Thomas Kolster, Creative Sustainability Director, speaker and, not the last, author of Goodvertising, is also the moving force behind WhereGoodGrows (WGG), a platform that aims to centralize sustainable communication. The platform aims to bring together initiatives offering solutions for present world’s problems, but about which people know little or nothing at all.
Thomas gave more details about the platform and the way it works for AdHugger, in the interview below.
AdHugger: Why did you decide to start WGG? Was it Goodvertising’s success that determined you to go forward with a next step or was WGG already part of the plan?
Thomas Kolster: I had absolutely no idea about the success Goodvertising would become when I started working on WhereGoodGrows (WGG).
The idea for WGG came out of serious frustration in the initial research process for the book. There simply was no central hub for sustainable communication and it took months of extensive research for my team and I to find decent examples of sustainable communication. When we did identify those brilliant examples of campaigns that made a big difference for people and planet, I realized that putting them in a book is great, but in the end they’ll end up like all the other ads in all the other books; gathering dust on bookshelves.
Many of the issues at hand, from water scarcity to poverty and biodiversity, are bigger than any one company or non-profit can answer. We can solve these pressing problems by sharing what really works. There are so many exciting initiatives around the world offering solutions, but most often people just don’t know about them, in which case they’ll never see them and be inspired by them. They’ll never realize that their agency, company, brand or non-profit could do just the same, or even better.
I wanted to create and inspire real change – and I thought why not bring these campaigns to life? Why not make them live a second life where they can keep making a difference? This was where the second cornerstone of WGG was born: The Right To Recycle license. Think of what good we could do, if we put these campaigns to further use. Think if we could turn them from local initiatives into global world-changing social movements?
AdH: I saw anyone can submit their work on WGG. Are all the ideas accepted? Do you have a protection mechanism against potential copyright claims?
Thomas Kolster: Yes, we do encourage everyone to participate and submit their initiatives to WGG. I think the change needed doesn’t only come from one side – we need everyone to work together – governmental agencies, companies, foundations, non-profits and communication agencies. And let’s be honest here, we need consumers too. They’re the ones who create the demand. If they demand responsible action and sustainability, brands will have to follow. Alone we can only reach a certain point, but together we can create the transformation we really need!
We do have a tough selection process, to ensure only the best work is showcased; we want initiatives to be creative, scalable and make a real difference for people and planet as well as brand and bottom line. For the same reason, we only accept initiatives that have proven their worth, so no bottom drawer ideas. With that said, we encourage a wide range of initiatives to be shared with us, this is not only about traditional communication – we want to showcase all initiatives that make our world better across disciplines and media.
With regards to copyright claims, we don’t really deal with those, it’s up to the uploader of the work to make sure they own the copyright to the material they upload. When it comes to the Right To Recycle license, we have made it easy for people, because it’s only the idea that’s given away for reuse, it’s not the actual artwork which most likely includes model rights, photographers etc.
AdH: How does WGG live? Do you have any sponsors / corporate backers?
Thomas Kolster: We like to see ourselves as a community powered hub – we do hope that people who upload work will support our mission: We believe that if we all share communication solutions for good; we can accelerate innovation and ultimately do greater good for people, the planet and business. We’re already seeing people buy a membership without using the many advantages – just to support us. For the very same reason, we’ve tried to keep the prices as low as possible. An individual membership costs more or less the same as a magazine subscription. We cannot succeed without our users’ help. At this point we’re heavily dependent on volunteers helping us out on a daily basis, but of course we encourage any company or agency that wants to support our mission to step forward and get in contact with us. Furthermore, we do offer limited advertising options.
AdH: What’s the Right to Recycle? How wide is the scope of this kind of licence?
Thomas Kolster: The Right To Recycle license I like to compare to a story I heard from pre-colonial Central America where it was believed the Mayans were only introduced to the wheel when the Spaniards invaded, but excavations have shown that the Mayans had in fact invented the wheel, but only used it for toys! This is why it’s important to share best practice and scale up what really works so that change can happen. This is essentially what we want to do with the Right To Recycle license, take local initiatives and make them global.
