Since his days in politics ended, Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore has become one of the faces of climate change awareness and reform in the world. So what was he doing at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in the annual WPP Cannes Debate with WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell? There’s no doubt that climate change is a divisive, hot-button issue. Gore has spent much of the past decade-plus trying to get the word out about climate change and how the world can—and must—move to a more sustainable future.
To advocate for change, you need to communicate the message effectively. While the motivation is different, it’s a lot like advertising a product. It’s to this end that Gore and Sorrell met recently, a partnership that helped spawn the “Why? Why Not?” campaign, which led the pair to take part in the highly-anticipated conversation on Friday afternoon in Cannes.
Aside from his climate change work, Gore also has many ties to technology companies and business. He mentioned his workings with Apple and Google leadership, and he also helps run a boutique venture capitalist firm that focuses on investing in sustainable businesses. Sorrell likened the push for sustainable energy to the current agency climate, in that the idea of shortsightedness is very detrimental.
“To us, marketing is an investment, not a cost,” Sorrell said while discussing businesses’ constant focus on the next quarter. Gore agrees companies would benefit by taking a long-term view, and also urged that they place a higher value on things other than the bottom line: their environmental footprint, their impact on the local community, and how they treat their employees.
And a passing mention was made of Current TV, the television network that Gore started and called “a wonderful experiment”. While it was not a great success, Current was pretty visionary in that it started out as a portal for broadcasting user-generated content. Gore talked about how the channel was an attempt to bridge the gap between digital and broadcast, something which major media companies are still dealing with today.
But certainly Gore’s most passionate focus is on climate change, and thus was the subject of a good portion of the talk. There is a lot of push back throughout the world to switch to renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
Much of it, Gore said, is because many world and economic leaders have vested interests in traditional, less-sustainable forms of energy, and the perceived cost associated with making the switch. He reiterated throughout the speech his confidence, stating “We are winning” and “We will win.”
One reason for Gore’s confidence is the many places in the world that do not have any power at all. When energy finally comes to those areas of the world, they will jump straight to using renewable sources. He likened this skipping process to cell phone adoption; back in 1980, consulting firm McKinsey predicted that there would be 900,000 mobile phones in use by the year 2000.
There are currently 6.7 billion mobile phones in the world, and the 900,000 mark was eclipsed early in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Gore said the reason for this amazing growth, among other things like decreasing cost and uptick in quality, was the majority of individuals in the world who did not have access to landline phones. They made the leap straight to mobile, bypassing the older technology. Gore believes the same leap will happen with energy sources.
At the end of the conversation, Sorrell invited Gore back to next year’s Cannes. By that time, there might be some forward movement on climate change, what with the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris in late 2015.
Whether or not there is any meaningful change coming out of Paris, it’s certain that if advancement on climate change will depend crucially on messaging and communication to the public.
It’s worth an investment.
Watch the session here: