How Memes Can Help Save the World


What do Twitter sensation @MarnieTheDog, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and President Barack Obama have in common? If you thought climate change, you’re right. A viral social media campaign, #ClimateChangeIsReal, launched on Earth Day this year and discussed at a SXSW Eco workshop this week, taps into people’s fascination with celebrity culture and memes to raise awareness about climate change and make climate action mainstream.

Organized by Here Now, a project of social cause agency Purpose, the #ClimateChangeIsReal initiative reached about 235 million tweets within two weeks of its launch in April, and continues to see about 500 new posts on Twitter each week.

Pop culture icons as diverse as Brad Pitt, Richard Branson and Paul McCartney – and corporations such as Nike, Ikea and Unilever – have joined the climate conversation using the viral hashtag. Everyday people are tweeting as a way to do their part, too.

pic1The initiative builds a new framework for climate change storytelling. Rather than share doom and gloom statistics, #ClimateChangeIsReal leverages humor (we are talking about memes here, after all). And rather than being publicly led by a single organization, more than 200 nonprofit organizations, 75 artists, 50 corporate partners, and a slew of celebrities and individuals have been empowered with messaging and tools to lead the social dialogue and become digital influencers.

The result has been a dynamic global exchange that has taken a life of its own. Beyond memes, people are getting creative and using the hashtag to make a point. Even more, the social campaign has driven more conversation than media or public relations could achieve combined.

According to presenters at SXSW Eco this week, the secret-sauce of the campaign’s success is combining a culturally relevant, trending topic with a climate change concept, such as Obama’s three-point game and climate change or #TheDress and climate change.

Above all, authenticity is key. And laughter.

Image credits: 1) Courtesy of #ClimateChangeIsReal; 2) @BarackObama via Twitter

Nayelli Gonzalez

Nayelli Gonzalez is Managing Director of Marketing & Strategic Partnerships at, a capacity building organization that supports the growing ecosystem of impact-focused conveners, accelerators, and mappers. A sustainability innovation strategist and storyteller dedicated to purpose-driven work, Nayelli has advised startups, nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to drive engagement and amplify positive impact in the world. She's a trained journalist with an MBA who writes on sustainable business and social impact trends for a variety of publications.

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