Storytelling, Language and Engaging with the Climate Emergency

Ed Garrett   |   January 11th 2022   |   @16:24

We all know about climate change. We hear about it in the news, and from Hollywood actors to politicians and the impassioned cries of David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg. There’s no question that our world is changing. But how should we, as businesses, charities and creatives, respond?

There’s been a lot of attention on the climate emergency recently because of COP 26, but this isn’t a new problem. Since the Earth Day demonstration in 1970, the environmental movement has grown and apocalyptic images of plastic ridden oceans, extreme weather and deforestation have become commonplace on our screens.

As a brand built on the ethos of Design for Good, Garrett Creative sees sustainability as more than just a box to tick. We recognise that design and marketing has a serious role to play in the climate emergency and the power to influence positive change.

Flip the script

From oil spills and wildfires to flash-flooding and famine, there is an all too similar chronology of events to the narrative surrounding climate change. Coverage flicks from trauma to trauma in a way that is, sadly, fatiguing.

These events are important to acknowledge. But a constant drip of sensationalised headlines in a world of increasing ecological grief, risks apathy rather than action. Perhaps we should be considering a new angle.

For as frightening as things may be, we still have time to save the planet. Access to education has never been more democratic in the West, and the internet provides a global reach greater than previous generations could have ever dreamed of.

The conversation around climate can be reframed as a challenge to overcome, rather than an impending death sentence. The music, the words, the images we use needn’t be grim and dour. There is still good news, and there is still a lot of human potential. The right creative choices can be energising, motivating and enthusiastic. They can remind us that there is still hope.

This is the approach we took with Frank Water’s Big Give campaign graphics. The campaign photography showed communities with an abundance of water rather than lack of, and we reinforced this positive message with energetic, illustrated elements and copy such as ‘power up your donations’. The result of the campaign was Frank Water reaching their £40K donation goal in 7 days, an incredible achievement.

Do the numbers make sense?

100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. Global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has a surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres. It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed by the numbers. What can be harder is making sense of them.

An innovative approach is needed. We know now that climate change acts on the macro level, so we need to find a way of making the big ideas accessible. Deforestation in Brazil can have a knock-on effect in New Zealand and the Arctic, and creatives can produce designs to communicate that.

It’s clear that the numbers alone are too dry (and often too alienating), but animations, infographics, and illustrations are all capable ways of visually demonstrating what the graphs and data might actually look like.

One way of making a complex topic more accessible is through the positive power of storytelling. We’ve all heard of a carbon footprint – but what does that actually mean in our daily lives? When we take the terms that permeate these conversations and place them within a visually engaging narrative, we make them understandable, relatable and human.

With No Small Thing, a sustainability project around the built environment, we produced a series of illustrations which became an Instagram style graphic novel. Telling a story, and making this story human, was key here, and we included items such as the lightbulb and seeds to symbolise a brighter future and new growth, rather than reeling off more shocking stats and figures.

We’re in this together

Inclusive design also serves an equally important function: to remind people that climate change is for everyone.

Climate activism has a reputation for being a reserve of middle-class white people. Individuals are more likely to respond to pro-environmental advertising that resonates on their own lines of race, age, gender, political affiliation, etc. There is benefit in creatives fostering engagement with a plurality of identities.

Everyone has a part to play, whether that’s reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, avoiding plastic wherever possible or reducing our consumption levels. Good design can provide concise, transparent messages that encourage us to do that, but each audience group will need a slightly different version of that message.

Within marketing, advertising and communication, our imagery and media needs to be fully representative. The solutions to this climate crisis can come from (and affect) anyone from any part of life. It is a conversation in which everyone has to be included. Our design needs to show that everyone gets a seat at the table for a problem that is here for all of us to solve.

If you’re looking for tools to navigate the climate emergency, join us at this Future Leap event on January 18th, where our founder and Creative Director, Ed Garrett, will be delivering a talk on ‘Storytelling, Language and Engaging With Climate’.

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