#PalmOilFreeChristmas and the politics of retail

This year’s most popular and memorable Christmas advert may well be the one which never made it on to our TV screens. Marketing tactic or not, Iceland’s banned advert should be praised for raising awareness of the havoc wreaked by the palm oil industry, and for prompting debate on the inevitably political nature of consumer choices.

What happened?

Iceland’s planned Christmas advert features a Greenpeace video of an animated orangutan emotively describing the destruction of its habitat by the palm oil industry. It ends with a pledge that palm oil will be phased out of all of Iceland’s own-brand products by the end of this year. Clearcast, the agency which clears ads for the UK’s commercial channels, prohibited it on the basis that it was too political. It appears they made this decision on the basis of this video being originally produced by Greenpeace. News of the ban has received widespread media coverage and the video has been viewed millions of times on social media.

Why is this important?

Public responses to the ban have highlighted that awareness of the prevalence of palm oil in common products remains low. This ad has the potential to make a real step towards addressing this.

More than half of all supermarket products, from bread to shampoo, contain the ingredient and it is often hidden under one of over 50 names (including vegetable oil, glyceryl and stearate) making it difficult for consumers to spot, let alone avoid. The more consumers know about the impacts of palm oil, the more they can expect and ask of retailers. As we have seen with the increased public awareness of ocean plastics, consumer attitudes are powerful drivers of market shifts.

The broader message resulting from the incident is that the regulator’s definition of what is ‘political’ is an inadequate one and one which is increasingly out of touch with consumer attitudes.

Increasing consumer interest in sustainability demonstrates a growing awareness that every choice we make in the market place is ultimately a political one; indeed, this is the case whether such a choice is made consciously or not. The Iceland advert is arguably political but so is every other advert shown on TV, every product stocked in every store, and every purchasing decision. The fact that adverts depicting consumerism as a demonstration of love are deemed unpolitical, while a reminder of the destruction consumerism can entail is considered too political to air, is both concerning and outdated.

Possible outcomes

It is undeniable that the outcry around the prohibition of this was almost certainly the intended result. However, regardless of cynicism as to the motives, Iceland should be praised for putting their head above the parapet and leading on the palm oil issue. This incident has significantly increased consumer awareness and can be hoped that more aware consumers will drive change from other retailers too.

More broadly, the fact that a major retailer chose to focus their Christmas ad on an environmental issue is a positive sign of changing times. This change reflects increased consumer demand for ethical products. Retailers must now act to provide for this demand. Where Iceland has led, others must follow.

Inevitably the issue is more complicated, and the neatness of the marketing tactics must not distract from much-needed follow-up conversations. Risks have been expressed that removing palm oil from products will lead to its replacement with other oils that are less productive and require greater land conversion from forest to plantation. Iceland’s ban on palm oil is just the first step of a process; the next steps must be ensuring the sourcing of truly sustainable alternatives. Furthermore, despite their market-leading work on palm oil, praise for this ad must not distract from Iceland’s overall need for further sustainability improvements.

For now, however, Iceland certainly deserves praise for innovatively raising awareness both directly of the environmental havoc wreaked by the palm oil industry, and indirectly of the politics of retail choices.

Seahorse hopes that that this is a sign of things to come, and that 2019 will see retailers across the sector make great strides in their responsible sourcing policy.

The World’s First WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health – a blueprint for action against the biggest environmental risk to public health

With every breath you take on a busy city street, you will unknowingly inhale approximately 20 million particles. Scientific evidence has shown that these particles can impact not only your body, but also your mind, causing between 28,000 and 36,000 premature deaths in the UK and over 7 million globally every year. It is clear that air pollution is a public health emergency for all nations.

WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health

With the need to address air pollution unsurprisingly gaining considerable attention, the World Health Organisation (WHO) timely held the world’s first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health last week. The three-day conference brought together government officials and health experts from over 100 countries, providing a consultation space and facilitating engagement between the two sectors. On its final day, the Conference called for urgent action on tackling air pollution in relation to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


By the end of the Conference, participants had set the aspirational goal of reducing the current 7 million deaths resulting from air pollution by two thirds by 2030. 81 additional pledges were also made by individuals, including from the UK. These pledges made, however, are all non-binding.

