Lessons from Cannes Lions: Sustainability at every touchpoint

Sustainable thinking must be fully integrated into the brand and agency model, and no longer additional. Sustainability was one of the core themes at this year’s Cannes Lions. And it wasn’t discussed in silo, instead, it featured in myriad Festival talks and across the Lion-winning body of creative work, crossing sectors and disciplines. Like the Grand Prix winner in the Creative Business Transformation Lions, the award that honours the creativity that drives businesses forward, which went to ‘Piñatex’ by L&C New York. This work brought Dole Sunshine Company together with startup Ananas Anam and Jury President Ronald Ng, Global Chief Creative Officer, MRM, explained: “Dole identified waste as a business problem, found a partner to help solve it, and transformed its operations to improve and scale the offering. Taking things a step further, they found more partners to sustain and commercialise it to create new revenue for Dole, Ananas Anam and farmers.”

On the Festival stages, speakers spotlighted creativity as a vital driver for positive change, helping to create sustainable solutions for people and the planet, while supporting bottom-line business growth. Sustainability is one of the six themes explored in the Cannes Lions Official Wrap-up Report.

Global industry takes essential action

The industry taking action to reduce its environmental impact headlined the Festival, as brands and businesses prioritise commitments and collaborations to drive the sustainability agenda. Ad Net Zero, the industry initiative to make essential carbon reductions across the development and production of creative work by 2030, announced its international rollout, supported by corporations, agencies, and trade organisations, as well as the Cannes Lions Festival itself.

Sustainable solutions driven by innovation

Brands are turning to creativity to make sustainable initiatives more inventive, authentic and impactful. This year’s Lion-winning work proved that it pays to be ethical, as sustainability-focused creativity drove business transformation, innovation and resilience.

Brands are using creativity to rethink every stage of a product’s lifecycle, leading to innovations like clothing that consumes pollution, dissolvable packaging and re-purposed waste to form new materials. In the Innovation Lions, the Grand Prix award went to Suncorp Group’s ‘One House to Save Many’ from Leo Burnett Sydney, a prototype home that’s resilient to extreme weather. With climate change leaving entire communities in northern Queensland uninsurable, Suncorp highlighted that 97% of disaster funding is spent on repairing and rebuilding, while only 3% is spent on prevention.

Cleve Gibbon, CTO, Wunderman Thompson, and Innovation Lions Jury President, said: “Every year in Australia, homes are destroyed and billions are spent on rebuilding communities due to extreme weather events. The One House set out to achieve something never done before — it democratises access to resilient housing materials to protect homes against tropical cyclones, floods, and fires. This housing solution was brought to life through a creative brand/agency partnership backed by the Australian government to deliver a commercially viable transformative product. As a jury, we were blown away by the boldness of the idea, the creative bravery of the execution, and the massive societal, environmental and economic impact.”

Longevity and scale to drive action

Longevity and scale were clear through lines in many Lion-winning work examples, where jurors were keen to see a commitment to grassroots action. ‘The Budweiser Energy Collective’, an inhouse initiative by AB InBev New York for Budweiser, committed to brewing using 100% renewables by 2025. It also mobilised bar managers to switch to renewable energy, preventing 810,000 tons of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of removing 675,000 cars from roads. It won a Silver in the Creative Business Transformation Lions and showed that it’s possible to drive both long-term business growth and prioritise a sustainability agenda.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a blueprint, designed to address the major global challenges faced by people around the world, from poverty and inequality to the impacts of climate change are an important framework to scale action. Speaking at Cannes Lions, Johan Pihl, Chief Creative Office and Co-Founder at Doconomy, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Lions juror, told brands that they should: “Look at problems they have caused, and fix those. Come across as a brand that’s not reaching for these SDG goals, but integrating them within their ecosystem, not only as a project, but as part of their business model.”

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