Mark Aink on storytelling for good, ‘impact investing’ and his plans for Earth Day 2019
This year, in the spirit of Earth Day, we’ve got a special treat for you. We interviewed one of Deedmob Board of Advisory member, Mark Aink. He’s the founder of Native Circles, a creative accelerator for conscious brands. His mission? To help conscious companies identify and share their soul so they can drive force for positive change.
We explored themes ranging from the importance of storytelling for good to the role of investors for a more sustainable world. Oh, and be sure to read on to find out his Earth Day plans!
You’ve built quite the track record in the world of advertising and branding, working on campaigns for Nike, Apple and Ben & Jerry’s. At what point did you decide to make sustainability central to your career?
“A coincidental meeting with an elder of a Native American tribe led to and a casual 15-minute conversation that completely changed my view on the world, on life, and on my career. I don’t exactly know how he did it, but Oren Lyons (that’s his name), made me realise that we’re all connected to and part of nature.”
“Like a tree, we are dependent on the Earth as our supporting system. It takes care of us and we should take care of it, or else we’re basically f***** (my own words, not Oren’s). This conversation took place in 2001 and led me to leave the agency I co-owned and work exclusively with conscious companies.”
Tell us about what keeps you busy nowadays
“I work with companies using ‘soul-searching’ and ‘soul-sharing’; helping them find their essence in a bottom-up manner and connecting the company’s team with that core.”
“From that, a point of view on the world arises and the company starts behaving along those lines. Once all the stars are aligned on this, their communication evolves naturally from the stories that unfold around the company’s acts and behaviour.
“It no longer is something that is crafted, it literally is the sharing of their soul.”
“Furthermore, I’m part of the advisory board for B-Corp, part of Deedmob’s advisory board and I’m a fire-starter for COMMON and the Down to Earth Collective.”
Mark (4th from top right) at this year's Deedmob Board of Advisory meet-up!
In 2012 you founded Native Circles: a branding & advertising agency focused on “helping companies become native to this place (Earth)”. In practice, what do you envision it takes for companies to truly shift the sustainable needle?
“Three things are essential. The first is ‘connection’; a renewed connection with nature, with themselves (the team) and the company. When this happens, the whole company starts living its beliefs and uses its full potential as a force for positive change. Secondly, it is all about courage and the willingness to sacrifice: I’ve never met a company that is successfully pursuing its meaningful mission without sacrificing something. Purpose cannot exist without sacrifice. A lot of companies go wrong here. Finally, never forget this rule: first act, then tell.”
We’ve just recently seen a story about ExxonMobile investors demanding more transparency about the company’s CO2 emissions. What role do you think investors, as opposed to governments, have and will play in determining companies’ commitment to sustainability?
“They are essential. I happened to be at Mark van Baal’s kitchen table as we brainstormed about his brilliant idea: an activist shareholder movement, now known as Follow This. Mark and his team were able to raise awareness and demand that Shell stop neglecting their role and responsibility. There still is a long way to go, but small first steps were made. Fortunately, ‘impact investing’ is taking a growing role globally nowadays. That said, we need every stakeholder: consumers, government, investors, employees, press, and companies. Only if we combine all forces will we be able to change course and start living in balance with our home, our planet.”
An important part of successful advertising is storytelling. What is the importance of storytelling when it comes to mobilising people to work together on issues such as climate change, pollution, poverty etc.?
“People are touched by ideas and those tend to be converted best through stories. Storytelling is imperative when engaging people.”
“Advertising used to be the art of making up epic stories around companies and brands. Those days are over. The stories that make great communication nowadays are not made up, but lived. They are real and are told from the heart.”
"I’ve never met a company that is successfully pursuing its meaningful mission without sacrificing something. Purpose cannot exist without sacrifice.”
Could you share your favourite example of this?
“My inspiration is Nike’s Phil Knight. He said: “we should not craft an image, we should share our soul”. The best examples live by this mantra.”
“My absolute favourite example, from my favourite company of all time, is Patagonia. I’ve been in touch with them a lot on all different levels in the organisation; from Yvon, the founder, to the receptionist. And they are all good people. They live and breathe their conviction. They are committed and genuinely nice. And they develop campaigns from that conviction and let them develop organically.”
“They enable others to make films or documentaries and start grass root organisations. Their soul is so strong and vivid, they could lose control over their communication and it would only enrich and deepen the brand.”
“My other favourite is Greta Thunberg. It’s incredible how a single individual can speak from a place of truth and spark a significant and global movement within months.”
If there’s one piece of advice you’d give a charity or NGO wanting to tell their story and get people to take action, what would it be?
“Find your soul, connect your staff and volunteers, and speak from a place of truth. And always remember that, as an NGO, you are here in the world to make yourself redundant.”
You personally seem to be a big fan of great storytelling. We found this out when we first spoke to you about the Down to Earth documentary, which showcases important lessons to be learned from some of the world’s oldest tribes. Could you tell us more about how this film has impacted you?
“Down to Earth is a road trip movie of a family gathering and sharing the wisdom of ‘Earth keepers’; the leaders and elders of people who are still part of and connected to nature.”
“The film took me straight down to my own experience and conversation with Oren Lyons. Wherever you go, in whichever part of the world, if you talk to these ‘Earth keepers’, their message remains the same across the world.”
“We belong to nature. We are part of it. And we depend on it.”
“Nature takes care of us and we should take care of nature. If this starts resonating with us again and if we reconnect to that source, we can all become keepers of the Earth.”
“From this mission, the Down to Earth Collective was born. Together with a group of people we aim to spread this wisdom with leaders and future leaders of the world, so they will start leading beyond themselves.”
Now lastly, we're curious! What do you have planned for Earth Day 2019?
“For the first time this year, I am organising an Earth Day gathering. I work with an estate in Hilversum and part of my remuneration is that I have the estate at my disposal one day a year. I chose April 22nd, international Earth Day to celebrate all of the beautiful people I’ve come across, who do the most fantastic work throughout the year for our planet. This edition will start off with a relatively small group of around 120 people from companies, NGO’s and personal initiatives and experiments.”
“My intention is to create a space once a year with music, food, drinks, exhibitions and workshops, where new acquaintances will happen and hopefully lead to supportive, yet powerful collaborations. Most initiatives work in silos; by combining forces they can accelerate their positive effect on society and on the environment.”