Remarks by Eric Falt, UNEP Director of Communications, at the Green Awards Presentation

WEDNESDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2006

GUILDHALL, LONDON

Ladies and gentlemen,

‘Out of arguments, out of step, out of time’.

These were the words UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan used to describe climate sceptics at the UN Climate Change meeting in Nairobi two weeks ago.

I read the sentence in a preview of the Secretary-General’s speech, and I found it made the perfect sound bite, the words almost leaping off the page.

That evening, ‘Out of arguments, out of step, out of time’, kicked off BBC World’s main news bulletin, broadcast globally to more than 200 million TV sets. Most other international media picked it up too.

I choose this example to illustrate the power of good marketing –as applied to speeches in this case (and even though it is not a quality –I am very aware—usually associated with UN speeches).

In any case, the quote from Mr. Annan also introduces the heart of the matter: how can we get people to hear our message and come on board—across the board?

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here tonight among some of the UK’s most creative minds in advertising and public relations.

Usually UNEP—which is a global organisation—only associates itself with international awards. But the Green Awards are unique; the first of their kind, and we feel they are definitely worth our support. I know Iain has set realistic goals for the Green Awards but I truly hope he can make them global –something we would be very keen to support.

Of course, working with the private sector, is not new to us. In fact it is a growing core of our work to fulfil UNEP’s mission.

One of our initiatives, organised by our Paris office—where our Division of Technology, Industry and Economics is based—works directly with the advertising industry.

The Advertising and Communications Forum highlights campaigns that promote sustainable consumption and production.

Its most visible product is the online Creative Gallery on Sustainability Communications http://www.uneptie.org/pc/sustain/advertising/ads.htm, which features work produced by private companies, NGOs, and local and national governments all around the world to promote sustainability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I don’t often quote Mahatma Ghandi (simply because many of his quotes have become clichés) but let me remind you that he once said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”.

Well, in the subject that matters to us today, I think we may be getting to that last stage.

I might be wrong, but my impression is that for a very long time the world of advertising—and the companies who pay for the adverts—ignored or even fought environmental issues.

Even campaigns that featured the environment were more a response to criticism than a genuine attempt to communicate sustainability.

Sometimes bordering greenwashing, if you like.

There is still a lot of that around, and I was very much cringing last night when I saw a television ad promoting the so-called environmental values of a certain very large oil company which contributed to one of the biggest ecological disasters ever and never really made amends.

But, apart from this isolated case, I am simply amazed to see how much companies are now using the environment to attract attention to themselves and their products.

In my view, what is happening is nothing short of a watershed: A fast growing number of companies are truly imparting environmental values on their employees, transforming their products. And advertisers are using sustainability to get a market edge.

Look around in this week’s magazines in the UK and you will see quite a few examples. On television too, examples abound—particularly in industries that have realized they must undergo radical transformation in the years to come—and with the issue of climate change, that I alluded to earlier, acting as an incredible catalyst.

For one bad example in the oil industry, there are many good ones. For the car industry, it has become the only way forward. For others, newcomers and transformed titans of the industrial revolution, it clearly represents the dawn of a new market.

I pulled the ads you can now see from the UNEP Creative Gallery I just mentioned.

The gallery covers a huge range of topics, but I was most concerned with what I think is the overriding issue for us all—again, climate change.

Clearly, this is an area where the private sector is beginning to help to lead the way, probably in fact “pulling” governments.

If you look at some of the recent ads paid for by energy companies and car manufacturers, you would think that environment is top of their agenda.

I’ll let you decide for each one how much is green commitment. But what really strikes me is that these ads are articulating a new consciousness in all these companies.

They are responding to a new awareness, but they are also helping to create it. (It is not happening only in the UK, by the way, but very clearly throughout Europe and beyond)

This is a driving force that we need to encourage and nurture.

It is only through collective awareness and action that we will tackle the threat of climate change and create the conditions where governments can commit and take tough decisions to switch to a cleaner, low carbon future.

Let’s be under no illusion about the nature of the threat.

One of UNEP’s partners in looking at climate-related issues is the insurance industry. They have been vocal in highlighting the very real economic costs of climate change.

These costs were made even more clear just recently in the UK Government’s Stern Report.

As I am sure you know, it called climate change “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen”. It warned that climate change could shrink the global economy by 20 percent and cause economic and social disruption on a par with the two World Wars and the Great Depression.

It is these costs—on human lives and livelihoods—that prompted our choice of theme for World Environment Day 2007.

‘Melting Ice: A Hot Topic’ reflects the inclusive all-encompassing nature of the challenge that is upon us.

It is an issue for people, governments, conservationists, farmers—and business people.

And the private sector has an advantage.

It can react quickly when it needs—much more quickly than the international governance process, which is still struggling to formulate an adequate response to the climate challenge.

The private sector is seeing the threat, and also the opportunities.

For example, Fujio Cho, President of Toyota Motors, has said that “environmentally friendly cars will soon cease to be an option, they will become a necessity."

Ladies and gentlemen,

Companies such as Toyota are showing creativity in finding solutions to environmental issues and capitalising on them to their own benefit.

As a result, they already have the largest share of the world’s hybrid car market.

We need more creativity to bring attention to the challenges of our times, and to the solutions to those challenges.

That is what the Green Awards are going to help to do.

In closing, I would like to introduce a short film created by one of UNEP’s most creative new partners, green.tv, who have sponsored the best TV advertisement award tonight.

I think it will show what we have in common and why we need to work together.

FILM: MELTING ICE: A HOT TOPIC

Ladies and gentlemen,

Melting ice is a hot topic for all of us.

I challenge you all to help us bring even more attention onto this burning issue.

I know of no successful environmental action that was not preceded by public demand.

And you can help create that demand.

You can make green living the next real thing.

Thank you.


 

 © United Nations Environment Programme | privacy policy | terms and conditions |contacts