Would you turn down work for your ethics?

Duncan Parkes, Creative Director at Cellar Door on the importance of solutions not problems, and why the design community has a responsibility to protect the environment and work with integrity.

Duncan Parkes

Co-Founder & Creative Director CellarDoor


Two years ago, a client briefed us to design an integrated campaign that would be rolled out through all major supermarkets in the UK, before flowing across Europe. As the UK leading household cleaning company, you will find their products in almost every cupboard across the land, and they wanted to strengthen their market position by promoting their complete gloves range.

After the initial briefing I drove away from their offices, the usual excitement that would normally flood the system was abated, and instead replaced with waves of doubt. Within the range discussed were disposable gloves, a product that is vital to so many occasions but ultimately single use. 

Upon returning to the studio I called a meeting to discuss the brief with the team and share my thoughts. On one hand the product is ultimately essential for hygiene and protection; also, our client has been a part of our roster for a number of years, and we wanted to support. On the other we were concerned about starting a project that actively promoted the use of single use plastic in a time when the impact was being broadcast across every media and social channel across the world.

Ethically we resolved we could not and so I arranged to meet back at their offices the following day. My heart told me this was the right decision, (not just for us but the brand), but my head feared the impact on our relationship and business.

Solutions not problems

On the morning of the meeting I woke early and prepared a short slide deck to help find a way to articulate that our moral compass had intervened and was now guiding us, and as such we felt unable to cover our eyes to our impact and pretend it was OK. Yet concurrently I am fervent believer in solutions not problems, and so set about figuring out how we could make a positive impact.

During the meeting, we proposed we would tackle the project, but only on the agreement we could underpin it with a plan to ensure they did not end up in landfill. We presented how they could setup a business-funded recycling scheme that encouraged consumers to send back used gloves to be turned back into raw material. By changing the narrative from use to reuse it would demonstrate the brand’s care of the environment and reflect the social concerns.

The days of ‘begging forgiveness’ for indiscretion are past and now is a time for affirmative action that causes positive change.

Duncan Parkes

It would of course also mean the original budget would not be adequate, and they would need to invest 10 times more to implement. And then again, each and every year.

After the meeting we proceeded to develop our creative campaign whilst also beginning the task of creating the scheme, finding a recycling partner and working out the logistics. With every creative presentation, we introduced more details around the proposed scheme until three months in we eventually connected their legal team to TerraCycle, whom we had been working with to find effective infrastructure, from self-addressed postal service to supermarket drop offs.

Protect the environment, work with integrity

Fast forward to today, after just 18 months working with TerraCycle, Spontex have recycled over 850,000 disposable gloves keeping them out of landfill.

An opportunity to work on a three-month activation was replaced with a two-year journey for the brand and with the ongoing dedication of their marketing and leadership team, the activity ensured they are continue to drive the market now and into the future.

When we delivered the creative it provided Spontex with an uplift in sales, and growth of market share, but didn’t win any creative awards. In fact, it never made it to our portfolio, yet still remains one of our proudest projects.

Change sometimes comes from the brand but can also come from the brands’ agencies and partners. 

As a design community we have a responsibility to protect the environment and society as a whole. But we also have an obligation to work with integrity to protect and grow our client’s best interests. By neither saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ agencies create an opportunity to add real value by finding solutions to problems that matter, in turn deepening relationships and building a better future.

Never has there been a time when the impact of brands, good and bad, is so visible and held to account by consumers. The days of ‘begging forgiveness’ for indiscretion are past and now is a time for affirmative action that causes positive change. Brands have an ability to make significant social change through decisive leadership and strong values, but it is not a responsibility solely burdened by a CEO, purchasing department or marketing team. An individual’s decision can make a global difference.

Guest Author

Duncan Parkes

Co-Founder & Creative Director CellarDoor


Duncan Parkes is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of the best boutique agency you’ve never heard of, CellarDoor. A creative studio that works with brands to build cultural integrity and authenticity through every touchpoint within the food and leisure industry. As a passionate advocate for the power of good design, Duncan is also currently creating his own food truck and fashion brand side hustles. If you can’t join them, beat them.

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