this miniseries of three articles, Carlijn Postma reports from Cannes Lions 2022 looking at how brands are transforming into entities with a focus on sustainability and what that means for advertisers and entertainment creators.
In this miniseries of three articles, Carlijn Postma reports from Cannes Lions 2022 looking at how brands are transforming into entities with a focus on sustainability and what that means for advertisers and entertainment creators.


It’s Paradise, or…


Every year leading brands and agencies from all over the world come together in the south of France by the Mediterranean Sea in Cannes. When you get there, there is nothing that shows you the world is facing sincere problems of any kind. Palm trees are looking out over the bay, white sand beaches with children laughing, people swimming, kite surfers jumping waves and all the wealthy yacht owners in the world are gathered here to relax or enjoy their (early) retirement. When you enter the festival zone the pandemic seems to be forgotten and the threat of a climate disaster is not in any way sensible in this bay.


The only hint you may get is the Greenpeace Ship on the horizon stating: “No awards on a dead planet, Ban Fossil Ads!”. But other than that, it’s close to paradise.


It is, however, a relevant opening statement for one of the festival’s major topics: sustainability and the responsibility of the industry for that (which is kind of a paradox, since around 15,000 ad-people from all over the world flew in one-by-one).


It raises the question: What does taking responsibility look like in the creative industry? In Cannes there were two topics that came back in most of the sessions as well as in jury decisions for the awards: inclusivity and sustainability regarding environmental issues. The message about inclusivity was clear. On every panel discussion, in which panelists were picked with military precision to show equality on all stages, the message was “Get yourself an inclusive team”. The conversation changes when you work with an inclusive team. And so does the output. This is key for change in our industry. And change is what we need if we want to save our planet, according to the many IPCC records.



Sustainable Environmental Issues


The second topic regarding sustainable environmental issues became more and more a subject of speech when the days went by. It started with the Greenpeace ship at the horizon telling people to ban fossil ads. Gustav Martner, Greenpeace activist and former Lions winner and juror, stormed the stage during the opening ceremony, giving back the award he won for his work for Volkswagen stating once more: “No awards on a dead planet. Ban Fossil Ads.” Although he himself was banned from the festival after this, he did feed the conversation. I think it was the first time I heard an agency proudly say they had turned down a client from the oil industry.


Let’s get back to the question: How sustainable is the advertising industry itself? Apart from the fact that the industry is thinking about silencing oil companies and pitching more on brands that value sustainable goals, what else can they do? Following the UK initiative that in 2030 every ad should be a green ad, Cannes Lions Festival offered the stage to Ad Net Zero, a global collaboration of 10 leading businesses like Dentsu, Havas and Unilever, and 10 trade bodies like the Advertising Association, IAB and the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). Ad Net Zero embodies the advertising industry’s drive to reduce the carbon impact of developing, producing and running advertising to real net zero by 2030.

Their website comes with 5 points of action:


Five points of action to get to zero: 1. Advertising businesses’ own operations: all companies commit to curtail their carbon emissions, principally by reducing travel, fossil energy use and waste. 2. Advertising production: advertisers, agencies and production companies commit to adopt tools and training to curb production emissions, such as AdGreen’s. 3. Media choice: media agencies commit to the IPA Media Futures Group Climate Charter, working with their clients to develop lower carbon media plans. 4. Awards and events: organizers build sustainability criteria into awards, and plan events to minimize their carbon footprints, especially from travel. 5. Using advertising’s positive influence: agencies and clients harness the power of their advertising to promote more sustainable consumer choices and behaviors.


The answer to the question of how sustainable is the industry itself? Not very - but everything starts with recognizing the fact that everybody can do something, and that a global industry like ours has a responsibility on this matter.



Something’s Missing


The only thing missing in this intent of the industry is another radical change in the way the industry thinks. On top of all the actions mentioned above, I believe we should also rethink campaigns. Campaigns are mostly built with single-used, disposable pieces of content that lasts no longer than the campaign. This is a self-sufficient model for the industry - that’s what makes the challenge even bigger. But it is mandatory to rethink what we’re creating. It will be hard to reach the goal of zero carbon emissions if the number of produced products increases exponentially every year.


What if we took notice of something Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and Chief Content Officer at Netflix, said when he was interviewed in Can