It was diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia that sparked Andy Ridley’s interest in environmental issues. Shocked at its state, he joined WWF and went on to launch Earth Hour in 2007, the huge climate change awareness campaign that sees buildings in 7,000 cities turn off their lights.
Now, in his new role as CEO of Circular Economy, a Netherlands-based social enterprise, Ridley wants to build a similar global grassroots movement to accelerate the circular economy.
“My experience of Earth Hour was people saying, it won’t work here, it won’t work there … but adoption happens if you get the right mayor, the right business person, the right community leader, or the right sister organisation,” he says.
Just as important, says Ridley, is the $579bn (£437bn) global advertising industry. “Who sold us Malboro, who made us smoke?” he says. “Marketeers are talented people, these are some of the most creative people on the planet. We need them to be part of this change.”
Ridley says the industry can start changing the outlook of its corporate clients. “It’s about looking at circular economy business models, for example, closed loop recycling, asset sharing, switching to a service, and how you apply those to your client. Smart creatives will start to get that.”
Dorothy Mackenzie, chairperson of marketing agency Dragon Rouge, says innovation teams are already pondering: “What’s the Airbnb or Uber in our market?”
She says that for marketing departments that want to build brand loyalty, circular economy business models have advantages. For example, incentivising customers to return their phone when they want to upgrade to a new one, or leasing and mending jeans.
Ad agencies need to recognise these opportunities and realise the circular economy isn’t just another “green” thing, which they’ve typically struggled to sell, says Ridley.
A longstanding problem for the sustainability movement is that it’s tended to demand we stop this or that rather than offer attractive alternatives, says Ridley. The circular economy, however, isn’t saying we should stop consuming, it’s saying we should start consuming differently.
KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands, believes millennials – who have grown up during stock market meltdowns – are less interested in accumulating stuff and are open to participating in new business models.
There are a few early examples of brands’ marketing initiatives for a world with dwindling resources. Patagonia’s clothing repair service and H&M’s take-back scheme are relatively established, while Adidas recently launched limited edition trainers made from recycled ocean waste which can be won on Instagram by pledging to avoid single-use plastic.
While some aspects of the circular economy will be invisible to consumers – for example, it’s not widely known that Dell is making new computers using plastic recycled from old computers – a major shift to circularity requires people to change their behaviour. This is why we need ad agencies and marketing teams on board.
“The adverstising industry has been through these three big challenges: digital, data-driven and now the search for authenticity. [The circular economy] is the greatest opportunity for the ad industry in generations,” says Ridley.