Seahorse Insight

Firstly, the Conference was organised in collaboration with the following:

·       The UN Environment

·       The World Meteorological Organisation,

·       The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants,

·       The UN Economic Commission for Europe,

·       The World Bank, and

·       The Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This multi-sector collaboration highlighted the urgency and importance of tackling air pollution due to the prestige and weight these bodies have. This collaboration importantly demonstrated how tackling air pollution requires engagement and efforts from a range of sectors; there is not silver bullet to the solution and, instead, stakeholders from ministries of health and beyond, local and national governments, nongovernmental organisations, donors and scientists need to cooperate to create a world free of toxic air pollution. 

The aspirational goal that was set, specifically to reduce the current 7 million deaths from air pollution by two thirds by 2030, has created a measurable target for countries to aspire to and provides context for the initial blueprint to achieving this important target. Although the UN SDGs cite targets of reducing the number of deaths resulting from air pollution (e.g. SDG 3.9 which calls for a substantial reduction in deaths and illness from air pollution), this is the first air pollution goal that has a quantified target. This importantly enables governments to measure their progress to meeting the goal, an essential stimulus for action.

Perhaps most interestingly, however, the Conference received hardly any significant press coverage. This is surprising when it’s the world’s first conference on the topic, attracted officials from over 100 countries, and set an aspirational goal to save millions of people. The lack of media coverage is especially apparent when you compare it to the coverage on the IPPC’s recent Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C. Importantly, however, air pollution and climate change are intrinsically linked. The solutions to this both of these crises complement each other; avoiding fossil fuels in transport and energy productions, stopping the burning of solid and agricultural waste, reducing the use of fertilisers in agriculture, and promoting cleaner and greener fuels and cities would keep warming within 1.5C as well as ensuring we can all breathe safe air. Therefore, if the Conference’s goal of reducing air pollution deaths by one third was met, it would help considerably with global climate change targets and so should not be undermined.

The UK’s commitment

In his closing address at the Conference, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, highlighted the importance of political will and intervention to solve the air pollution crisis; he thought that participants at the Conference have shown this drive and will be key for meeting the Conference’s goal of saving millions of lives.

So how do the UK’s credentials align with this statement?

At the Conference, the UK announced its commitment to ‘put in place a £3.5 billion plan to reduce harmful emissions from road transport and end the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040. Launch a 25 Year Environment Plan in 2018 and put in place legislation for a new Environment Act in 2019.’ All of these commitments are reiterations of previous announcements:

·       The £3.5 billion fund was announced in May 2018 as part of the Government’s response to a joint select committee report on Improving Air Quality.

·       The vehicle ban was announced in July 2017 as part of the plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. 

·       The plan for a new Environment Bill was announced in July 2018.  

Although these commitments offer nothing new, the Environment Bill could be a game-changer for the UK’s leadership in clean air; the Environment Bill will include air quality legislation, including potential air quality targets, with speculation that they may be more stringent than current targets set by the EU. This autumn, we are expecting the draft of the Environment Bill, which will outline the details of a new environment watchdog. We can then expect Government to outline further detail of the wider environmental aspects of the Bill, including clean air, in the next few months.

By putting air quality targets and a framework for setting them into legislation, the Environment Bill will be complementary to the Clean Air Strategy. The Government consulted on the Clean Air Strategy earlier this year and set out measures to achieve compliance with these air quality targets.

With WHO hosting the world’s first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, a milestone has been reached. The Conference engaged multiple sectors and set the measurable goal of reducing the number of deaths from air pollution by two-thirds by 2030, resulting in air pollution to be cemented onto the political agenda cross the world.  We have to wait to see what specific actions materialise and for the UK, it is these next six months that will be especially crucial in determining whether we are able to become a leader in tackling this air quality crisis.


Seahorse's Environmental Guide to Conservative Party Conference

This is Seahorse’s environmental guide to Conservative Party Conference. After a turbulent 12 months, CPC18 is set to be a packed four days with 100 stands, 450 events and 11,000 people.

