15 Mar 2019 Story Environmental rights and governance

Entertainment as a tool for environmental action

Media is an ally of the environment. Through entertainment we can make people advocates of environmental issues—above and beyond raising their awareness. We can promote solutions to ecosystem challenges and positively influence environmental decision.

During this year’s UN Environment Assembly, a panel with combined organizational reach in the hundreds of millions provided insights on how entertainment can be used to gain public support for greater environmental protection. Panellists included representatives from Globo, Latin America’s biggest media company, and Brave Bison, whose videos generate 6 billion views per month.

The entertainment industry is expanding, and environmental messaging can be a part of this.

“We need to understand what our audience need in terms of entertainment and then get our messages across that,” said Racheal Nakitare, Head of Programming, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.      

Currently, environmental education through media suffers from limited engagement, audience fatigue, as well as an underutilization of certain engagement formats.

There is a need to develop creative content that reaches a broad audience, addresses environmental concerns and stimulates problem-solving.

The environment in entertainment

Across multiple social and digital platforms there are around 2 billion searches a month for the word sustainability (and similar terms) and around 80 per cent of searches on YouTube are viewers looking to learn something.

There is interest in, and demand for, informative content on the environment but it needs to become more entertaining and engaging. Currently, messages designed to mobilize action can come across as preachy and boring. And when interesting content is created, it can be difficult to share it widely and for people to access it. Partnerships are crucial for amplifying environmental messaging.

Watching an environmental telenovela.

Environment-related entertainment can involve movies, telenovelas, web-series and Snapchat. Globo has embraced this ethos and worked with Conservation International to create an Emmy nominated Telenovela that covered environmental issues, such as pesticides and their link to health. Illustratively, media companies and environmental organizations can work together on environmental education because audiences now are less divided by territory and more by interest. This point was highlighted by Racheal Nakitare, who said that creating environmental content is not simply the work of media houses.

Maria Farinha Filmes, alongside Globo, is launching the world’s first environmental thriller this year: Aruanas. This TV series follows four women leading an environmental non-governmental organization that fights for environmental justice in the Amazon, whilst balancing their personal lives.

Environment in entertainment does not need to look different from entertainment in general. In fact, previous efforts have successfully tackled other issues such as sexually transmitted infections and discrimination through mainstream entertainment such as dramas. Globo’s experience with promoting social change in their shows has been positive with audiences open and interested in more content.

There was consensus amongst panellists that environment-related messages are overwhelmingly negative. Over and over it has been proven that audiences engage more with positive news compared to the negative. Not only are people less likely to watch or listen to negative messages, but positive messages are far more likely to invite action.

 “We need to find ways to engage people in the solutions and not just the problems… We can’t be what we can’t see,” said Producer Luana Lobo.

Environmental messaging can lead to change if it acts as a channel that diffuses solutions and is incorporated coherently in larger organizational strategies for behavioural change.

Additionally, to affect change through entertainment, it is vital to engage with the youth. Critically, we can only engage with the youth on their terms. This means creating content that uses video (said to be 80 per cent of internet traffic by end of 2019) and operates across phones and social media.

Brave Bison created the channel Mutha to engage youth and combat excessive negative coverage of sustainability issues. It celebrates sustainable and conscious living, creating content that celebrates taking positive action to inspire its audience to change their behaviours. Presented by youths to youths, on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, its topics range from meat-free challenges to sneakers to housing.

To instigate environmental action through entertainment there needs to be:

  • Positive narratives concerning our environment
  • Environmental messaging in mainstream entertainment
  • Efforts to shift audiences from awareness of an issue to advocates of the issue
  • Joint work between and within environmental and entertainment to produce and disseminate content
  • Engagement of youth with content they respond to
  • Strong communication skills amongst those involved in environmental messaging

A women-centered panel: from left to right, Niamh Brannigan, UN Environment, Beatriz Azeredo, Globo TV, Luana Lobo, Maria Farinha Filmes, Claire Huntgate, Brave Bison.

For more information, please contact: Niamh.Brannigan[at]un.org I Angela.Kariuki[at]un.org I Paula.Waibochi[at]un.org