One of the great ideas that has been donated most generously to our community comes from CityMart Holdings, Myanmar’s (Burma’s) biggest retailer. They reward every customer buying a reusable shopping bag by letting them use a priority check out lane in the supermarket, so they can jump the queue. This simple initiative has not only created a huge sales peak in reusable shopping bags, but it also makes sure that people are actually using them because, if not, they’ll have to wait in line like everyone else. If there’s a retailer or someone else out there, who wants to reuse an initiative proven successful like this – all they have to do is visit WGG and indicate they want to reuse the project. When they have implemented the project, in return they have to share their results and in that way we can create a long string of lessons and moreover create impact on a larger scale.
In essence, the Right to Recycle License is encouraging the free sharing of good initiatives. If an initiative can improve HIV infection rates in India, what is to say it wouldn’t work in Sub-Saharan Africa? By sharing these ideas, we can make a real difference with real results and make local initiatives global!
AdH: How can companies use the ideas on WGG?
Thomas Kolster: Companies can draw inspiration to create better sustainability initiatives and learn from others’ best practice. It was Isaac Newton who said (and I paraphrase): I could only do it because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. Knowledge is like building blocks – and we need to fast track innovation if we want to have a chance at reversing the many mistakes we have made in the past. This is a tendency that’s also clear when you see a lot of other industry specific collaborations like the Toxic Pledge by the clothing- and fashion industry, what I want to do is open companies’ and brands’ eyes to the possibility that when it comes to sustainability initiatives we need to work together and we’ll all benefit!
It sounds counter-intuitive, but in this new world – collaboration is competition. People will reward the brands that work together to make the world better, not those who stick their heads in the sand, digging for yet more fossil fuels, yet more non-renewable resources. For companies, the Right To Recycle license also offers a great way to reuse initiatives which have already proven successful – and in that way truly scale up sustainability solutions. Moreover, WhereGoodGrows is a great meeting place for companies looking for communication or sustainability agencies with a specific skillset, like knowledge on water scarcity or maybe potential partners from the non-profit world.
AdH: Do you think creatives will be eager to submit their ideas via WGG? (most in the industry want full credit and full benefits, WGG means doing good 🙂 )
Thomas Kolster: I’m a former ad creative myself (I still get my fingers dirty on campaign work once in a while) and I have no doubt: Creatives want to use their talents for good. Are you the guy known for creating yet another Burning-Hot-Tabasco-Cannes-Lions-Gold-Winning-Print-Ad or did you create an initiative that actually left people healthier and happier? Print ads don’t save lives, but clean drinking water and easy access to medicines do.
AdH: What’s the mechanism for submitting campaigns on WGG?
Thomas Kolster: It’s an easy 3-step upload process – and it’s free. Then our team of sustainability and communication people will evaluate the work and if approved, hey, your initiative is up there to be recognized and make a difference – and could even attract new business or career opportunities…
AdH: How many ideas has WGG already gathered? Among those who submitted ideas, are there more freelancers than agencies? Why do you think the situation stands like that?
Thomas Kolster: We have around 100 campaigns we’re about to upload – and 50 up there already. I haven’t seen that much work coming from freelancers – most is from the big agencies and I feel sorry that I’m not seeing more work coming from the dedicated sustainability agencies yet, but I do hope that’ll change.
All in all I think advertising agencies aren’t really embracing sustainability yet and that’s why I’m seeing a lack of great work in general. Sustainability is a seen as a separate silo, rather than an overarching principle, which informs your thinking from the get go. But hopefully that will change. This year’s Cannes Lions festival was deprived of good initiatives, unfortunately. If that’s the state of the world, it doesn’t look good for our survival rate as a species on this beautiful planet. We have to do something. I think the ad agencies have one skill that’s really needed to create and drive a sustainable lifestyle: creativity. And honestly, I hope I’ll see that put to better use going forward.