We’ve sifted through the fringe guide to pick out the must-see events and set out the environmental announcements Gove could make to cement his title as one of the UK’s best Environment Secretaries.

To our delight, environmental announcements seem to be all the rage. In this week alone, Michael Gove called for the protection of 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 and Penny Mordant the Development Secretary committed £2 million for the protection of endangered species and The Global Plastic Action to avert the growth in plastic pollution by 2025. There is also a promising Agriculture Bill waiting to be debated in the Commons.

Credit to the government – these are very strong announcements. But the Labour Party showed at their Conference that they’re after the title for greenest party. They have pledged to boost low carbon jobs and to insulate the country’s inefficient homes with the hope of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This is a goal that over a hundred of cross-party MPs have rallied around but that government has yet to commit to. This has put Labour slightly ahead of the Conservatives, who, at this stage, have pledged to look into its feasibility and, as of today, will be joining the Coalition for Carbon Neutrality. 

So, what can the Conservatives do to win back first place, or have they come out too early this week to steal back the limelight?

A strong Environment Bill. We know it’s coming, and we’ve been promised a green watchdog, but how independent will it be, and will it hold government to account if it fails to meet its environmental obligations? What ambitious targets will we set to make our air and our water cleaner and to restore declining nature and wildlife across the UK? Will vital environmental principles be in the bill too?

A world leader on Electric Vehicles. Will the UK bring forward the ban on new diesel and petrol cars from 2040 to 2030, in line with other leading countries to show the ambition needed to stop deadly air pollution? Germany will phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2030; Norway and the Netherlands by 2025; and Scotland by 2032.

A sustainable fishing industry. We’ve been waiting to see a fisheries bill for a while now. The fishing sector has been made lots of promises, but so far, the white paper that was published last month is light on detail. What are we hoping for? Sustainability at the heart and better access to fishing opportunities for small scale fleets – they make up the majority of the UK’s fleet (79%) and have a much lower environmental impact.

The must-see conference events…

This year’s Conference contains an abundance of green fringe events, ranging from plastics and nature conservation to electric vehicles and decarbonisation. Amongst this sea of green, it would be easy to get lost. For the active environmentalists to the armchair activists, this is your reliable, go-to advice for the best conference experience. 


16:00 Greener UK in Conversation with Michael Gove

The first major fringe event you will not want to miss. Greener UK is bound to scratch beneath the surface of Gove’s promises for the Environment Bill and expose some of those much-needed specifics. Top tip: the event is RSVP only so make sure to contact pmcnamee@green-alliance.org.uk for the chance to go.

18:00 Conservative Environment Network (CEN) Reception at The National Sea Life Centre

Drink with the fishes and Michael Gove to get all the best environmental news and gossip.


8:00 How do you solve a problem like marine plastics? hosted by Tearfund, CFID and CEN

If you’re the plastic fanatic, wake up early to attend in the Hyatt Regency Soprano.

12:45 Our Planet: Restoring Nature after Brexit hosted by WWF

WWF’s event discussing how Brexit could be make the UK a leader in international efforts to protect the environment with Tony Juniper CBE (WWF), Amy Mount (Greener UK), Rebecca Pow (MP), Zac Goldsmith (MP) and David Wheeldon (Sky). Held at Hyatt Regency Dolce.

13:30 Accelerating the Transition to Electric Vehicles and Cleaner Air hosted by UK100 and CEN

Seahorse Managing Director, Isabella Gornall, joins Polly Billington, Neil Parish and Jonathan Cook to discuss the essential decarbonisation of the transport sector and how this can help clean up our toxic air. Held at Austin Court Boulton/Faraday Room.

14:30 Gove’s Speech

It is likely that Gove’s highly-anticipated speech will be around 14:30 in the Symphony Hall.

Top tip: beat the crowds of the Symphony Hall and come to the UK100 and CEN panel but keep informed about the best bits of Gove’s speech via Twitter through @GreenerUK_ and @Rebecca_Newsom Head of Politics at Greenpeace UK.

