By Tilly Carter


REAL attended an online event organised by Purpose Disruptors. They have been encouraged by the United Nations, to help develop a vision of a better world, to be shared in the run up to the climate conference in Glasgow, COP26, in November. The discussion featured the hosts:

Jonathan Wise – co-founder Purpose Disruptors

Lisa Merrick-Lawless – co-founder Purpose Disruptors

Paddy Loughman – strategist at the Race to Zero campaign


Purpose Disruptors was conceived by Lisa Merrick-Lawless, Jonathan Wise and Rob McFaulrob – a few sparky minds in the ad industry, who began combining their creativity for environmental purposes after getting chatting in a pub back in November 2018. Since then the community has ripely grown to over 1,400: a ‘network of advertising insiders’ working to accelerate the evolution of the industry, into alignment with climate change. These active minds have been behind the Great Reset, Ecoffectiveness ’21, six climate crisis summits, #ChangeTheBrief and Create and Strike to name a few. This virtual gathering was the start of a new creative endeavour – built to run alongside Race to Zero – to imagine, design, and affect a sustainable shift in our cultural lifestyle.

Race to Zero is a global campaign mobilising leadership and action from non-state actors. The campaign advances system transformation through redesigning “an economy that puts life first”. It follows the scientific criteria of the world’s leading experts, to map out practical steps towards a net-zero world “shifting pledges into plans, ambition into action”. The campaign acts as an alliance –  a growing initiative of prominent businesses, investors, universities – seeking to escalate momentum for system change to begin “now”,  because “delay is the new denial”. The campaign’s momentum is intended to amplify pressure on governments, ahead of COP26, ‘where governments must set up their climate ambition’ to rapidly and radically substantiate their agreements. However, this new project stems from their recognition that “system change doesn’t happen in isolation; in deep relationship with it, entangled with it, we also need transformational lifestyle change.” Paddy pointed out that this claim is “not just because two thirds of emissions come from lifestyle and consumption” but because lifestyle influences our greater culture and that “culture sits upstream from politics”, as suggested by Andrew Breitbart.


Purpose Disruptor’s new initiative is a project to focus creatively on shifting lifestyle behaviours whilst Race to Zero focuses practically on systems change. These two “concurrent tracks” contribute to culture change, putting even greater pressure on COP. Jonathon illustrated that the initiative is being designed to offer a “compelling alternative vision of life that serves both people and planet” in addressing “climate change, inequality, social exclusion” in this post-global lockdown and pre-net-zero landscape. We find ourselves in this “liminal space…between what no longer works and what needs to be born” – an opening in which to act – using the tool of creativity, to build upon and embed the positive behaviours and value shifts developed over lockdown and beyond. 

Lisa emphasised that these solutions or “compelling visions of the future” have to be tangible, not naive utopias. We must find alternatives that are existing in the world, and make them present, accessible. What we want is “to connect with the masses to drive behaviour change, and that needs to be based in reality.” Our job is to help make these changes both desirable and normal: adapting the niche to become mainstream.

Photograph by Benedict Grey (www.benedictgrey.com)


Seeing as those of us in the global 10% need to reduce our carbon footprint by 90%, as Paddy highlighted, and “given that a lot of this involves reduction… we need to be asking, how do we make less feel like more and not, as it currently stands, less feeling like loss?”

How might one creatively shift entrenched behaviours? He used a great example, already in action: “how do you get manly men to care more about eating less meat? You make it about strength and virility”. You make a documentary that follows an ex-cage fighter, training an elite army in illegal cage fighting moves, who mostly eats plants. This creative thinking is having a dynamic impact, through ‘enabling’ the lifestyle choices synonymous with dominance and power, playing into the “masculinity narrative” of patriarchally-embedded gender roles – subverting the language and assumptions to influence a positive, sustainable behavioural shift.  

Paddy iterated the significance of appealing to those who might reject these lifestyles, feeling alienated or put off by words like sustainable, eco-friendly and green. He befittingly acknowledged that “We can’t know exactly what [this imagined future] will be like, because lots of different people will have lots of different visions, which is a crucial element in all this. Singular visions, imposed by authorities, come across as that coercion that we’re trying to avoid, and risk alienating people.” 

Lisa elaborated on why the advertising and media industries are being called upon for this think-tank task: “the superpower of this kind of community… is around communicating… You have the knowledge… the skills, around how to make things go mainstream.  So you can talk to the Morrisons shopper, not just the Greenpeace supporter. This is the part [a lot of people struggle with]… getting out of the bubble and talking to new audiences.”

Photograph by @lottie_maher_  (www.lottiemaher.com)


With 108 of us on the call, we filled out idea worksheets individually, before being randomly transported into zoom groups of 4, each giving an elevator pitch on what we had just written, in conceptualising these ideas becoming mainstream. “That was like speed dating” one attendee amusingly pointed out upon returning to the group, where pitches fed back into the larger discussion. These activities and ideas, grounded in lived experience and collective research, will serve as the “green shoots” from which this project will grow. 

The intention of this project is, as Paddy envisages, “to help us imagine and bring forward a better culture – where we value nature not just tech, well-being not just productivity, community not just individuals, fulfilment in our careers not just bullshit jobs, local not distant, and joy not anxiety and fear. And do so as citizens, not just as consumers.” “The train has left the station” Jonathon concluded… and its ambitious advance continues.

Title photograph by @lottie_maher_ (www.lottiemaher.com)