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An Interview With Jamie Henn and Duncan Meisel of Clean Creatives and Fossil Free Media

In this week’s episode, Jonathan has Jamie Henn and Duncan Meisel from Clean Creatives and Fossil Free Media. Jamie opens up the episode talking about his 10 years at 350.org where he met Duncan. He went on to start Fossil Free media two years ago. It was born from the desire to take the best tools in communications and digital strategies to fight for climate justice. They provide the support for grassroots groups & coalitions, but they knew that wasn’t enough if there wasn’t some way to take on the fossil fuel industries marketing and PR because of the millions of dollars spent on advertising.

How Clean Creatives Started

During the 2020 election, there were a lot of ads run by the American Petroleum Institute (largest oldest oil industry lobby in world). Jamie noticed and initially looked into to learn that an agency in Austin, TX, was making them. He wanted to make the people who made it feel bad for the damage it was doing and as he thought about it, realized that a lot of creative people in agencies aren’t excited about this type of work. He came to the conclusion there was a way to help if we created a path with people to make it harder to continue doing this work.

The fundamental reality is that we are in a climate emergency. Jamie say’s 75% of pollution comes from the energy sector. Their plan is to continue growth and they work with agencies in order to continue growing – do the thing that is destroying the planet. Agencies that facilitate that growth should stop because it’s dangerous. Disinformation and dishonesty goes into this work. Greenwashing isn’t recent – it’s been happening for decades, and it’s the core of the agency strategy when it comes to greenwashing.

If you are unsure if your messaging on sustainability is not accurate, you can reach out to our brand and ESG experts for a consultation.

How Advertising and PR Firms Support Fossil Fuel Companies

According to Henn and Duncan, roughly 1% of oil industry spending is going toward renewables or solutions that will never work. But if you look at advertising you’d think that these are happy go lucky renewable companies run by children waving daisies. This is the type of hypocrisy they are hoping to expose. This is one of the largest barriers to society dealing with problems and the political process. The bad news is that it’s not going to make this transition fast enough – solar panels, electric cars – what’s the barrier to that? The need is not to go out and sell renewable energy – the public loves that. The problem is that there is a huge block to moving that economy forward. The power that fossil fuel energy has over our political process and economy is huge. They are able to box out transitions to renewables due to the way that they’re built into our regulatory process. Their approach is going after the bad guys. That’s the piece that’s more controversial. It’s not as easy as cheering for renewable energy all the time. We’ve seen the ability to break an industry’s stranglehold – look at big tobacco. Were pulling from that experience of tackling misinformation

The challenge is dealing with a lot of entrenched bad habits. Oil companies have known about climate change since the 70s – the API published and knew about this since then. They spent 50 years not changing their plans, doing the same thing over and over again. There needs to be a moment of coming to grips with options. Thinking about solutions, one way to look at it – Bill Mcgibbon – if you’re in a hole and need to get out of it, the first step is to stop digging.

The Three Reasons Why Ad Agencies and PR Firms Should Stop Working With Fossil Fuel Companies

Agencies and creative people have something the fossil fuel industry needs – creativity. They have a legal disclaimer in their ads that says their budgets and legal plans don’t reflect the messaging and goals. We have to look at problem square in the eye and that won’t happen if we keep empowering people who are the problem. There are three business cases Henn and Duncan make.

1. Recruitment and Retention
It’s a talent-driven industry and young talent are more engaged on the climate crisis than older peers and see it as essential for the workplace to align with values. Also, future thinking, what if you see a fossil fuel aligned agency on a resume, it might be hard for you to get that next job.

2. Thinking About Brand
There are tensions and direct conflicts. For example GM needs policies in place that Shell would oppose. There’s also a cynicism risk – they’re the biggest polluters, greenwashers. That poses a risk to the brand in the form of cynicism. If you have a brand making genuine investments, you want consumers to be able to identify and make a call.

3. It’s Not Savory To Work With Fossil Fuel Companies.
There are legit investigations by the attorney general and cities leading lawsuits that are focused on consumer fraud and misleading the public. It’s the agency writing the ads. As time goes on it’s gonna be impossible from being drawn into the convo. There’s widespread public support for renewables and the climate crisis. But, there’s also a perception that we can’t live without fossil fuels. Brands have the opportunity to stand up and say that they are part of a new economy and want to create a society that addresses climate change, social criss.

There is a mythology around the power of oil. It means infinite wealth and power. That’s the story people have internalized and that’s not the case anymore. When Jamie started working at 360.org Exxon was the richest company and made more money than ever and they are now delisted from the DOW. Thats true across the industry. Growth trajectory and income isn’t the same.

Things You Can Do To Make Talking About Climate Change Easier With Your Boss

This is one of most well researched problems on planet earth. Solution is you stop with fossils and start with renewables. As much as PR is the pointy end of the spear and something we come up against, it’s advertising that sets the field for flight. As advocates, that’s why we’ve come to see as Duncan said – it’s the unseen world that establishes how we think about things. That is weaponized by PR people that take falsehoods and block progress we’re trying to see.

If you go to cleancreatives.org/start you will find a kit for leading these conversations. If you have this concern with your agency, Jamie says you can almost guarantee that someone else does too. They always find people aren’t alone in their concern. What that opens up is an opportunity to begin the conversation – ask, where are we at with this, what’s our policy? That will bring people out of the woodwork and you’ll find people share their concern. Jamie and Duncan follow the six P’s for sustainability conversations: polite, positive, persistent, positive, practical, patient.

To learn more about how Unconquered approaches sustainability and marketing, you can get set up a consultation with our team.