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The shift to a more sustainable Cannes Lions festival

Brands are tapping into creativity to make sustainable initiatives more inventive, cost-effective, and impactful. We’ve seen creativity provide alternatives to plastic, offer low-cost energy to rural communities and reignite the repair, refurbish and restore movement. Yet advertisements continue to play a damaging role when it comes to overconsumption and the environmental impacts of consumerism.

We spoke to Karen Howe who’s attending the Cannes Lions festival to find out some of the ways brands are helping shift consumer habits and attitudes towards environmental issues.

Sustainability is one of the big themes of this year’s Cannes Lions festival and is now on a par with storytelling as the leading strategy for the most effective creative work. How is the festival demonstrating its commitment to social impact this year?

Cannes is addressing sustainability on a number of fronts. Many campaigns being recognized are championing sustainability; such as Puma’s Re: Suede work to create shoe afterlife vs. landfill fodder. Corona’s ‘Plastic Fishing Tournament’ pays fishermen to pull plastic from the oceans. Whirlpool’s ‘Plasticoff’ showcases appliance packaging that dissolves in water instead of filling the oceans. ‘Sink this Island’ is centered on retaining water to reverse the appearance of an island in the middle of depleting reservoir. 

From a content standpoint, there is a whole stream of sessions that focus on climate issues and the increasing demand for brand accountability. 

And it’s deeper that. As I look around the Palais, it is now plastic-free. Finally. There are water stations to refill containers. Food is served in sustainable containers with bamboo implements instead of one-use plastic cutlery. Is there more to be done? Yes. But it’s heading in the right direction.

Advertisements are among the quickest ways for brands to reach consumers. What happens when they start pushing us to purchase things we don’t need?

Ah the uneasy tension I live with as an Ad Woman. Am I making the world buy tons of stuff they don’t really need. It’s the seesaw of need versus want. People need to eat, to wash their clothes, no argument, it’s Maslow’s fundamentals. But when we get to expression of self (fashion is a good example) I realize we have shifted into the heartland of consumerism. Not an easy answer to that question.


As the official Canadian representative of Cannes Lions, the world’s most prestigious and coveted advertising and marketing awards, The Globe and Mail will provide insights, ideas, and takeaways from panels and keynotes over the next five days.

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