16:30 UK’s role in a new deal for global nature hosted by Seahorse Environmental Communications

Head over to Novotel Wedgwood Suite to hear this experienced panel including Rt Hon Justine Greening MP (former International Development Secretary), Zac Goldsmith MP, Dr Mike Barrett (Director of Science and Conservation at WWF) and Joanna Elliot (Senior Director Conservation Partnerships at Fauna and Flora International).

19:30 Sustainability Hub low carbon reception with Conservative Environment Network CEN reception in the Hyatt Regency Fortissimo to meet leading figures in the low carbon economy.

21:30 Brexit: Opportunities for Animal Welfare & The Environment Reception

Finishing on a high, follow CEN in joining the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, Zac Goldsmith and George Eustice for their joint reception in the Hyatt Regency Concerto


8:00 A Menu for a Sustainable and Healthy Future, hosted by the Vegan Society.

Start your day off early again in the ICC Executive Room 8, to delve into how the UK can produce food that can improve the nation’s health, be environmentally sustainable and remain affordable.

12:00 Earth, wind and fire: can clean energy really grow the economy? Hosted by The Spectator and Centrica.

Regardless of the impressively titled pun and the fact that gin and tonics are served to guests, this event looks to be an interesting one, with clean energy and economic growth hugely topical. Head to the Crowne Plaza Vista Suite.

15:45 Protecting Oceans, Reducing Plastic: In Conversation with Michael Gove.

To finish your conference experience, we recommend going to this Demos event in ICC Hall 8a. With Michael Gove and Lewis Pugh (UN Patron of the Oceans) confirmed as speakers, this event won’t shy away from discussing the state of our oceans and the vital protection that is needed to deliver a sustainable future.

So, with two days to go, we hope that you’re excited as us. 2018 has been a packed year for the environment, from Brexit forecasts to new Bills and promises. We anticipate that Conference will be just the same. Time to get packing.

Seahorse partners with The Seahorse Trust

Seahorse Environmental Communications is delighted to announce that we are partnering with The Seahorse Trust to provide assistance with their communications and media work.

The Seahorse Trust was founded in 1999 (backed up with founder Neil’s 41 years of seahorse expertise) to preserve and conserve the natural world, especially the marine environment, with the seahorse as its flagship species. The Trust makes a difference through education, conservation and campaigning for protected areas.

Seahorse Environmental Communications will be supporting the Seahorse Trust in raising public and political awareness around the issue of the illegal wildlife trade in seahorses (including the trade through online platforms such as Etsy) and around the need for a marine conservation zone in Studland Bay.

We look forward to working with The Seahorse Trust as they seek to protect and conserve the marine environment one seahorse at a time!

Seahorses under threat

A large number of seahorse species around the world are endangered as a result of threats including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, invasive species, as well as overfishing, illegal fishing and destructive fishing practices. A key threat is that posed by the trade in seahorses as curios, pets or for traditional medicine.

The extent of this exploitation has resulted in seahorses being placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are currently classified under Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT)

Every year The Seahorse Trust partner Save Our Seahorses in Dublin estimates that over 150 million seahorses are taken from the wild and traded illegally, for the curio and illegal medicine trades, severely reducing populations and threatening the integrity and diversity of ecosystems. The Seahorse Trust continues to campaign against the curio trade in all its forms, including the trade through online platforms such as Etsy, who have so far not responded to repeated requests to ban the sale of seahorses on their platform or comply with legal regulations whereby seahorse products must be CITES-certified.

Seahorse Environmental Communications will also be helping The Seahorse Trust to spread awareness of this campaign. The upcoming Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference being hosted by the UK Government in London in October 2018 looks set to be a key moment to boost public and political awareness of the illegal wildlife trade.

Studland Bay

Seahorses occupy most of the world’s coastal areas, including the British coastline where two species are found: the Spiny Seahorse (Hippocampus Guttulatus) and the Short Snouted Seahorse (Hippocampus Hippocampus), which are mainly found on the west and south coasts of the UK.

Studland Bay, Dorset, was home to a large colony of Spiny Seahorses and indeed was their only known UK breeding ground but is now suffering a major seahorse population decline as a result of anchoring and mooring damaging seahorses’ seagrass habitat. In 2008, the Seahorse Trust spotted 40 spiny seahorses, yet in May 2018 no sightings were recorded.

