By: Mathilde Badoud
Recently I had the chance to participate to the Sustainable Brands summit (SB) in Vancouver, a convention gathering more than 300 brand leaders of environmental and social innovation. Through workshops, presentations, plenary sessions, and networking events, “How to redesign The Good Life” was front and center, with particular detail and thought applied to happier and more sustainable lifestyles.
Many sustainable challenges were addressed, but one was especially present: plastic pollution. The complexity and interconnection of this problem necessitates complementary solutions and multi-stakeholder collaboration. The summit was an opportunity to meet passionate and inspiring brands. There were organizations developing creative ways to drive towards “The Good Life” through innovative products, proposing solutions to some of the greatest challenges we are facing (plastic pollution), and providing resources and information to help make more informed business and consumer decisions.
This holistic approach is fundamental to reduce plastic leakage in the ocean. A main cause of plastic entering the ocean is a lack of efficient waste management infrastructure. This challenge is compounded by being part of a system where actions are disconnected and materials that are difficult (physically and economically) to recycle, recover, and reuse within current recovery infrastructure continue to proliferate store aisles and shelves. There are a number of potential reasons to use such packaging formats, including functionality, shelf stability, product protection, aesthetics, and material costs, but the after-use impacts and opportunities in markets where products are being consumed should also be considered when designing products and packaging. Nevertheless, some of these single-use products could be easily replaced by sustainable alternatives.
Event attendees from the plastic manufacturing, packaging and consumer products sectors were engaged to learn and ensure their packaging captures circular principles. More broadly, private sector opportunity to address plastic pollution happens at many different levels. From the design and material used in products and packaging, to engaging in initiatives to ensure materials are correctly managed at end of use to avoid ending up in the ocean. But they have the power to do much more. To inspire people to the Good Life, private sector efforts should go beyond compliance and the technical goals to use the emotional power of their brands to promote aspirations that are in line with a healthier ocean and environment.
At Ocean Conservancy, we’ve been convening diverse stakeholders since 2012 through the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, where members from the private sector, NGOs, academics and trade associations gather to create resilient solutions to ocean plastic pollution through candid and genuine cross sector collaboration. To date, the Alliance has prioritized catalyzing waste collection and recycling in geographies where ocean plastic inputs are currently largest, recognizing it’s a critical piece to a circular economy and a truly holistic solution set.
People are masters of their consumption choices and are faced with endless decisions and purchasing options. To unlock sustainable and durable behaviors, sustainability needs to be addressed beyond the cause it represents: as a lifestyle. Therefore, private sector (and everyone, really) has responsibility and power to redefine a Good Life and help ensure a healthy ocean.
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