Shared learning and action to reduce plastic waste

On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, The Terrace hosted a diverse group of people to talk about plastic waste and the circular economy. The evening kicked off with an interview with Leontine Gast, founder of The Terrace, followed by a roundtable discussion on plastic waste in our lives, led by Nelmara Arbex, CEO of Arbex & Company.

The past and future of plastic

Leontine Gast is an expert on bringing purpose to business. At this event, she was interviewed by her colleague Marjolein Baghuis. Leontine has worked in sustainability for over two decades, including ten years as the founder and managing director of The Terrace, the agency for positive change. She has contributed to a more circular economy through her work with companies and other types of organizations. Her top tips from that experience regarding plastic waste target both users and producers of products that contain plastics. Consumers need to be much more aware; once they really understand what they are buying, they will make different choices. Producers need to continue to pioneer solutions and share their learnings. Not just solutions related to waste streams, but also as early as product design; i.e. with design for disassembly such as Ahrend’s vision on office furniture. For the years ahead, one of Leontine's dreams is that we’ll find a way to consume and produce less stuff – and better stuff – including a reduction in the amount of plastic we create. Other dreams include the transition to renewable energy and a switch to a more plant-based diet.

Sharing issues and questions on plastic waste

After the interview, Nelmara Arbex led a roundtable discussion on plastic in our lives. We all agreed that there is a role for plastic is our lives (to protect food, to store cosmetics, etc), but that its use had really gotten out of hand. For all of us, our awareness of the plastic problem started with an eye-opening moment. Bananas individually wrapped in plastic, bottled water in countries with excellent tap water, plastic littered beaches, a shampoo bottle in the middle of the jungle. But also by simply separating plastic from the other household waste, and being shocked that this was more than half of our waste. We shared our ways to avoid plastic waste as much as possible, such as:

  • Bring your own bags to the supermarket, even for fresh produce;
  • Carry your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug;
  • Making more food and other household items from scratch;
  • Collecting plastic waste separately;
  • Influencing peers to start recycling plastic.

We also shared the many questions we had regarding plastic. For some we found answers (in italics), others remain unanswered, such as:

  • Can biodegradable plastics be recycled with other plastics? No, please put them with your organic waste.
  • How much plastic is recycled in our city (Amsterdam) and what actually happens to it? Amsterdam's citizens collect only 8% of plastics separately. After sorting, cleaning, and shredding, recycled plastic are turned into new products like fleece sweaters, toys, furniture, and pipes.
  • Why are the ingredients for food and clothing spelled out in detail, but those for packaging nowhere to be found?
  • Where can I buy groceries without superfluous plastic packaging?
  • How to balance food waste with plastic packaging to keep it fresh longer?

Supporting behaviour change beyond rules and regulations

We also wondered what kind of regulation exists on packaging. New EU legislation is on its way, but we also realized that rules and rational information alone will not change our behavior. We need to appeal to emotions, feelings, and instincts in people to help drive change. Some of our recommendations include:

  • Teach sustainability as a topic in school at every level;
  • Make it easy and practical for consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics, potentially through interactive apps to support recycling or to help you find places to shop with less packaging;
  • Label products not only with calories and food content but also with a waste indicator to make people aware;
  • Leverage emotional storytelling on plastic waste to generate more awareness;
  • Ask CEOs to live without plastic for a week and to share their learnings publically;
  • Involve celebrities to make it aspirational to turn your back on today’s throwaway culture.

It was great to meet like-minded people at this event. Thank you for your active participation in the discussion Jacobien Crol, Nierika Hamaekers,  Frank Kohl, Sari Kuvaja, James Rowbotham, Kajsa Rosenblad, and Tal Ullmann. All with a strong belief that we can have an impact, each with a strong personal motivation to create positive change!

This blog was written by Marjolein Baghuis to share the outcome of the roundtable discussion on the OpenIDEO platform. It also appears on the website of Changeincontext.com. 


Join the OpenIDEO plastics circular design challenge on May 23!

Love them or hate them, plastics are everywhere around us. In fact, demand for plastics is expected to double in the next 20 years. Yet our plastics system is broken. Most plastic items are used only once before being discarded. Only 14% is recycled, meaning a loss of USD 80-120 billion per year to the global economy. One-third of all plastic packaging escapes collection systems and ends up – inadvertently or not – as litter in the environment.

If nothing changes, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

So, how do we fix this? If we want to free our oceans from plastics, we have to fundamentally rethink the way we make and use plastic items so that they don’t become waste in the first place. That’s why we are inviting you as citizens, consumers, designers, scientists, entrepreneurs to find solutions that keep plastics in the economy and out of the ocean.

