What if every time the police confiscated guns, those weapons were melted down and remade into something that benefited the people and communities who had been hurt by gun violence? That’s the premise of The Humanium Metal Initiative, a pro bono campaign from Stockholm creative agencies Great Works and Akestam Holst, which devised a business development strategy to brand melted down guns as a new precious metal. The project, which is now making metal from guns in central America, is the winner of the advertising category of Fast Company‘s 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards.
The ad for the program shows a new assembly line in progress: You see government authorities collecting guns and sending them to a foundry where they’re deconstructed and smelted into steel bars stamped with an invented periodic symbol that reads “Hu” for Humanium. The goal is to show how Humanium is “the world’s most valuable metal,” says Johan Pihl, a creative director at Great Works. “That is based on the metal’s capacity to help heal the wounds from illegal firearms in developing countries.”
To do so, the two ad companies coordinated with IM Swedish Development Partner, a nonprofit agency, to ensure that the weapon repurposing effort was publicly traceable and that all proceeds would go back to local partner organizations battling poverty and violence in the areas where the weapons came from. The commercial ends with a set of celebrity endorsements, from the Dalai Lama, former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, and Desmond Tutu.
The project launched in El Salvador and has since expanded to Guatemala. It’s also received support from the Swedish Foreign Ministry because it aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of more comprehensive arms control and promoting peace. In 2018, IM expects to add Honduras and Columbia to the supply chain, with other Latin American countries (many of which have high levels of gun violence) to follow. In the meantime, five Swedish companies and a handful of top designers have committed to making Humanium-based products, including couture watches, buttons, and candle holders. The effort is also in negotiation with a 3D-printing platform that would make the material available to companies and artists around the world. The goal is to prove the model with consumer products, and then move on to larger projects that require massive amounts of steel.
The initiative says it’s already used nearly 5,000 weapons from El Salvador to make three tons of Humanium, with another 10 tons expected this year. The total orders for the metal exceed $3 million, which the initiative will start funneling back to the El Salvadoran nonprofits by the end of the year.