Am I greenwashing?

Lucy von Sturmer, founder of The Humblebrag on how craft, creativity and collaboration can help the industry tackle the climate crisis.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


The Humblebrag is an agency turned training academy; a reflection perhaps of the shift afoot in the market. For if in the past business leaders talked about change; progressive companies are laser focused on social impact. 

There is no question that for progressive leaders the climate crisis is not a problem that is pushed to the sidelines on the basis that it is too big to solve. Rather, instead it is too urgent to ignore. Yet, there is no denying the crisis brings with it complex challenges for an industry rooted in selling more stuff.

It's a tension recognised by von Sturmer and fuels the launch of the event series ‘Am I greenwashing?’ von Sturmer explains: “As a social entrepreneur and impact strategist myself with a critical eye to the creative industries, I initiated this community born from a search for other brand activists to ‘sanity check’ my ideas and ask: Is this impact? Am I greenwashing?”

Once your eyes are open to the climate emergency; the choice to use your craft, creativity, platform and influence for 'good' is a very urgent and personal mission. Our community is asking themselves the hard questions to accelerate their learning, while collaborating with others to make sure they are actually a part of the change they want to see in the world

Lucy von Sturmer, founder of The Humblebrag

Collective questioning is key to tackling the climate crisis

Refreshingly, von Sturmer is honest about the education process that is afoot within the industry as it attempts to address the scale of the crisis. She explains: “I discovered first-hand the feeling that “the more I know, the less I know.” And I think that’s a question we should all be continuously asking ourselves as we aim to work with ‘green briefs’ and ‘purpose-driven’ clients.”

It is a shift that demands that agencies and creatives take more accountability for sense checking brand campaigns. She explains: “For example, are you communicating about your client's net zero ambitions? Well, how much do you know about how to make a credible net zero claim - and if you even should?”

This is the ethos of the Greenwashing series, which as von Sturmer explains aims to become ‘a safe space for impact frontrunners to sanity-check their ideas as we all have blindspots, and navigating sustainability is complex - and intersectional.’

She explains: “The Greenwashing Series is a fun way for our community to come together and learn the fundamentals about how to avoid greenwashing, and also to discuss with others why a campaign is/isn't greenwashing - while asking the bigger questions that might be too challenging in a traditional work setting.”

The ESG agenda for business

There is no question that ESG has risen up the business agenda. But is 2022 the year the industry will move from greenwashing to making a meaningful impact on the climate crisis?

“Only if we are prepared to really challenge our expectations of what is a good life,” says von Sturmer pointing to the fact that change requires confronting the hard truth that keeping our planet on a 1.5 degree pathway will demand a radical redesign of everything.

It's a radical redesign she is yet to see happen. This is why she is such an advocate for Creatives for Climate, the community which accepts creative briefs on behalf of grassroots initiatives such as Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free Netherlands, For The Love of Bees, and Fridays for Future, amongst others. 

The climate emergency is personal

It is clear that for von Sturmer addressing the climate crisis is a highly personal endeavour. As she explains: “Once your eyes are open to the climate emergency; the choice to use your craft, creativity, platform and influence for 'good' is a very urgent and personal mission. Our community is asking themselves the hard questions to accelerate their learning, while collaborating with others to make sure they are actually a part of the change they want to see in the world.” 

She points to the learnings she took from a recent Creatives for Climate workshop with professor Raz Godenlikm which highlighted the concept of 'tactics of delay,'. “I think we're going to be seeing more of this; brands positioning themselves as 'environmental warriors' while continuing business as usual,” she warns.

Yet this business as usual is no longer an option, for in amongst all those alarmist, yet nonetheless accurate headlines on the ‘great resignation’ is a brutal truth; talent is actively looking for companies and organisations with a purpose which aligns with their values. With consumer research underlying the magnitude of the shift in sentiment and increase in expectations on brands to actively combat the climate crisis, the industry has reached a tipping point.

Agencies and brands that fail to take action on the climate crisis will increasingly be unable to attract and retain the best talent according to von Sturmer. She points to the work of Comms Declare and Clean Creatives as evidence of this shift.

Challenge the brief, change the game 

Yet as with any huge societal shifts it is not without its tensions; from demonstrations outside of award ceremonies to difficult conversations at agencies across the globe; employees and agencies alike are facing tough decisions on the brands they want to work with.

Notably, von Sturmer underlines that it is a shift in which young talent increasingly has sway. She explains: “Young talent shouldn't underestimate how powerful they can be when questioning a brief. Trickle-down economics is a lie. But I believe the trickle up effect is very real.”

She continues: “Just like many creatives won't work on tobacco or alcohol brands, no one should be working on fossil fuel briefs. Every creative should be declaring their commitment to that, as a minimum requirement.”

It's a commitment which reflects a broader shift in the market; from purpose-saying to purpose doing. For its in business change, rather than talking about change, that the real challenge lies. 

As von Sturmer explains: “A lot of agencies are now being asked to advise not only on how to communicate a purpose-driven brand, but how to actually design one. This demands changing business models; uncovering all of your 'dark spots' and putting them into the light; bravery, vision and knowledge.”

It's a change which requires an unprecedented level of cross-industry collaboration for a historically competitive industry. “We are in a new era where traditional 'school settings' can only teach us so much - the real value is in peer-peer learning and cross collaboration,” adds von Sturmer. 

She believes that it's this collaboration which makes Creatives for Climate so special. Yet it's a collaboration that demands both accountability at a corporate level and action and open-mindedness on an individual level. As von Sturmer notes: “It's up to each and every one of us to confront this crisis and treat it as one. That might mean sharing rather than competing.”

Collaboration for change: How to get involved

Greenwash Watch ‘Ad Night’ - December 14th at 8pm GMT.  Brands everywhere are jumping on the GREEN 'wagon - but are they for real? Each of these ‘ad night’ series features an activist who will share insights on how to spot, and steer clear of greenwashing, and following, members of our community will share their ‘favourite ads to reflect on and stir interactive community deba

The event will feature Brand Activist Mareka Stake (Lovers & Fighters) and Initiator of XR Netherlands for Families who will give a presentation on how to steer clear of greenwashing. Following, members of the community Iris Skrami, Co-Founder of sustainability fashion app Renoon, and Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock, Co-Founder of creative agency Soursop will share an ad to reflect on, digest and chew.  You can sign up to attend here.

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