"Join us on Tuesday, May 23 from 5 to 7 pm at The Terrace offices in Amsterdam to explore how to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics in our personal - and professional - lives."

Around 5:30 pm, Leontine Gast, founder and managing partner of The Terrace, will kick off the event, showcasing some of the circular economy projects in which she has been involved.

We will then continue with a more personal exploration around the plastic in your life. How much plastic waste do you generate per day? How much of it are you able to reuse, recycle or upcycle? Plastic is collected separately in most of the Netherlands, but not even 50% of plastic is recycled. Why do you think that is? When you confirm that you're joining us, we'll send you a plastic waste diary to keep for a few days ahead of the event.

Nelmara Arbex (Arbex & Company) and Marjolein Baghuis (The Terrace) will facilitate the dialogue and discussion around plastics in an energizing way. At the end of the session, as a group, we'll create something to share with other people participating in this circular design challenge around the world.

 

Sign up and we'll see you there!

Sign up by sending an email to hello@theterrace.nl, so we can send you the plastic waste diary and more details. And ensure that we have plenty of drinks and snacks! We look forward to welcoming you at WG Plein 153-156, Amsterdam.

This event is a voluntary contribution to OpenIDEO, IDEO's open innovation portfolio, empowering people to design solutions to the world's toughest challenges, and working with partners around the world to bring these solutions to life. From May 18 - May 28, people around the world will be designing experiences that reimagine how we get products to people without creating plastic waste. 


In search of purpose for Fairphone: the power of purpose for brands

To really connect with consumers, brands can no longer present a facade and sell. To thrive, brands need to create an emotional connection with people, stemming from a clear brand purpose. A purpose that addresses a real societal issue and that strives to create a movement to resolve this issue. In May 2017, we organized an event about purpose marketing at Fairphone, a social enterprise that makes the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone. The event was organized by the Nyenrode Business University Alumni Circle for Sustainability, in collaboration with the Alumni Circle for Marketing & Digital. Here are some of the key outtakes from the event on purpose marketing.

Creating a fair phone isn't easy

Lina Ruiz, Fairphone's strategic partnerships and events manager, kicked off with an introduction to Fairphone's mission: making a positive impact in how phones are made, used and recycled. Interestingly, she used a video by Milton Friedman  to explain the complexity of supply chains. She then shared Fairphone goal of creating positive social and environmental impact from the beginning to the end of a phone’s life cycle. They do this in four ways.

Fairphone's long-lasting design creates products that last and that are easier to repair. The design helps people understand how to get more years out of the device and move away from the mindset that consumer electronics are semi-disposable objects.

Fairphone traces where the parts come from and therefore creates demand for fair materials that are good for people and planet. One material at a time, Fairphone strives to increase awareness and source better ingredients for their devices.

Fairphone wants to improve working conditions in the electronics sector. With experts, NGOs and other partners, they develop innovative programs to improve worker satisfaction and representation. 

 

To progress towards a circular economy, Fairphone encourages the reuse and recycling of electronics. Withspare parts and recycling programs, they support both consumers and producers. 

The power of purpose for brands

Consumers are increasingly oversaturated with advertising messages. Brands constantly try to sell themselves with beautiful messages, but not all of them are authentic. No wonder the Edelman Trust Barometer shows an implosion of trust in business. At the same time, people look to business to be drivers of change for a better society. From brands, people demand something they can relate to, authenticity and higher ethical standards. The brands that succeed are therefore those that offer shared value for both society and business. That have a purpose that truly connects their business to societal issues in a relevant way. Some companies, like chocolate maker Tony's Chocolonely and transportation company AirHunters, had a clear societal purpose from the start. Tony's wants to abolish slavery in the cocoa industry. Airhunters wants to decrease the carbon footprint and congestion caused by suboptimal transportation. Their brands, therefore, radiate their respective purpose very clearly. Other older and larger companies, like Unilever and Heineken, seem to have veered further from their original purpose but are redefining purpose for their brands with great success. Year on year, Unilever's purpose brands like Dove, Lifebuoy and Ben & Jerry's, outgrow the other brands by 30%.  And Heineken's responsible consumption campaign with DJ Armin van Buren created a global movement of DJs urging people to dance more and drink slowly.

Guiding brands toward purpose

Using the purposeful positioning model developed by The Terrace, the participants then got to work on Fairphone's positioning. The model helps companies and brands find their purpose through an outside-in approach.

1) What are external societal issues that a brand can or should address, such as environmental problems, social issues, latent consumer needs, stakeholder issues and true customer needs?

2) Through the lens of those key issues, how can a brand create shared value? Where are the opportunities for impact or societal value? And how can it create business value in parallel?

