DEEP DIVE: Brands, through purpose, can inspire mankind to work for Nature in crucial Sustainability mission: Neeraj Roy, Megha Tata


Pavan R Chawla caught up with NEERAJ ROY, Chairman of the  IAA Olive Crown Awards,  and MEGHA TATA, President of the India Chapter of the IAA, on the relevance, importance, and contribution of these truly significant awards which, even today, 11 years after they were launched, are the only ones that recognize, honour and celebrate creative professionals, marketers and strategic communicators and other industry professionals for exemplary, inspirational work in promoting the cause of sustainability. The portents are grim, but there is hope from the  creative and strategic work and actions of the core of the IAA community that has been driving Brands on the path of Purpose, which can help mankind work with Nature in the pursuit of Sustainability.

Neeraj, hark back to when the IAA Olive Crown Awards were born, 11 years ago. Any memories from back then that have stayed with you?

Neeraj Roy: One, and it’s a very special personal memory. My daughter was 5 that year, and that was when she’d spoken to me for the first time about  the importance of trees and forests in our lives and indeed for a greener planet. My second memory, of course, is about how, the same year, two distinguished gentlemen and pillars of the IAA initiated the IAA Olive Crown Awards – then President and my friend and fellow colleague Kaushik Roy, and our very own sage and oracle of the IAA, Ramesh Narayan —  gave birth to this idea at the Goa Fest in Goa.

Oh, and my daughter, who turned 16 this year, did an internship with the World Wildlife Fund earlier this year — an application she made on her own as she insisted she didn’t want my help in the same.

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Megha, Discovery Networks does cherry-pick the best initiatives and causes to support, and that’s really like demonstrating how to walk the talk. And the IAA Olive Crown Awards saw your entire team rally around the event.

Megha Tata: Yes, because the awards are dedicated to those who speak the language of sustainability, creatively and for more than a decade now, have been furthering the green agenda.

Neeraj, supporting Sustainability at, well, levels that can sustain planet earth in the now and the near future needs strong and sustained efforts, though, because I recall you said at the awards that ‘We have come a long way since, but sadly the state of our planet has deteriorated at a pace faster than any imagined’…

Neeraj: Yes, and that’s a grim reality. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres described  the Working Group’s report at the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, published last month, as nothing less than a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening,’ he had said, ‘and the evidence is irrefutable’.

He went on to say that the internationally-agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels of global heating was “perilously close”. It is clear and present danger with the imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold, is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path.

This report prepared by 234 scientists from 66 nations, warns us that global surface temperature has increased at a more raid pace since 1970 as a 50 year period ever experienced in the last 2000 years.

So mankind has its work cut out. And it is important that businesses and brands that connect with and serve the masses must lead the way.

Due to new realities of business, brands and marketers are moving to communicating with, and activating purpose.  I think Sustainability, ESG… these present a great opportunity for them all to demonstrate their commitment for the planet and for the people that have helped them grow. You referred to this at the awards. Tell us more.

Neeraj: Yes, right now, millennials represent the largest demographic around the world,m and they are leading the charge towards sustainable goals, and they are taking most brands and businesses with them.

As many as 40% millennials have said they chose a job because the employer performs better on sustainability. 41% of High-net-worth individuals under 40 would prefer to invest in sustainable businesses. 53% of millennials would choose your product over a competitor’s if it was environmentally friendly.  Viewed even purely tactically and from a business-growth prism, these are powerful inducements to activate brand purpose through greater sustainability.

And then there’s Gen Z…

Neeraj: Indeed. Over the next two decades, your entire customer base and your teams… the talent you are hoping to attract… will largely be millennials and Gen Z,  and we know that they rate a brand’s ethics and sustainability higher than ever before,  so it will be impossible and impractical to ignore these trends.

In fact, Brands, Media, Advertisers, Agencies and Marketers, essentially the core of the IAA community, have always played a key role in communication for centuries, and it is encouraging to note that brands here in India too are taking note and actions.