Studland Bay has been put forward by the Government in the third tranche of proposed Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and The Seahorse Trust hopes that this will help conserve and protect the declining seahorse population. Seahorse Environmental Communications will be helping The Seahorse Trust raise awareness and communicate with stakeholders around the need to protect this incredible haven for seahorses.

Isabella Gornall, Managing Director of Seahorse Environmental Communications said:

“We’re thrilled to formally collaborate with the Seahorse Trust who are wonderful advocates for this incredible, yet highly threatened, species. The team at Seahorse look forward to supporting them in their vitally important work especially leading up to the Illegal Wildlife Trade Summit next month and the development of Marine Conservation Zones in the UK.”

Neil Garrick-Maidment, Executive Director of the Seahorse Trust

“I am so proud and pleased to have Seahorse Environmental Communications as a partner with The Seahorse Trust and I am looking forward to working with the team on our projects not just here in the UK but around the world as well. Thank you to everyone involved and looking forward to a positive seahorse future.”

Seahorse Welcomes Costanza Poggi

Seahorse is thrilled to announce that Costanza Poggi has joined Seahorse as a Consultant. Costanza joins after three years as a policy adviser in the politics team of leading think tank Green Alliance. She has experience of collaborating with stakeholders across the sector to promote political leadership on the environment including on climate change, air pollution, Brexit, marine protection and low carbon trade. Before Green Alliance she worked as a research consultant for the International Institute for Environment and Development, focusing on the political economy of low carbon and climate resilient development. She holds an MA in Environment, Development and Policy and a BA in International Relations, both from the University of Sussex.

From prediction to observation: a change in climate change perception

With the Met Office confirming that summer 2018 was the joint hottest summer on record in the UK, Seahorse questions the impact this summer’s notorious heatwave has had on the way climate change is framed.  

Across the Northern Hemisphere, summer 2018 has been characterised by extraordinary climatic extremes, from soaring temperatures to persistent droughts and devastating wildfires. The heatwave has had severe and extensive impacts on human health, agriculture, nature and infrastructure: there were 663 more deaths than average in England and Wales during June and July, whilst consistent water shortages and hot temperatures have caused alarm over crop yields and livestock vitality.

Due to its extremity, the heatwave received a great deal of media attention, beginning towards the end of June when temperatures started to soar across Europe. According to preliminary research by the World Weather Attribution consortium of scientists, this summer’s heatwave was made more than twice as likely by human-caused climate change. The media, however, initially portrayed the heatwave as a result of an unusually weak jet stream, without highlighting any possible links between climate change and the weather we were experiencing. Over time, however, there was a shift in the media’s narrative. Climate change began to be presented as a key cause with even traditionally climate sceptic media outlets, such as the Sun and the Daily Mail, citing the link.

The extreme weather of summer 2018 is in line with climate model predictions, namely that a warmer world will experience more extreme weather. In contrast to remarkably persistent views of climate change as a distant threat, this summer’s extreme weather provided clear evidence that the consequences of climate change are materialising on our doorstep, with serious consequences for human health, livelihoods and the natural environment. It would have been difficult to avoid observing the persistence and unusualness of this summer’s weather, and it inevitably became a key topic of conversation, as evidenced by the increased media interest. So, what might the long-term impact of this summer’s weather be on our framing of the climate change debate? And will this translate into strengthened action?

Primarily, the first-hand observation of the impacts of climate change and warming within the UK this summer has made it increasingly difficult for climate change to be solely termed in the language of prediction; observational data can now add to the framing of the climate change conversation here.

This shift from solely prediction to both prediction and observation in our framing of climate change is key in promoting action and communication. Predictions inherently involve some degree of statistical uncertainty, which makes them subject to scrutiny for various reasons and with various motives.  In the case of climate change, the degree of scrutiny plaguing discussions has often served to hinder much-needed action. Observations, on the other hand, cannot be refuted to the same degree as predictions – it is much harder to deny what is clearly happening around us. Observations from this summer’s heatwave therefore act as vital wake-up calls. In demonstrating that climate change has arrived, this heatwave has increased awareness of the lack of climate change resilience and adaptation currently in place, across both the UK and the world.

