Sustainable living, social pleasures

Article: Sustainable living, social pleasures

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Luong Lu is a 26 year-old Swedish creative/art director. Born in Malmö, he studied at Base school in Hamburg before heading to Miami Ad School in New York to finish his portfolio program where he’ll graduate in September 2011. In 2010 Luong created a campaign for energy company Vattenfall that buzzed around the internet and was listed in the Creativity Online Top 5. View campaign online.

So far, so interesting. What was truly interesting was that this was in effect a pitch by a student. It wasn’t real. But the idea captured the imagination because of its use of social media, its real world application, and most importantly it’s imagining of a Practical Utopia. This Practical Utopia, an ideal vision that’s also a viable vision of how we can change our behaviour is what pushed people’s buttons.

As much as Luong Lu’s Neighbour Dining is a pitch, it is also a template for addressing both climate change and energy scarcity:

  • It registers that dealing with limited energy resources is ultimately the responsibility of consumers and citizens.
  • Only action done at a social level will make a difference.

  • Energy saving needs to be built into everyday life – it needs to be a routine.
  • In the age of social networking technology, advertising agencies can make a difference in developing ideas that change and shape behaviour. In fact, in the absence of political will and the fear of politicians to upset the general public, advertising agencies may be the best hope there is for generating systems that push us towards sustainable living. It reconstructs sustainability as social pleasure.
 

Some ecology activists worry that the phrase “Sustainable Development” is an oxymoron, a self-contradiction concealing the fact that any development degrades the environment. While on the other hand, NGOs and energy companies can’t quite conceal in their communications, the anxiety that being more careful over energy usage is a little bit worthy, a little bit of grit entering the smooth running of our everyday lives.

What’s so compelling about Luong Lu’s Neighbourhood Dining idea is that it weights the idea of “sustainable living” on the side of “living” rather than “sustainability”. Sustainability, as we mentioned in the introduction, is one of those slippery words, not least because it can mean whatever we want it to mean. It’s benign in the way that attaching it to whatever we do means we are doing good in some vague way.

“56% of all the households are single households which means a lot of unnecessary usage of resources”

Luong Lu’s social project gives the idea of sustainability some content, it’s practical, sensible and it’s about social pleasures. What triggered the huge response to this project as an example of sustainable energy use was its focus on human beings, on images of how we could live rather than simply through using images of nature to remind us of our responsibilities and obligations. Neighbourhood Dining was a vision of ordinary, uncomplicated, shared human pleasures. And in that rests its power.

The Curve spoke to Luong Lu about his interest in energy and the inspiration to link sustainability and socializing:

What got you interested in “Energy”?

Luong Lu: In Northern Europe it’s a trend to live healthy, eat healthy and be environmentally friendly or at least have a conscience about it. In our fourth quarter we got this brief about an energy saving project. This idea got turned down by a teacher, he didn’t like it, but I wanted to have it in my portfolio just because I liked the idea. I finished it and aired it on my portfolio and it got snapped up by blogs and suddenly I was on Creativity Online Top 5, and the snowball just ran and ran – it’s amazing that people liked the idea.

It’s a striking communication, particularly the social aspect. What do you think people were so excited by?

LL: The idea is based on an insight, information that people don’t think about – nowadays more and more people live alone. If you take Sweden for instance where I come from, 56% of all the households are single households which means a lot of unnecessary usage of resources. I read an article which says this means a lot of urban loneliness, so I did research and apparently urban loneliness is a bigger health threat than alcoholism, obesity and smoking.

What are the symptoms of urban loneliness?

LL: Depression – it’s based on my experience of living in Stockholm for one year when I was 23. I studied at school and I thought I would make a lot of friends. It’s not that we are not socialising, but it’s not that easy anymore if you come to a new city where everybody has their own friends. I lived in the south of Sweden so I felt this urban loneliness which hit me very hard, so this influence and experience gave me this big bowl of ideas which I call Neighbour Dining. The whole idea was to kill two birds with one stone, which is like a big social swap of curing loneliness and saving energy at the same time.

“We need to find something that we are doing in everyday life that we can bake in saving energy”

There’s a very human experience at the heart of it, people pulling together, socialising, having fun. There’s a lot of work and communications in energy around Smart, but you are offering a social approach to sustainable living?

LL: If we want to make a difference in saving energy, as people are more and more busy each day, we need to find something we do in everyday life that we can bake in saving energy, and dining together might be one of those solutions. First of all it needs to be fun, at least if you want the masses to do it so I believe that culture can be a solution to making a difference.

Any suggestion or advice you’d give to clients in this sector?

LL: I will say that saving energy isn’t the first thing we think of when we wake up in the morning, so we need to find something that’s engaging in terms of culture and human behaviour because we need to understand how humans behave and what they prioritise. When we understand that, the ideas can come and make a difference – and they can be fun too.

The summary

A student project that shifted the debate about energy saving gained huge traction on the internet. The campaign pushed a number of hot buttons – social networking, community, social pleasures, fun. Being more conscious of energy use isn’t just a matter for each individual. When it comes to changing our energy habits, the popularity of this campaign demonstrated the power of advertisers addressing people as social beings not just as consumers.

The takeout

Energy communications that address people as part of a community have emotional leverage. The smaller the community visualized the better – such as a neighbourhood. It makes the impact of energy use more tangible. Digital campaigns have an opportunity to re-invent thinking, to visualise differently how we engage with energy issues.

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