Licensing, a force of nature | Tracey Richardson explores partnerships with environmental purpose

Licensing, a force of nature | Tracey Richardson explores partnerships with environmental purpose

Happy New Year, and we should all make an effort to make it so, irrespective of the news we are bombarded with! Because, there is good news out there, especially in the world of licensing, where Partnerships with Purpose are driving positive environmental action, communication, and education.

Many of our favourite character brands are taking up causes, engaging their fanbase, and using their unique voice to raise awareness, encourage behaviour change, and increase financial support for relevant causes.

Those of you that know me well will easily identify the key word in the previous sentence. That’s right, relevant! My first mantra, with any partnership, is FIT. To have credibility the “voice must ring true” to effectively engage with the audience and drive change.

A few examples to celebrate this trend spring to mind.

The Sustainability in Licensing Conference 2022 received the support of original eco-activists The Wombles, who were brought out of hibernation in 2022 to spread their positive message of local environmentalism. The appearance followed The Wombles supporting the UK Government’s Together for Our Planet campaign ahead of COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 where they encouraged us all to go #OneStepGreener

The Wombles first appeared in a book published in 1968, and subsequently were on TV between 1973–1975. A new series of 52 episodes was launched in 1996, with three new characters. For those of you not old enough to remember, The Wombles are creatures that live underground, collecting and recycling human rubbish. We can all agree, they were significantly ahead of their time!

What a great example, credibility of character to message, engaging a multi-generational audience, and clear, practical advice which we can all follow.


A really significant and ambitious example is Spongebob Squarepants – Operation Sea Change to tackle ocean plastic pollution. Terrific fit once again, with a love of the ocean at his heart, the character himself was created by a marine biologist (watch out for this question at the next Light Fund Quiz)!

The multi-year initiative is designed to fund global clean up works, promote sustainable products, and educate millions of fans, to help protect the undersea home of all creatures, including the world’s favourite sponge.

To deliver the programme Paramount has partnered with NGO experts in the field: Surfers Against Sewage, Coral Restoration Foundation, Work, Plastic Oceans and Waterfront Partners of Baltimore.

This deftly brings me to my second mantra of partnerships UNIQUE SKILLS/EXPERTISE, each partner does what it does best in the team, working to a common goal, thus delivering the maximum possible impact by working together: “2+ heads are better than one”

The joy that is Aardman’s world was enhanced during Christmas 2021 with the arrival of Robin Robin to the cast of endearing characters. From the outset a partnership was developed with the RSPB, a natural fit.

Initially a partnership to celebrate the launch of the animation on Netflix inspiring families to discover robins and other wildlife around them, the second year sees RSPB hosting Robin Robin adventure trails on over 30 of its nature trails across the UK. These fun-filled trails will allow the whole family to experience the festive joy of Robin Robin, all while spending time in the great outdoors.

RSPB nature reserves with shops will have Robin Robin books, soft toys, felt sets, an exclusive Robin Robin pin badge and products on offer to help families look after robins and other wildlife at home this winter.

You guessed it, this neatly brings me to my third mantra of partnerships: DOES IT HAVE LEGS (OR WINGS IN THIS CASE)? When researching and discussing potential partnerships, it is always a good idea to think beyond the immediate opportunity to how it can grow and develop over time, driving greater value to all. Improving the Effort x Result = Reward equation.

Some partnerships can offer the opportunity to create NEW characters. Little Miss Waste Less being an excellent example. At 50+ years old the Mr Men and Little Miss brand is renowned for expanding its family, adding relevance and value to its fans. A partnership with Ecover was the perfect backdrop to create a new character: educating the public about the brand, driving engagement and reaching a family audience very effectively, adding value to new and existing customers.

The message here is a general one – helping families fight plastic waste in general, whilst introducing Ecover as a brand that exemplifies this by reusing and refilling their bottles when they are empty – encouraging new customers to buy the product!

Fourth mantra alert! “WIN, WIN, WIN” It is essential that each partners objectives are understood by all involved from the outset, are clear and achievable, this will drive true commitment to the cause and greater success with the target audience.

One example in this genre of partnerships I’m personally proud of is between IFLScience, SHO Reuseable and One Tree Planted. IFLScience were looking for a partner in the ecological sphere, essential for the fanbase to get easily and actively involved and to make a real measurable difference.

I suggested One Tree Planted as the charity partner, as that is exactly what they do – plant trees. SHO Reusable, is an online reusable drinks bottle retailer, a great product for the audience and had already established a range of licensed designs. For each bottle sold a tree would be planted and IFLScience pledged to double this, so two would be planted for each bottle sold.

I’ll leave it to one of the partners in this campaign to provide my summary!

“We’re thrilled to be working with like-minded organisations to make a positive difference to the environment. The campaign is perfectly aligned with our mission at IFLS.”

Michele Kuprewicz, Head of Retail and Licensing, IFLScience

I’d be delighted to learn of more about partnerships you are involved with to feature in my articles  and very happy to help PoC members explore ideas/ambitions you may have in this area, not just as part of my role as Ambassador of Partnerships, but because it is what I love to do.

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