Talking sustainability with Eliza of Thrival
Over the last few years, the word “sustainability” has been used indiscriminately, so much so that it has become abstruse, if not threadbare in some cases. Still, an upside to such willy-nilly overuse has been the fact that sustainability has become a thing, and, having become a thing, it has gained attention and momentum. People are talking about it, breaking the concept apart, and outlining its meaning so that perhaps soon it won’t be used indiscriminately anymore, but rather, selectively, transparently, and effectively. But before we get to the ideal scenario, there’s work to be done. And when it comes to the way companies, agencies, and organisations source their photographs online, sustainable isn’t yet sustainable.
“Often, a business has core values that reflect sustainable practices, but no strategic framework to benchmark or measure this,” says Eliza Turnbull, the Consultant General Manager at Thrival NZ, a branding, marketing, and business consultancy agency based in Christchurch. “Now we’re seeing sustainability strategy becoming more and more important for businesses because it’s starting to be a legislated requirement and an expectation of the market. There is a groundswell around the importance of sustainability now; it’s being valued by leaders, their teams, and their clients as an environmental, social, and business imperative to get behind.”
Thrival works across three key areas – people and culture, brand and marketing, and customer experience – to help companies grow. But it is essentially the assistance they provide around a company’s culture that is the foundation for things like sustainability to flourish. “If we're working with companies around their culture, we work closely with the senior leadership team to figure out what their guiding values are,” explains Eliza. “We're helping them develop not only who they are and what they stand for, but what that means from an authentic brand point of view; how that’s reflected in the internal culture of the business, and how it’s communicated externally to the world.”
For Thrival – or really any agency looking for authentic representations of the idea they are trying to capture – this upsurge in the sustainable mindset has also influenced the way they think about sourcing images for projects and campaigns. And in Eliza’s experience, this paradigm shift has manifested in a couple of different ways:
“Firstly, if the company we are working with has strong sustainability goals, then paying their suppliers a fair and reasonable rate will be part of their sustainable business strategy – and this includes paying photographers a reasonable rate for the images they use. Secondly, the images we are using as part of a campaign need to be authentic, meaning that when we are showcasing a local company, we use local images of people and/or places – rather than stock images from overseas.”
Still, taking a sustainable stance is not a one-way process: all stakeholders must be on the same page. And when it comes to sourcing images online, a recurring issue is that many clients have no idea of the value of a photograph, let alone that, in most traditional stock libraries, the majority of photographers don’t get paid much for their images – which makes it harder for agencies to justify or even propose photo budgets.
Eliza agrees that this is a dilemma they too face at Thrival. But she also emphasises that it’s a matter of helping people get their heads around what it really means to do things sustainably. “I think they [clients] have literally no idea that photographers aren’t paid much for a stock image; they wouldn't even know it is an issue,” reflects Eliza. “So there is a lot of education needed.”
Yes, there might still be plenty of ground to cover before mixing the words “sustainability” and “photography” together without skepticism. Yet the more aware image buyers become of the underlying issues within the photo industry, the stuff that impedes photography from being sustainable, the closer we get to walking the talk.
“As sustainability in business gains more traction, it will become increasingly important for agencies to educate their clients,” expounds Eliza. “With the democratisation of photography, the pendulum has swung a little too far. But by linking with a business’s core values and sustainability goals, we can have a conversation about the art of photography and the skill required to get the right shot.”