The Experts’ View

Jurors from this year’s Sustainable Development Goals Lions offer their view on where next for creativity x sustainability

Make an impact

In the 2020-2021 Sustainable Development Goals Lions Debrief at Cannes Lions Live, Jury President Eduardo Maruri made the case for action

Eduardo Maruri President Global Creative Board and President/CEO Europe Grey Worldwide SDG Lions Jury President | 2020-2021

A lot of creative ideas [in the SDG Lion] are focused on raising awareness [see Google's 'Timelapse in Google Earth']. We are past that point now. We don’t need another plastic monument to the ocean; we have to focus on moving the needle.

We have to keep learning how to shift focus away from the brand and onto the Sustainable Development Goals. There were some amazing ideas using AI and voice. The difference between the ones that got awarded and the ones that didn’t was scalability.



Watch The Sustainable Development Goals Lions Debrief



The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are humanity’s most important ‘to do list’. They demand brave decisions. After more than two decades of leading a sustainability change agency, I’ve learnt a few things about what it takes.

Stick the SDGs on a wall and build them into every creative review.

Put the same effort into planning for people and planet as for profit. Using the SDGs as a benchmark to judge all incoming briefs isn’t easy, but it acts as a shining light highlighting the most impactful work.

We CAN make an impact. SDG Lion-winnning work by The Cen­ter for Child Well-be­ing and De­vel­op­ment shows how insight-led creative ideation saves lives: VMLY&R Brazil identified that, in Malawi, allowing your daughter to marry young symbolises that the family of the bride is a committed and trusted member of the community. Rather than dismantling that cultural truth, the creatives leaned into it. They invented a red bracelet as a new, competing, symbol of community trust. The bracelet could be obtained only by parents making significant donations to the poorest families in the community. Like the best insight-led work, the results speak for themselves: a 30% decrease of child marriages and a 15% decrease in school dropout rates.

Creativity Can’t Stay Neutral

Be part of the solution and stop contributing to the problem, implores Futerra's Co-Founder Solitaire Townsend

Solitaire Towsend Co-Founder Futerra SDG Lions Juror | 2020-2021

Not all of our clients are trying to save child brides. I’ve heard many justifications for working with oil, coal and gas clients. But for too long, the PR and advertising industry has been a crucial aid to the fossil fuel industry.

At Futerra we spearheaded a letter to help put agencies on the right side of history. The open letter asks agencies and individuals to commit to one of two things: individual creatives who sign the letter are pledging to “simply not work on fossil fuel briefs”. Meanwhile, agencies reveal the “percentage of turnover categorised by industry, including income from fossil fuel companies and other high carbon clients,” whilst ensuring that client confidentiality is fully respected. More than 170 agencies have agreed. Agencies submit client disclosure reports, detailing revenue sources in an attempt to engender fiscal transparency and future-focused climate accountability.

The moment couldn’t be more crucial for this.

A storm of criticism is coming for those agencies who laud their ‘footprint’ reductions while ignoring their ‘brainprint’.

As creatives, we need to accept that our actions, and our clients, have consequences. After listening to Shell CEO Ben van Beurden speak at TED Countdown on “blackwashing”, it is painfully clear that our industry has a role in allowing this to happen. Under the guise of “every client deserves representation”, we have empowered fossil fuel clients enough to take a stance against those who are literally fighting to save our planet. This needs to stop. Creativity can help solve the climate emergency. That’s the power of imagination, invention, problem solving and storytelling. But we can only do this if the advertising, PR and marketing industry stop serving the problem and become part of the SDG solution.

The Substance Behind Sustainability

Dentsu International's Anna Lungley predicts the creative trends that will be required to move the needle on the SDGs

Anna Lungley Sustainability Officer Dentsu International SDG Lions Juror | 2020-2021

The message from COP26 is clear: progess, not pledges. The Net Zero transition needs to deliver a world that is low carbon, nature positive, circular and inclusive. We need game-changing, world-changing creative thinking. It’s a huge brief but one that will see true creativity flourish. The need to substantiate how the SDGs are being pursued and the genuine impact delivered will see brands working in new ways to galvanise action.

1. True value:

Work will more tightly align with the true value brands create in society, as brands reassess their purpose in the wake of the pandemic and changing consumer attitudes. In an Isobar survey of more than 800 CMOs globally, 83% said there can be no disconnect between what a brand promises and what a customer, employee or community experiences.

