However, the Coronavirus pandemic has, in some part, played a role in helping the country’s pollution levels. At the start of April for the first time in years the smog levels in Dehli were lowered to record levels. While some may say this is nature’s way of resetting, there is a lot that humanity can do to help the country and thanks to the work of the FCB Ulka and Interface teams the message of living sustainably has become increasingly important.
Last year the FCB Interface team took the Advertising Agencies Associations of India’s ‘stop food wastage’ theme to the next level and got their hands dirty by visiting the country’s leading advertising agencies and collecting food waste from their bins.
The end result was a campaign called ‘Your agency helped make this ad’. FCB Interface’s chief creative officer Robby Mathew used this campaign to “pinch the conscience” of young creatives and industry veterans. He explains: “We visited almost all the leading advertising agencies and collected the wasted and leftover food from their bins. We simply used this food to then create the posters and even made customised posters for agencies by creating the headline using the iconic fonts of the respective agencies and addressed their well-known creative heads directly.”
The playfulness behind the campaign may have made an impact with the big names in advertising, but for recycling and food wastage to be a conscious decision, the message has to spread further afield to consumers too. Robby urges Indians to learn from this campaign and realise change starts with themselves first, because “that small change has the power to make a big difference to the country”.
However, unfortunately in a place where social status is prized and where some roles are heavily, making change is not always easy. To highlight this the agency paired up with Tata Trust to create a touching and poignant campaign about sanitation workers.
#TwoBinsLifeWins is told through a child narrating how his father “runs the country” by tackling the enormous waste levels in Mumbai – a city of 23 million. Divyang Waghela, head of Tata Water Mission, explains what inspired the idea for this particular campaign: “Tata Trusts worked to build citizen awareness on the importance of waste segregation and its impact on the lives of sanitation workers coupled with on-ground changes that support healthier lives for them and their families”.
He adds that sanitation work hasn’t been attributed much dignity and its links with societal structures extend as far as class and caste systems. However, his colleague and head of brand and marketing communications at Tata Trusts Deepshikha Surendran has found that sanitation workers have been credited with the respect they deserve during the Covid-19 pandemic. “The citizens have realised how important and difficult it is for the workers every single day, and how important the role of a sanitation worker is, in fighting the pandemic in the city. There is increased awareness and understanding that the sanitation workers are working in hazardous conditions to protect the health of the citizens.”
This does beg the question of what can be done to help the country live sustainably in light of such a moving campaign. Deepshikha is quick to explain that technological advances have meant that waste is no longer “waste and is now considered a resource”.
“There are three kinds of wastes being generated – dry, wet, and electronic at the household level. Dry and wet waste have a huge resource value and can be converted to high value economic goods. With the new government norms in place related to Extended Producer Responsibility, many industries have started recycling waste and reusing it themselves. Further, wet waste (kitchen waste which is bio-degradable) has huge nutrient value and can be converted into bio-fertilisers.”
While this campaign relates more to the city and the work that goes on there to build a sustainable India, the rural areas of the country need more attention on how they view waste, recycling and sanitation. In a bid to normalise this, FCB Ulka created a campaign for the country’s first biodegradable sanitary napkin, Carmesi.
To appeal to a wider audience, this campaign was solely pushed through Instagram stories. Anusheela Saha, group creative director at the agency explains what inspired the campaign: “The Period Girl was inspired from the very first drop of period blood that stops an unprivileged Indian girl from living her life. We made the drop of blood into a Period Girl. And made her run, skip and go cycling, everything that she is discouraged from doing during her period.”
But, what of those in rural communities and how would they take this kind of messaging? Anusheela explains that the awareness campaign was targeted towards women who can afford sanitary napkins and also “women and girls who don't know much about such hygiene and maybe have never seen a sanitary napkin” such as those living in slums or poorer communities.
Does this mean that sustainability is a luxury in India? Anusheela explains that greener brands come with a higher price tag – and are targeted towards people who can afford it. “But what stops us from being sustainable in small inexpensive ways. A cloth bag costs 50 bucks (less than a dollar). An aloe vera in the kitchen garden is the most effective and cheapest form of a sustainable anti-ageing product. What stops us from adopting green ways of life - that may not always come with a big amount being swiped off our cards!”
With the middle class growing in India, as well as the number of young and conscious consumers, being sustainable and edging towards green living may become a trend. Anusheela explains that sustainability is still not the number one factor in buying decisions among consumers – but it is rising. She explains: “There's a shift in consumer buying, with more and more consumers willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly products, reinforcing the need for companies to increase their commitments to responsible business practices. Maybe that's a way to strike a sustainable balance”.