According to the Financial Express, ‘Dabur is removing outer paper cartons from its toothpaste brand Dabur Red Paste; Flipkart is working towards reducing the need for an outer layer of packaging and has eliminated all single-use plastic packaging. Further, Mondelez India has announced a grant to Hasiru Dala, an NGO that will recycle multi layered plastic (MLP) which is a prominent packaging material used by the company. Unilever is introducing a paper-based laundry detergent bottle in Brazil in 2022, which it will follow in Europe and some other markets.

One of the reasons for the initiatives is consumer preference. A Deloitte study in 2021 has said the environment is a top priority for millennials and Gen Z consumers.

Megha, over the years, the awards have inspired brands to be proactive and stratetgic instead of reactive and tactical on their espousal of Sustainability. Your thoughts?

Megha: Yes indeed. We have seen campaigns and brands go from doing ‘something green’ to being vested in sustainability, and we are glad that the awards have been a platform to showcase work that can inspire.

While the last year was really tough for all of us, it was a time of pure joy for Nature — a silver lining, I would say. And one of the things that 2020 taught us has been that Nature loved our Lockdown. Even if the lockdown was just a small window for the environment to breathe.

To me, the Awards this year brought home thoughts which, sadly, it took a lockdown for us to know and realize what truly our planet can become if we just do our part in helping it.

There were visions that came as both, beautiful and scary realizations: The humpback whales gave us a sighting around the Mumbai Coast, flamingoes came in for a soiree, the snowcapped Himalyas were visible from cities far away, our rivers became cleaner, pollution levels dropped, in fact, the air became so much cleaner. Those were truly beautiful visions, but they are scary too.

Why do you say that?

Megha: Because they show the direct, stark cause-and-effect relationship between how, when humans’ unthinking negligence of sustainability is paused, all of Nature around us breathes and exudes a bracing healthiness for every other life form! So it is scary to think of what will happen if mankind regresses back to its old ways after the lockdowns go.

So the IAA Olive Awards have played a vital role in spreading the word, awareness and adoption of the crucial cause of Sustainability. What was the response to the awards this year?

Neeraj: This year the IAA Olive Crown Awards received over 200 entries across 20 categories and some from countries too. The last financial year has been challenging to say the least for media companies, marketers and agencies alike and that makes the case for these entries even more profound and for the IAA to recognize and celebrate the participation and indeed the winners even more.

In fact, this spirit of ‘the show must go’ on reminds me of one of the biggest champions of celebrating creative success across media and entertainment, our very own Pradeep Guha. PG left us too soon and too suddenly, and we miss him terribly, but we know he too will be raising a toast in heaven to the champions of sustainability lending their support to a greener planet.

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Megha, that also brings to mind how heartfelt your tribute to the late, great Pradeep Guha was …

Yes, and his presence and guidance are sorely missed. Mr Guha has been an institution and shaped the Marcom Industry, and especially the IAA and its various initiatives. He went to great lengths to position India in the Global Markets,  and his readiness to contribute in various capacities was always truly remarkable. While he made his presence felt, his absence is being felt even more. He will always be in our hearts.

Neeraj, Megha, I sense how personally driven you both are about this entire mission. What would you want to say, looking ahead, and acknowledging the support the IAA Olive Crown Awards have received?

Megha: Many industry titans have been supporting us, and we  would like to thank and appreciate our partners Zee Entertainment and Discovery Channel, and of course AAFA and also our very eminent Jury led by Bobby Pawar along with Teesta Sen, Kaushik Roy, Josy Paul and Carlton D Silva. And all the other partners who supported us this year too.

And, of course, Ramesh (Narayan) Sir for all his inputs, efforts, and guidance over the years, and for always being there for IAA!

Neeraj: … And when I look ahead, well, a lot has to be done! I hope that the IAA Olive Crown will continue to inspire creativity and encourage brands to communicate more to preserve the planet as we know we need it. Like someone has said, Umeed par duniya kayam hai. (The world lives on hope)