Creating a carbon-neutral/zero-waste marketing campaign was f*cken hard

Jules Raynes
Content Specialist
Transformation
September 4, 2023

We created a roadshow across Aotearoa that would focus on diversity, inclusion and sustainability in the tech industry. For a marketing agency of seven, it was going to be a tall mountain to climb, as we had to find sustainable solutions to messaging, creatives, design, venue, catering, travel, equipment delivery and merch. We locked ourselves in a meeting room and started to brainstorm.

We did it, we got the sustainability campaign!

This was the text Proposition CEO, Simon Walker, sent our team after a long-fought battle to procure a highly competitive sustainability campaign with Lenovo.

We created a roadshow across Aotearoa that would focus on diversity, inclusion and sustainability in the tech industry. For a marketing agency of seven, it was going to be a tall mountain to climb, as we had to find sustainable solutions to messaging, creatives, design, venue, catering, travel, equipment delivery and merch. We locked ourselves in a meeting room and started to brainstorm.

This is our journey, through the words of Simon, on our triumphs, struggles and ultimate success.

What had you envisioned a sustainable campaign to look like?

I knew we wanted to do something that was carbon-neutral because a carbon-zero campaign was not practical in NZ at the moment. But a carbon-neutral and zero landfill campaign was absolutely achievable.

We wanted to take a global company as big as Lenovo and show that everything produced for and from the event could be compostable, reused and recyclable. We wanted to minimise and offset emissions wherever possible and make conscious decisions with every aspect of the campaign.  

What was it about Lenovo that made you want to work with them?

There were a number of reasons why we wanted to work with Lenovo. Firstly, Lenovo was already walking the walk. They are widely recognized as IT manufacturers that are leading the sustainability push globally. They are creating products that are 70 – 75% recycled content and have very ambitious aims around decarbonizing their supply chain and getting their packaging out of landfill by 2025.

Secondly, the NZ Lenovo team was incredibly passionate about sustainability and that’s what Proposition was really excited about. Lenovo was on board with the messaging around sustainability, being carbon-neutral and creating zero-landfill waste. It was important that we show people their story and not just tell the story.

Together, we wanted to give people an experience that they would remember and make a difference in how they saw their own business.
It wasn’t about turning up to an event, doing the same old shit, serving savouries and drinks in plastic cups and then going on our merry way.

And thirdly, our purpose as an organisation is to change the way the IT industry tells their story and how they talk to customers. I saw this as a real opportunity for us to work with a big global brand that was committed to doing the same.
We are a small marketing agency based in Auckland, miles away from the rest of the world, and they are a global company that makes over 150 million devices a year, but our values are the same. There is a real values alignment between our teams – we were all really passionate about doing this campaign the right way.  

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with sustainability, that people might not think about?

It’s much easier to write down our sustainability desires than to act on them. Everything and anything was a challenge, but the major one was TIME.

From start to finish, we had six weeks to create a five-city sustainable event. Think about what goes into that – messaging, booking venues, transport, designing merchandise, booking guest speakers, catering, and giveaways. And then we had to make sure that every single one of those outputs was sustainable, zero-waste and carbon-neutral. It was a massive undertaking for a team of seven people.

Another, was the accumulation of all the little things that occurred that we hadn’t given second thought to. For example, we got the catering delivered in Dunedin, and the food ended up being covered in glad wrap. So, although we were using sustainable vendors with sustainable packaging, that message slipped through the cracks, and we were delivered food that was wrapped in plastic. Every time little things like that would happen, we became deflated because we had been living and breathing and actioning this sustainability message.

It was very much a game of whack-a-mole with sustainability. And I think it’s important to admit that. There were challenges and things that went wrong, but every time we were faced with a problem, we took that learning with us to the next thing.

Through the struggles we leaned on Lenovo’s way of thinking about sustainability. They don’t just think of their impact on the earth but the whole chain of events leading up to them making the products and then shipping the products and everything in between. That’s what we need to do as a marketing agency. It will take a lot of time and many conversations with our partners in the industry, but we are willing to continue having those conversations.

What was the hardest challenge for your team to deal with?

Travel, absolutely travel. Flying was a huge challenge and we had to off-set those emissions. But then we had to deal with the lack of low-carbon vehicles when we landed in each city. There are no interregional rails and very few low-carbon vehicles, especially in the South Island. In order to deliver our equipment and merchandise, we had to use trucks and cars in every location. While we can buy offsets when we fly and make better decisions around everything else, it’s still very hard to tame that beast of travel emissions without just throwing money at the problem.

The micro challenge we faced was the name tags. Oh, good grief, the nightmare of those damn name tags. Near the very end of the planning and creating phase, we were asked to supply printed name tags for the guests. We had been planning to print name tags that were on a sticker with compostable and biodegradable ink. But the client, for several reasons, needed to have the name tags on a lanyard. Which lead to a fairly wild last week of sourcing stuff. We managed to source bamboo fibre lanyards that looked really nice, and we had cardboard heavyweight name tags that were made from recycled cards, so we were getting there.

But on the back of the lanyard there was this teeny tiny piece of plastic. Now, that piece of plastic was necessary, so that if someone was on a building site or in a dangerous environment, and if the lanyard got caught in a machine or woodchipper or whatever, then it would break off at the plastic bit and you wouldn’t get sucked in.
So, life-saving stuff, but this piece of plastic just killed our sustainable souls.

The supplier told us they couldn’t supply any lanyard without that piece of plastic. We had got right to the end; we had made so much effort with everything, and these little pieces of plastic on the lanyards just sank all those good feelings we had. I mean, we got over it because we had to move on to the next thing, but it stung for sure.
It’s those little things that pop up at 4pm on a Wednesday that can make you say...this is f*cken hard.

What were you most proud of during this campaign?

I was most proud of the fact that the Proposition team really bought into the idea of a sustainability project. Our creative and client services team were so involved every step of the way and they helped deliver an astounding experience for the client and for the attendees.

Fundamentally, Lenovo Think Beyond ‘22 was an event series that our team wanted to attend. We lived and breathed this campaign, the purpose and the message behind it. It was a team that cared beyond their pay check; it really was a labour of love - stressful as hell, but certainly worth it.

Are you more continuous of sustainability going into future campaigns?

It made me realise that as a marketing agency in the IT industry, we can change things beyond what we thought we could. We now have a real understanding of the word “intention” behind our campaigns, events and projects. Creating and designing merch, giveaways, and booking venues, it is now marinated in intentional thinking.  

We knew we could certainly work with our suppliers in a different way, and I think that’s something easy that the industry can get behind.  
There are younger people starting to work in the IT industry and they are a lot more conscious of sustainability in their work which is exciting.
I think it’s important to know that you can still be really passionate about the tech industry and, at the same time, be conscious of its impact on the planet. Those two passions are not mutually exclusive.

What is something that surprised you about this sustainable campaign?

What floored me in both a good and bad way, is that as I became conscious of our work on sustainability, it spilled over into my personal life. I realised how much shit I personally poured out onto the planet, and it made me feel horrible. But that consciousness is a good thing; it changes how your behaviour and your habits.

What floored me in a really positive way was that by bringing a sustainability story to life with intentional thought, the attendees reacted in a supportive and engaging way. We were able to generate a huge amount of buy-in from clients, where they said things like, “Now I see why I would sell Lenovo”.

We told a great story and backed it up by walking the walk. Any marketer will tell you that they want to change the minds of their audience, and we were excited that we could do that. But even more so, we knew that we had changed people’s minds for the right reasons. It’s one of my proudest moments as the CEO of Proposition, and long may it continue.

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