can Advertising be good?

Brian Eno and Jon Alexander headline the world’s first
Earth Day Advertising Summit

This Earth Day will see a coalition of creatives reimagine what advertising needs to do to tackle the climate emergency – thanks to Purpose Disruptors

We are at a sliding doors moment. Imagination and collective action is what is needed right now.

Lisa Merrick-Lawless, Purpose Disruptors

What if the advertising industry transformed to be in service of a thriving future instead of, in the words of comedian Bill Hicks, “Satan’s little helpers”?

One way or another, ads have been around us for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make sales pamphlets. Political posters have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. And in 16th century Venice, modern advertising began to take shape in newspapers and magazines. But it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that advertising really took off. We found ourselves producing extreme quantities of stuff that we never knew we needed. This continues to fuel mass consumption, contributing to the climate crisis we find ourselves in right now.

So it’s about time that the advertising industry got together and discussed the elephant in the room – that our creativity is making the climate emergency worse.

That’s why, on 25 April, an award-winning bunch of ‘advertising reformers’ called Purpose Disruptors are bringing together over 200 advertising industry leaders and changemakers for the first ever Earth Day Advertising Summit. Taking place at the Tate Modern, the one-day event will pull focus on the important role that advertising has to play in supporting climate action.

Brain Eno Purpose Disruptors advertising
Brian Eno and the Purpose Disruptors (our new fave band name)

The day kicks off with a conversation between prolific producer and activist Brian Eno and former advertising insider, Jon Alexander. Together, they will explore how to use visibility to drive positive impact.

In 2021, Eno launched EarthPercent – a charity to help the music industry support the climate emergency – to unleash the power of music to “gently, subtly” persuade people to stop pushing our planetary limits: “I’m trying to leverage the fact that I have some public visibility, which is a form of power. It allows me to articulate ideas and hopefully move the conversation somewhere different and more productive.”

Alexander’s lauded book CITIZENS and his New Citizenship Project urge us to see people as citizens, not consumers: “I spent the first decade of my career working in the advertising industry, selling some of the world’s biggest brands, and even winning a few awards along the way. Then I realised I was caught up in a story I didn’t believe in: the Consumer Story – a foundational story of humans as inherently self-interested and competitive.”

Eno is such a fan of Alexander’s revolutionary approach to reassessing what it means to be a human being that he wrote the foreword to his book. “We need to empower citizens and let them make the choices,” the revered musician adds. “If we can change a lot of minds by a relatively small amount, it translates into a big difference – and then things can change very, very quickly.”

Good things happen when we bring the industry together

Founded by three ex-industry leaders who are “awake to the climate crisis”, Purpose Disruptors works to transform the advertising industry by mobilising a network of insiders.

The Earth Day Advertising Summit will feature a unique exhibition showcasing the latest work from Purpose Disruptors’ Good Life 2030 project, which invites the industry to reimagine alternative, desirable visions of the future. The project first launched in 2021 at COP26 by showcasing the world’s first-ever documentary about the advertising industry and its relationship with the climate crisis.

The advertising industry is at a crucial point. With a major part to play in fuelling the climate crisis, it is not taking full responsibility for its climate impact. The mission of Purpose Disruptors is to catalyse the advertising industry’s climate transition to be in line with the IPCC’s 1.5°C degrees global warming target.

Their landmark report, Advertised Emissions, measures the emissions that result from the uplift in sales generated by advertising and offers a framework for agencies to tackle this problem. The most recent report calculated that the UK advertising industry influences 32% of the carbon footprint of every citizen in the country. Nothing short of total industry transformation is required to meet what science demands.

“Right now, we are at a sliding doors moment, real transformation means re-imagining everything,” explains Purpose Disruptors co-founder Lisa Merrick-Lawless, who has done her time in the advertising industry, having worked with everyone from Coca-Cola and Heineken to Greenpeace and WWF. “The summit will invite people to do this together. Imagination and collective action is what is needed right now.”

“People care about climate change and how they want to use their creativity to help build the future citizens dream of,” Lisa adds.

Sign up for A WORLD OF GOOD

Get TOPIA in your inbox – new features fortnightly

Creating A World of Good on 25 April

Following on from the opening conversation with Brian Eno and Jon Alexander, the event will be divided into two sessions: a Leadership Summit of boundary-pushing climate pioneers from within advertising and beyond and a Changemakers Masterclass, Purpose Disruptors-style. Ticket holders will learn how to use gentle disruption to drive big change to help bring your organisation on board and transition towards real climate action.

Just some of the voices within organisations working to create a better vision of the future include: youth marketing company Thinkhouse, natural products company Faith in Nature, media agency Mindshare and Black Mountains College in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, that wants to create a future where nature and humans thrive.