2. Brand mash-ups:

We will see unlikely bedfellows come together as brands recognise the critical need for multi-sector collaboration to tackle systemic issues like climate change. We saw early signs of this in 2021 with UCB and Shwapno collaborating to create an impactful agrobanking solution in Bangladesh.

3. Code and craft:

There is a rapid rise in the connected experiences created for brands. Not just being digital, but a melding of customer and creative experiences, anchored on technology, to the point where the lines are completely blurred between brand and experience, real and virtual, and ‘code and craft’.

4. Impact:

We will see improved understanding of the SDGs, reflected in stronger entries that evidence impact against the goal and its sub-indicators.



While the climate creative brief may be broad, expect to see 2022 work focus in several areas where creativity can best make a tangible difference quickly. The focus is likely to be on short-term action in areas like increasing biodiversity to deliver nature-positive outcomes, and sustainable consumption through reassessing an existing brand or experience. Our industry is a melting pot of talent, creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs and early adopters who were born to see the world differently. Truly great creatives use every tool at their disposal – data, AI, experiential, media – to excite, to inspire, create empathy and magical moments of wonder. In 2022 we will see these trends collide to create world-changing ideas. And the SDG Lions will be there to celebrate them. To repeat a line from COP26, the eyes of the world are upon us.

No more blah blah blah

Simon Henzell-Thomas Director Public Affairs and Advocacy Ingka Group (IKEA) SDG Lions Juror | 2020-2021

IKEA's Simon Henzell-Thomas

makes the case for creativity at the heart of change

Without goals to achieve a societal impact, creative work risks being light on content and self-serving. What a missed opportunity to affect genuine change!

During the judging of the SDG Lions, it was clear that entries which focussed on societal impact and traditional communications brilliance were the most powerful, scalable and inspiring examples. For instance, ‘Mother Blanket’ reduced infant mortality and malnutrition in remote Andean villages. It is this nexus of impact and reach where societal impact campaigning has the biggest and most credible future.



Avoiding the pitfalls

As we approach 2030, we will see more brands realising this potential and responsibility. The last thing the world needs right now is more talk and less action (or, as Greta puts it, more “blah blah blah.”) It is vital that creatives build campaigns on foundations of solid and meaningful action, that there is no misleading of audiences, and no misrepresenting the facts. We will see more regulation in the future, as well as common tools and guidelines, which will level the playing field and improve standards.

The window for impact is NOW

Understanding the true power of creativity to solve problems and create change will help us leave our mark on the world. Let’s not look back in a decade and wish we had done things differently. Imagine we are in 2030. Our economy and societies have totally transformed to be better for people and planet, and we were at the heart of that change.

‘Action is the benchmark for our collective future’

TBWA's Kimberlee Wells argues that creative collaborations need to play a central role in addressing sustainability

Kimberlee Wells CEO TBWA\Melbourne and TBWA\Adelaide SDG Lions Juror | 2020-2021

The creative industry has faced into the role it can play in using creative communications as a force for good. Yet few campaigns are operating in a way that will create long term, sustainable change. There is a huge opportunity to ensure future work lands in a meaningful and compelling way.

The most exciting shifts are in brand behaviour. Take CoolRidge – an Asahi-owned Australian bottled water brand we work with. Operationally, it is addressing plastic pollution and has moved to a 100% recycled water bottle. In communicating this, it actively encouraged people not to buy it. Instead, they suggested using a reusable bottle and, only when one isn’t available, to choose CoolRidge.

Brands that are prepared to put profit on the line in service of their purpose are the ones whom which we can all feel confident to believe in.

The two years’ worth of work we reviewed in the SDGs Lions category was impressive. Unsurprisingly, entries in climate action, gender equality and reduced inequalities outweighed ideas to enhance peace and justice, sustainable infrastructure, hunger and quality education. But perhaps most surprising was seeing just a handful of entries for Goal 17 – Partnership for the Goals.

The creative industry relies on collaboration to bring our ideas to life. We work with many brands whose purposes are often driving to the same agenda. We can be at the front of uniting brands to create scalable initiatives. If we can convince the brands we work with to join forces for purpose rather than individual popularity we will be on our way to creating ideas of disproportionate scale and change.

The time for raising awareness is over. Action is the benchmark for our collective future. And our creative minds are well placed to fuel it.