A young woman in a grey cityscape dives through a rotating, vaguely floral sculpture and enters a utopia of waterfalls and hanging gardens. A boy with an action figure watches non-plussed as she soars past his family’s home (our heroine, of course, can now fly).
For the uninitiated, this is The Line – in its own words, a smart, innovative and sustainable city in the desert. 200m wide, 500m tall, 170km long, glazed in reflective glass. Essentially, it’s a long mirror in the sand with a city in it. No roads, no cars, no emissions, The Line will run on 100% renewable energy, with 95% of land preserved for nature. So far, so good.
It’s location? Neom, Saudi Arabia – a country with an appalling human rights record, who forced local residents out to make way for The Line’s construction.
Firstly, let’s park any aesthetic distaste for this glassy hellscape. An entirely sustainable city is objectively a good thing. Just as the sustainability of the football stadium in Qatar, also with dodgy human rights records, is a good thing. And the ambitions of ethical brands Ecover and Method, whose parent company has links to animal testing, are a good thing.
So should we be purists and condemn entire projects for their associations? Or should we separate the good from the bad? Does it matter if something’s just a PR exercise if it actually does good? And are our progressive England team, with their rainbow armbands, sellouts for not backing out of Qatar?
It’s impossible to get right. We don’t live in a perfect world. As consumers, we can only be more conscious in our choices, weighing cost and convenience and ethics, applying pressure where we can. And as an agency, we have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis when it comes to new clients. Can agencies, as we teeter on the brink of yet another recession, afford to be purist?
When it comes to how we operate, we want to ask the tough questions and look at brands in a holistic way, examining their values and the impact they have on society as a whole. We’re proud to work alongside clients delivering positive change in clean energy, recycling, education and more. And where we can change minds, we do – though we’ll be giving megacities a wide berth.