It is time to give Nature a voice and the advertising industry can help.

Alexandra Pimor,
Faith in Nature

A humanity-defining moment can create industry-defining momentum.

Laura Costello, Thinkhouse

Alexandra Pimor, who is the Proxy for the Nature Director at Faith in Nature, believes that humanity can be a force for good, full of creativity, imagination and great love. “It is time to give Nature a voice and the advertising industry can help.”

Laura Costello is Strategy Director at Thinkhouse and Purpose Disruptors Ireland Lead. She recently spoke at Irish Parliament about the role advertising plays in the climate emergency. “We’ve arrived at a humanity-defining moment,” the campaigner explains. “The most important brief of our careers is to rework our imaginations to drive truly life-affirming outcomes in our work.”

But this requires a reset. “At interventions like The Earth Day Advertising Summit, choreographing urgent transformation together as global allies, we can create industry-defining momentum.”

Good Ads for the Future

What constitutes a more sustainable ‘good life’? Over the eight weeks leading up to the event, a coalition of creative partners have been answering an Earth Day call to create Ads For The Future, showing that a Good Life in 2030 is about more connection not consumption.

Over 200 creatives spanning advertising, photography, film, illustration and graphic design have been working on positive depictions that can help viewers imagine a new future and inspire action. Global submission highlights include a poster which jumps ahead in time to an exhibition held in June 2712, an artwork which celebrates the power of community and connection, an emotive thank-you note from the perspective of the year 2030, a reinterpretation of Matisse’s The Dance and a collection of futuristic wartime and film posters.

Creative agency Iris and media agency MG OMD created an advertising campaign titled ‘Reclaiming the Commercial Break’, which will be visible across high-profile outdoor locations.

London’s Piccadilly Circus is just one location that will play the good messaging

The summit will showcase these ads on 25 April at London’s Tate Modern in the first-ever Good Life 2030 Exhibition of the Future, an immersive journey created with creative agency Amplify that features a shortlist of 22 works curated from a range of creative partners. Here’s a guide to the key players.

1. Creatives for Climate

Creatives for Climate is a not-for-profit global intelligence network of thousands of storytellers and sustainability experts practicing radical collaboration to re-skill and take creative action for the planet.

“Someone in our community recently asked, ‘why does imagining the end of the world feel easier than saving it?’ We recognise the powerful role that creatives can play in helping us to imagine, and actualise, a future we can be hopeful for. Partnering on the Good Life 2030 provides our community of industry creatives with the brief to make this happen.”
– Lucy von Sturmer, Chairperson of Creatives for Climate

2. WeAre8

WeAre8 is an inspiring new purpose-driven social media app and community that is good for the planet, free from hate, puts money in your wallet and celebrates good in the world.

“At WeAre8, we are huge fans of Purpose Disruptors and the brilliant work they are doing to supercharge meaningful progress across the industry. So, it is a total privilege to partner with them on the Good Life 2030 project, as we bring together creators and changemakers united in our mission to power a better future for brands, people and the planet.”
Laura Chase, Chief Commercial Officer at WeAre8

3. Iris Worldwide

Iris is the award-winning creative, strategy and innovation company behind a banned campaign to bring the alarming reality of the climate crisis to COP26.

“This is a moment for us all to collectively grasp the immense opportunity we have in front of us. Like many others within the creative industries we feel conflicted about the desire we’ve created historically and the consumption that drives. By collectively using the power of our creativity we can help speed the transition to a more sustainable tomorrow.”
Grant Hunter, Global Executive Creative Director at Iris


MG OMD is a leading media agency working with some of the UK’s biggest brands on award-winning campaigns and have been described as standing out as a beacon of positive change and decency.

“We’re really excited by the role that media can play in engaging citizens and helping them envision the future they want to create. Our industry needs to harness all the tools of persuasion at our disposal to create the change needed to address the climate crisis.”
– Tim Pritchard, Executive Director and Head of Responsible Media at MG OMD 

5. Bournemouth and Falmouth Universities

“The work Purpose Disruptors are doing is ground-breaking, challenging and inspiring. The Good Life 2030 brief is a great way for students to apply their creative skills and imaginations to a live brief, which aims to positively and directly respond to a very important, real situation in the advertising industry and society generally. We are proud to be involved and contribute to this movement.”
– Andrew Hilling, Lecturer at Falmouth University

What’s so good about this?

From boardrooms to big events and pub gatherings, Purpose Disruptors have been asking necessary, urgent, difficult, questions and inviting a new style of leadership for a brighter future. Find out more about the Good Life 2030 project on the website. For information on the speakers at the Earth Day Advertising Summit and tickets, visit the Purpose Disruptors website.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

Sign up for

A World of Good

Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter for a kaleidoscopic look at culture, nature and positive impact