Letter to business on plastic waste: Here’s what happens if you don’t respond

This is the third in a four-part blog series exploring not just the problem with plastic, but the huge opportunity for business to take a positive stand in the face of the biggest environmental catastrophe of our time.

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In our second blog post, we explored some of the innovations currently being trialled to combat the volume of plastic we consume. Plus, we addressed the expectation that consumers should take more control of their use of plastic to actively reduce how much is used. 

But the counter argument remains strong. Shouldn’t businesses, governments and the not-for-profit sector be leading the charge?  

The damage caused by plastic stirs powerful emotions in us. And that increases consumer expectation for action. As the issue continues to take hold of our society, consumer pressure will continue to increase.

What’s fascinating is the translation of that consumer interest into a commitment to doing something positive for our planet. It has led to individuals spearheading campaigns, such as Natalie Fee who heads up Refill. The grassroots movement to install drinking fountains in cities has gained formidable traction, motivating city hall leaders across the UK, including Norwich, Brighton and London, to act.

Meanwhile, Surfers Against Sewage started as a group of individuals committed to cleaning our seas. With support from individuals in local communities up and down the UK, last year they held 680 beach cleans, with almost 35,000 volunteers clearing 100,000kg of rubbish from UK beaches. 

Then there’s the OneLess campaign which is urging people to use one less plastic bottle. It’s a campaign that demonstrates the value in working together, across sectors, to bring different and valuable skills and expertise. Fronted by Selfridges, ZSL and Thames Estuary Partnership, amongst others, OneLess is a great example of how non-profits and the private sector can come together to achieve more. 

On the flip side, other non-profits are great for turning up the heat. 

Longstanding online and off-line campaigns by Greenpeace continue to rally against Coca-Cola. The giant Plasticide statue, which took up residence outside the company’s Hammersmith offices last year, symbolised the current mood of protest against its production of single-use plastic bottles.

The campaigning has worked it seems; Coca-Cola now supports deposit return schemes (which it previously vowed not to endorse), and has recently announced a new, ambitious strategy to collect and recycle a bottle or can, for every one sold, by 2030.

As we progress through 2018, there will be hundreds of boardroom discussions trying to understand how business can take advantage of the current plastic debate.

Plastic is undeniably bad for our planet. The subject is dominating the global agenda and public consciousness. It has stirred human emotion like no other topic, and thankfully, action is already being taken.

And let’s be clear: There are huge advantages to taking positive action, not just for the environment, but for enhancing the reputation of businesses too.

But there’s also a huge risk to taking action that isn’t credible, or that is inauthentic and insincere – what you might call, classic greenwashing. We see regular examples of purpose-driven, values-led businesses appearing in the news agenda that have failed to deliver on their promises. Uber, United Airlines and PepsiCo are a few that spring to mind.

The risk is real. 

It’s easy to be opportunistic and set to work on a creative strategy to highlight the issue and the part your business is playing, such as using ocean plastic to create a one-off product line. If you can use this waste stream in your supply chain, why stop at just one product line? 

With so much energy and enthusiasm to do the right thing on plastic, it is vital that we channel that energy into action that will lay the foundations for long term, scalable solutions.

Victoria Page (Victoria Page Communications) and Tom Idle (Narrative Matters) are working with a number of organisations to help them understand the dangers and opportunities of plastics, and how to take a positive position through developing business strategy, communications and storytelling. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.