Climate change is no longer a future phenomenon framed only within predictions. Instead, it is a present-day threat that we are observing with our own eyes. With its record-breaking temperatures and deadly droughts, summer 2018 has ultimately shifted the way we can discuss climate change and its threats. This heatwave has refocused lost minds and engaged new ones in the fight for action against climate change. Seahorse hopes that once autumn arrives and we experience the inevitable cooler weather, this summer’s irrefutable display of the abnormal changes in our climate system are not forgotten and that the chorus of calls for essential action on climate change continues to grow.

Michael Gove Praises Seahorse MD on Clean Air Essay

The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has praised Isabella Gornall, Managing Director of Seahorse for her "Brilliant Essay" on how the Government could tackle the air quality crisis in the UK. The essay, 'Driving Towards a Smog-Free Britain' is part of a new collection from the Centre For Policy Studies on 'New Blue- Ideas for a New Generation' with other contributions from  Ben Bradley MP, Simon Clarke MP, Helen Whatley MP and Bim Afolami MP. 

Holmes Report 'New agency from the Gornall family'

LONDON — Isabella Gornall, who previously headed specialist environmental practice Maitland Green, has set up a new agency, Seahorse Environmental Communications. The firm launches with four clients including Greener UK and World Wise Foods and an advisory council including DEFRA board member Ben Goldsmith. Alastair Gornall, chairman of Hanover Communications, is the new agency’s non-executive chairman.

The Seahorse that Launched 1,000 Campaigns

In September 2017, photographer Justin Hofman revealed an image that sent shockwaves around the world and seemed to almost uniquely capture our collective imagination. A tiny seahorse clings on to a plastic cotton bud as it drifts through the waters surrounding Indonesia. The striking contrast between the purity and beauty of the seahorse and the disposability of the cotton bud clearly communicated the existential threat posed to the natural environment by our unthinking everyday actions and further opened the eyes of the world to the need for change.

The past year has seen an encouraging increase in public awareness around environmental threats, most notably an upwelling of concern about the catastrophic impact of marine plastic pollution. Images such as Hofman’s, not to mention the phenomenal global success of Blue Planet II, have been critical in generating this awareness. The public, governments and major corporations alike have been quick to respond in seeking ways to protect and enhance our natural environment.

In the past week alone, we have seen Iceland committing to end palm oil use in their own brand products, Waitrose removing disposable coffee cups in store, Apple moving to 100% renewable energy, the world’s largest wind turbines installed and the UK Government introducing a ban on live exports of animals. While recent commitments from these corporations and governments should certainly be commended, there are still frustrations felt from the lack of ambition and action. A notable example this week, when the UK Government revealed that cuts to their scheme to insulate Britain’s draughtiest homes mean it would take 400 years to complete. Clearly, this is not a sustainable solution nor the most effective way for the UK to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

The photographer Justin Hofman wrote about his now world-famous seahorse saying, ‘It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it.’ This quote resonates not just with marine life but with many aspects of the natural environment and the need for clear, impactful communications to mobilise the public and decision-makers.

That is why we are today launching Seahorse Environmental Communications, a new specialist consultancy which will design and execute political campaigns and communications programmes that enhance both the natural environment and the commercial success of our clients.

The environmental impact of any organisations’ activities is now of major and growing importance to consumers, governments, shareholders and NGOs. As a result, every organisation needs to plan and manage their environmental impact and strategically communicate this to all stakeholders. This demands specialist advice from people who understand the environmental community matched with top level communications skills and first-hand experience of how governments, parliaments, civil servants, shareholders and consumers operate, think and behave. This is the market where Seahorse Environmental Communications will operate.

At Seahorse, we’re driven by our passion for enhancing the natural environment and tackling climate change. We provide expert policy advice, impactful communications programmes and winning campaigns for clients who share our vision for a cleaner, greener, more sustainable tomorrow.

If you have an issue you would like to discuss with us do please get in touch at info@seahorsecomms.co.uk.