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InspirationMar 06, 2024

Five climate-focused campaigns that stand out

Written by Laura Stein RGD
Two women holding "Hands off the Greenbelt" signs. Hands off the Greenbelt Campaign by Environmental Defence

Laura Stein RGD shares innovative and thought-provoking environmental campaigns from 2023.

I am fascinated by the role of design in rallying audiences. And even more fascinated by what must be the ultimate challenge of rallying people to take action on something as big, hairy and as divisive and imminent as climate change.

I teach a class focused on climate change that looks at the potential of branding to move people and inspire them. We look at branding frameworks and design strategies and use these to develop our own activist or sustainable brands. We look at the research: what is shown to be impactful? What are the barriers? We analyze what’s happening out in the world. What’s working and what’s not? Below I share some campaigns from 2023, applying wildly different strategies and provoking some pretty good discussion.

Canada’s Climate Villains

A campaign by Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental advocacy organization, that exposes the economic leaders who are responsible for the climate crisis. A reasonable target considering active fossil fuel producers are responsible for 3/4 of global emissions. The campaign uses dark comic book portraits and nicknames like “Mr. Money Bags” and "Ruthless Greenwasher" to outline each different CEOs actions and associations. The campaign packs a strong punch, not only because stories about good and evil resonates easily—but because the visual language is unexpected and helps land the message very clearly. “But is this the world we want to live in?” asked one of my students, “Where we villainize people instead of coming together?

Redesigning the UN Logo

On the other end of the spectrum is a project that looks at our changing world from a graphic design perspective. In the video, we watch a designer re-do the world map in the UN logo, based on the UN's own rising sea level projections. Whole countries get the delete button— Rotterdam and Bangkok are eliminated in a split second. Launched at COP28, it shows us the future we’re headed toward if we don’t cut emissions. I’m curious about its impact and whether this remapping allowed people to look at the impact of climate change in a less emotional way. Did it invite more engagement because it left terrifying and hard-to-look-at photography behind?

Oblivian by Make My Money Matter

More villainy but this time, a fictional oil executive, played by Olivia Colman. Dressed in classic villainous attire (black latex) in a classic corporate lair (black, modernist), she thanks everyone for their contributions to her fabulous wealth through their pension investments. This campaign By Make My Money Matter is meant to expose the fact that our pensions support the fossil fuel industry. The climate situation, fossil fuel industry and political inaction is generally ripe for satire and this spot goes hard, especially as "Oblivia" toasts us with her oily champagne. Question from the class: are there other forms of humour that we can use?

Photo of fictional villain played by Olivia Colman Fictional oil executive, played by Olivia Colman

The Good Life Brief

Creatives for Climate and Purpose Disruptors launched the Good Life 2030 campaign, an effort to reimagine 2030 as a “positive, exciting and green future”. This is an antidote to the terrifying and often dystopian images of our future. As the wisdom goes, if we can’t imagine a better future, how can we get there? Whether or not you believe an exhibit of posters (even at the Tate Modern) will have impact, the process of making things together and stubbornly visualizing positive outcomes, is undeniably community-building and that in itself is a good first step. A good example of process being more important than product. At BMD, we held a Greenbelt-supportive “Data Viz Hackathon” and the positivity and connection among strangers was incredible.

Hands off the Greenbelt

Another one from Environmental Defence. When the Ontario government sold off parts of the Greenbelt, the 2 million acres of protected farmland and forests, there were lots of folks protesting. It was a type-forward campaign—with a very catchy slogan and a smart nod to the pre-election quote by the Premier that he would not “touch the Greenbelt”. It also had just the right amount of defiance. Same with the Futura Rounded All Caps, slanted upward, bright greens and blues. It felt optimistic, friendly and challenging all at once. It made it easy to rally around. This was not the only campaign, but it was a very visible one. The upshot is that the government reversed the removal of Greenbelt lands at the end of last year. So something(s) worked!


Laura Stein RGD

Laura Stein RGD, Chief Creative Officer at Bruce Mau Design. BMD is a research-based design studio delivering inventive and rallying design across all the places where people connect. Home to an international community, BMD works across borders and cultures, helping organizations at every scale grow, transform and deliver indelible experiences. As Partner and Chief Creative Officer and long-time advocate for collaboration, Laura provides overall creative and strategic direction across a variety of project types, from a museum in Abu Dhabi to a greenway in Austin to a global performance brand based in Tokyo.


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