With so many pressing environmental concerns piling up all at once, it can be difficult to make a campaign stand out. Nevertheless, a new ocean plastic pollution campaign supported by Bacardi Limited suggests that brands can get their message through on a massive scale, even via a simple emoji.
Plastic straws are only one small part of the ocean plastic pollution crisis, but they have captured the public’s attention.
Plastic straws have also scored the attention of business, partly because getting rid of them can cut costs and simplify their supply chains. Starbucks and the leading sports and entertainment company AEG are just two of the growing number of global businesses taking steps to ban single-use straws made of plastic from their supply chains, keeping only a few on hand for people who need them.
A plastic straw named Polly spearheaded the launch. In its newest phase, the campaign recruits a sea turtle named Sydney to spread the message about banning plastic straws. The hook is a letter written by Sydney to the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit agency that oversees the global emoji catalog.
In the letter, Sydney asks Unicode to remove all plastic straws from its roster. Meanwhile, Bacardi and Lonely Whale ask individuals and businesses to pledge their support through TheFutureDoesntSuck.org. You can read the letter at TheFutureDoesn’tSuck.org or, better yet, enjoy activist and comedian Daniel Franzese (aka Damien of Mean Girls) reading it aloud on YouTube.
The strategy is a compelling one. Instead of appealing only to consumers and businesses, the Sydney campaign leverages the power of emoji and other social media imagery to promote awareness of plastic straws and the ocean plastic pollution crisis.
That may sound like a tiny poke at a gigantic problem. However, emojis and other social media images form a powerful, global language that reach billions of people every day, no matter what language they speak at home.
In a press release announcing the new emoji campaign, Bacardi and LonelyWhale give a shout-out to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which “stimulate action in areas of critical importance for both humanity and the planet.”
This is where the new emoji-based campaign gets interesting. The United Nations released the set of 17 SDGs back in 2015. The goals were designed to apply to nations, as a way to measure and track progress toward a milestone of 2030.
Though few if any companies can make a meaningful commitment to all 17 SDGs, many are beginning to focus on one or more SDGs that dovetail with their strengths and core competencies as businesses. The SDGs can also provide businesses with a window into global conversations about sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
In the case of Bacardi, SDG 14 (sustainable oceans) is just one among several goals that the company can reference.
If the end goal is to substantially reduce plastic in the global economy, it is a Sisyphean one.
ExxonMobil is among a number of global oil and gas stakeholders that have been doubling down on plastics and petrochemicals as hedge against falling demand for fossil fuels. They are also eyeballing the potential for market growth in Asia and elsewhere.
This countertrend makes it all the more important for businesses like Bacardi to team up with experienced advocacy organizations like Lonely Whale. The plastic straw ban may seem, well, like a straw in the wind, but Lonely Whale puts the force of global collaboration behind it.
Through the Lonely Whale partnership, Bacardi connects its efforts with dozens of NGOs and creative media partners globally.
The rush to petrochemicals may turn out to be a short-lived solution for oil and gas companies, as the plastic straw movement grows and begins to have a broader impact on the role of plastic in a sustainable global economy.
Image credit: Helena Yankovska/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.