Ahead of Earth Day, on 22nd April 2023, WARC’s Genevieve Silk looks at campaigns that have called on individuals to take small actions that, together, pave the way to a greener future.
When I was a child, I heard a story of thousands of starfish that washed up on a beach one night during a storm. A young girl walks along the beach the next morning, picking up the starfish one by one and tossing them back into the ocean. An older man sees her and asks what she’s doing. “Saving the starfish,” comes her reply. “But there are thousands,” he says. “What difference are you going to make?” The young girl pauses before throwing another starfish back into the sea. “It made a difference to that one,” she says.
No individual has it in their power to single-handedly solve the climate crisis. But if we all take a small action today, together we will achieve colossal change tomorrow. Here, we look at six campaigns that sought to save a starfish by encouraging individuals to take a small action to protect the environment.
Tackling the harms of tourism
The Palau Pledge
Tourism is a double-edged sword for many of the world’s tropical paradises. On the one hand, an important source of income, on the other, it is a many-headed monster that threatens to destroy countries’ fragile ecosystems. Palau’s extreme natural beauty risked becoming its curse. A collection of over 300 small islands cloaked in lush green forests and surrounded by the crystal-clear Pacific Ocean, the microstate’s economy has swelled in recent years thanks to tourism. But rocketing tourist numbers come with an environmental footprint: thousands of tiny actions were harming the islands’ pristine beauty. Food scraps disrupted the natural food chain, snorkelers damaged coral reefs and discarded plastic bottles wended their way into the ocean.
To encourage tourists to police their own behaviour, a team of Palauans and ex-pats formed the Palau Legacy Project. Inspired by a study that found that smokers who publicly announced their intention to quit were 30% more likely to successfully stop smoking, the team devised the Palau Pledge: a signed passport stamp which emphasised the responsibility of every visitor to protect Palau’s environment. Conducted through Host/Havas Sydney, The Pledge achieved 1.7 billion earned media impressions within a week of launch and was endorsed by leaders and organisations worldwide. It is estimated that over two million tourists will sign the pledge within a decade.
Closed for Maintenance
On the other side of the world yet faced with similar problems, read how the Faroe Islands embraced the growing trend of “eco-tourism” by declaring the islands “Closed for maintenance and open for voluntourists.”
Pledging support for a greener future
Skip The Rinse
Almost two thirds of the world experience severe water scarcity for at least a month each year and, in the USA, 40 states are expected to face water shortages over the coming decade. However, Americans waste up to 150 billion gallons of precious water every year with one banal household activity: pre-rinsing dishes. Dishwasher detergent brand Finish felt a sense of responsibility to step in and help people change a habit that wastes up to 20 gallons of water every time.
With its Skip The Rinse campaign through Havas New York, Finish reached out to households across the USA and nudged them to take a small step that would make a big impact. Finish called on Americans to join a mass water-saving movement by pledging to skip the rinse when doing the dishes. For every pledge, Finish in turn pledged to donate US$1 to its partner project The Nature Conservancy. Finish’s campaign changed people’s perception of water as an infinite resource, available to all at the turn of a tap, and gave Americans a sense of agency, driving home the fact that their individual actions will make a difference.
By the second year of the campaign, enough people had pledged to skip the rinse to collectively save over 20 million gallons of water. Based on pledges, Finish also donated US$200,000 to water conservation projects.
Your Plastic Diet
The average person ingests around 250 grams of plastic a year – or a credit card’s worth of plastic! Read how the World Wildlife Fund’s Your Plastic Diet campaign helped convince UN Member States to sign a binding treaty on plastic pollution.
One small step at a time
When you think of the UAE, sandy deserts, glittering skyscrapers and lavish lifestyles spring to mind. Greenery and vegetation not so much. And this is far from just a cliché: only 13% of the soil in the UAE is suitable for irrigated farming and the country has half the number of trees as it does people.
The National, the country’s leading English-language newspaper sought to inspire people in the UAE to take action to make the country greener. Although The National plans to become fully digital in the near future, it still produces a print edition and acknowledges the harm it contributes to the environment. To rectify this, the publication strove to stir up enthusiasm for tree planting among a nation notorious for low public involvement and limited awareness of ecology.
To celebrate the UAE’s 50th National Day, The National thought outside the box with its Plantable News edition, created through Havas Middle East. Taking inspiration from the UAE’s national tree – the ghaf tree, which can grow even in desert conditions – The National created a limited-edition newspaper made entirely out of pressed plantable paper, ghaf tree seeds and vegetable oil for ink. In collaboration with the planting programme Give a Ghaf, The National encouraged recipients of the paper to plant their own ghaf tree which would live for hundreds of years. Hundreds of ghaf trees were planted and 25% of recipients switched to a digital subscription.
We often talk about making change one step at a time, but natural deodorant brand Wild is doing it one armpit at a time. Read how the underdog brand set about convincing people, with its quirky, three-minute film Dirty Talk, that sustainable living isn’t about a few people living a zero-waste lifestyle perfectly, but about everyone living it imperfectly.
The power of minority influence is mighty
Research suggests that when just 10% of a society holds an unshakeable belief, that belief will quickly spread to the rest of the society. So this Earth Day, save water, plant a tree, call on the world’s most polluting companies to be held accountable for their actions. And encourage others to do the same. If we all pick up a single starfish, we can clear the entire beach.