Creativity Is Essential For A Sustainable Future – WWF Just Imagine

Creativity Is Essential For A Sustainable Future – WWF Just Imagine

Following the success of WWF’s Just Imagine digital art exhibition, Chapter Z takes a look at the work the organisation is doing surrounding COP26 and how creativity plays into this.

WWF’s Just Imagine art competition produced some fantastic works from artists all over the UK. Launched online on the 29th of April this year, this eclectic collection of visual pieces that depicted a societal future that thrust the natural world to the fore drew viewers from up and down the British Isles. A project that was aligned with the sustainability ethos of Chapter Z, we, to put it succinctly, love to see it.

Alongside this online exhibition, WWF held a digital webinar in which they discussed community engagement with the overlapping crises that we are facing as a species right now. With a group of panellists that are involved in a variety of climate change, educational and creative spaces, the talk was an enlightening view on the role art plays in community engagement.

As socially-led initiatives can often be swallowed up by the corporate and political machine that prioritises fundraising, innovative ways to engage the public are seen as less essential. But it is essential, as the panel members discussed at length. One participant, Learning Officer at the People’s History Museum, Liz Thorpe, says, “Inspiring action can mean protest but it can also be creative and community engagement-based.”

This line of thinking is a wonderful way to engage creative people in the fight for climate change. Often climate change is seen as a solely scientific issue and the brainpower of creatives is left out of the equation. Rosalind Mist Director of Education and Youth Engagement, Acting Director of Campaigns and Movement Building at WWF, agrees with Thorpe’s idea. She says, “Creativity lends itself to the ways of being able to spot connections and be able to solve problems,” and that the relationship between the arts and sciences needs to be explored further.


Top left to bottom right: Julie Lin-Wong, Greg Bunbury, Liz Thorpe, Rosalind Mist, Stacey Woolsey, Kat

However, it is not as simple as merely roping in the nearest graffiti artist to produce a mural screaming for lower carbon emissions. Arts must be thoughtfully integrated into the political process and one such barrier to this is monetary compensation. Many artists will only work on the basis of paid commissions – which is generally a fair stance to take when artwork is so readily plagiarised and the time and effort put into art is devalued in the face of financial, political and scientific sector work.

Nonetheless, when it comes to social initiatives like combating climate change, a sense of community spirit is essential. Greg Bunbury, award winning graphic designer and curator of the Black Outdoor Art Project, says in the panel, “Creatives don’t want to participate in social initiatives because they aren’t being paid. We need to think about this. If we only exercise creativity when we are being paid, we put the power back in the hands of brands.”

Some creatives might throw their hands up and say that it’s the role of brands to facilitate the involvement of artists in such projects. This is a valid point, as funding of social initiatives by large corporations can certainly stretch to including a creative budget when advertising budgets alone are astronomical. 

However, the point Bunbury makes of brands’ creative budget being viewed as the only worthy invitation for artists to work on social initiatives is a problem. If creatives offer their services for the benefit of a community project, rather than financial gain, that would at least seize some of the agency from corporate entities when supporting initiatives.

For this motivation for creatives to work, a sense of community must be fostered. This requires connecting people, as Bunbury also says, “Posters and graphics are great, but it’s connections that build communities […] Creative marketing is not selling, it is connecting people.” Art has a way of inspiring interest in subjects, a genuine passion rather than an obligation.

This is why WWF’s Just Imagine campaign has been such a success. In communicating through art that the environment must be preserved, a sense of communal sensitivity to climate change is fostered. Creatives entered the competition not just to win, but to be part of a community-building movement that is spearheaded by art.

Artistic engagement and innovation are relatively untapped tools when it comes to social initiatives. Panellist Julie Lin-Wong, painter, poet, environmentalist and honorary President of the Black Environment Network, summarised this perfectly. She says, “ If we are told that eating less meat is beneficial then you should be creative with alternatives. You can be creative about the way that you cook vegetables to make sure you stay interested in vegetables.”

Creativity breeds engagement, as well as providing flair needed in the political/corporate world. Rosalind Mist also states that, “Creativity lends itself to the ways of being able to spot connections and be able to solve problems.” These kinds of skills are crucial when tackling bureaucratic issues – especially those that are to be raised during the COP26 summit.

Making sure that the government money spent on farming and land ownership is pushing towards net 0 carbon emissions by 2050 is a task that will benefit from creative input. And this, in turn, comes from supporting artists! You can do this by showing the winners of the Just Imagine campaign the attention they deserve – click the link here to check it out.

You can also watch the full panel discussion here.


(he/him) Henry a previous Editor-in-Chief of Chapter Z magazine. He specialises in LGBTQ+, film and in-depth community/cultural features.

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