Counting Down to Earth Hour

On March 27, people and businesses around the world will turn off their lights for one hour starting at 8:30 p.m. local time as part of the fourth annual Earth Hour, which was created to encourage people to become more aware of what they can do to help the environment.

Earth Hour, organized by World Wildlife Fund, was launched in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, as a stand against climate change. By March 2009, the event had grown to involve hundreds of millions of people in 4,159 cities, towns and municipalities in 88 countries, and included some of the world’s best-known landmarks, such as the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Las Vegas Strip, the Empire State Building in New York, the Acropolis in Athens and the Coliseum in Rome.

Here, in the first of three interviews with some of the people involved in creating and establishing Earth Hour, Todd Sampson, CEO of Leo Burnett Australia, talks about how the idea came about and what it means to his agency.

Ad Age: What is your company’s involvement in Earth Hour?

Todd Sampson: Earth Hour is the largest social movement in history and one of the fastest-growing brands ever. It is now in over 110 countries and more than 4,000 cities. To create an idea of this scale involves hundreds of people, partnerships and governments. However, the original idea was created through collaboration between WWF, Fairfax and Leo Burnett Australia. Together over the last three years, we have been managing this brand throughout the world.

Ad Age: Why did you get involved? Why is this important to you?

Todd Sampson: We wanted to do something that would help with the serious issue of global warming. We also wanted to do something original and enduring. Now Earth Hour is like one of our children — everyone in the company has been a part of its evolution, and we are all proud of where we have ended up.

Ad Age: Do you see Earth Hour having a lasting effect globally? If so, how, and how would you envision that growing?

Todd Sampson:
It has already grown beyond our expectations. We would like Earth Hour to be a global pause encouraging people to think about their impact and, more important, actually do something to help. Switching off the lights symbolizes that action that we all could take in doing our part for the planet. Research locally has shown that this pause has resulted in further action to help make a difference. The idea of Earth Hour also doesn’t need to always be linked to lights (that’s why we didn’t call it “the big flick”) it could also be about other aspects of the environment. We designed it with this intent in mind. As a global brand, Earth Hour is only 3 years old a baby, really, with so much potential.

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