3) Who are the people to engage and keep in mind? Through the shared value angle, who are the people that will use the brand? With whom would the brand compete? And which parties are potential collaborators striving for the same societal value?

4) What does the brand really stand for? What are the brand's key benefits, personality, promise and the reasons to believe? This is often more comfortable territory for the marketer.

5) Why is the brand really here? What is the brand's true purpose? The heart of the model brings together the input and perspectives from the previous steps. Once that purpose is distilled and chosen, then go back from the inside out to refine all elements in the model.

Collaboration for positive change

Combining the forces of Nyenrode's sustainability and marketing alumni and their guests, the group came up with various alternate business models. Each stemming from a different angle on the purpose that Fairphone could adopt. Therefore each leading to quite different engagement strategies and tactics. The conclusion of the evening was that there are many opportunities for Fairphone to further focus its purpose and marketing tactics. Even with limited time, the group came up with very actionable ideas, which were gratefully received by the Fairphone team. The other conclusion was that crafting purpose takes more time than the 30 minutes we had available in the context of this workshop - and that is was incredibly inspiring for all involved! Over drinks, the participants continued to talk for hours, sharing how they could put more purpose into their own brands and lives.

A big thank you to Fairphone for hosting this event, to the many people who participated so actively and to the many people involved from the Nyenrode Alumni Circles for Sustainability and Marketing & Digital. Interested in finding out more about purpose marketing, please contact Marjolein.

This blog was originally written by Marjolein Baghuis (@MBaghuis) and Tim Mazajchik (@tmaz85) for the Nyenrode University Alumni website. It has also been posted on the websites of Heartbeat Strategy and Change in Context.


Bioplastics: when innovation empowers abundance, La Coppa

Plastics are indispensable to our daily lives. They come in every colour and shape, light, strong, resistant, tremendously useful for every person and industry. Plastics have come to stay.

The vast majority of plastics are oil-based. Around 4% of the oil that the world uses every year goes into producing plastics. Their composition has been both its strength and its weakness. The challenges of climate change and fossil fuel scarcity are putting the plastics industry under pressure. In addition, the ever-growing and widespread plastic waste problem is no longer possible to ignore.

In this setting, bioplastics are a great alternative allowing both for high-quality performance and widespread use while having a reduced environmental impact.

Bioplastics are totally or partly made from biomass (plants), mostly corn, sugarcane or cellulose plant fibers. Although there are several varieties of bioplastics, only a few are fully made of renewable, natural resources. The 100% plant-based plastics are the only variety that at the end of their useful life will decompose into water, carbon and compost (i.e. are compostable/ biodegradable). Ideally, the decomposition will take place at an industrial facility and will be catalysed by fungi, bacteria and enzymes, leaving no toxic particles or harmful substances behind.

New materials such as PLA, PHA or starch-based materials create truly bio-compostable packaging solutions.

Closing the loop on plastics

Advanced Technology Innovations, a company that provides innovative packaging solutions for food and beverages, developed a system for coffee cups made of plant-based plastics (PLA), namely produced from the residue of sugarcane and sugar beet.

One of our clients, LaCoppa coffee adopted this innovation showing their leadership in sustainable packaging in the consumer goods industry.

The fully compostable coffee capsule can be used in espresso machines, proving that it is possible to replace petroleum-based and aluminium coffee capsules with a fully functional, more sustainable alternative that should be widely adopted.

     

Others leading the change

Many industries are already using bioplastics. Not only traditional industries, such as food packaging but also automotive, electronics and textiles. Several leading brands, such as Tetra Pak, Ecover and Danone are investing in new bioplastics solutions. Unexpected partnerships are also arising: Heinz approached Ford about possible uses for its tomato waste. Ford was already using bioplastics based on soy and coconut for its auto components, carpeting and seat fabrics; why not explore the use of ketchup bi-products to develop a more sustainable bioplastic material? Specifically, it is expected that this new bioplastic could be used in wiring brackets and material for onboard vehicle storage bins.

Work in progress

While great opportunities and fast growth await bioplastics, this is a work in progress.

For bioplastics to become a truly sustainable alternative both the industry and governments need to make technical adjustments to the current waste streams to allow for an adequate treatment of bioplastics. Otherwise these will end up in the landfill.

Engagement with the final consumer is also crucial to promote education on bioplastics and recycling. Consumers should avoid contaminating plastic waste recycling with bioplastics, as it will compromise the plastic recycling process.

Finally, in order to gain widespread support, the bioplastics industry should increasingly use food waste residues (from pineapple fibers to shrimp shells), non-food crops or cellulosic biomass, leading to decreased land-use demand by the industry. Innovative alternatives are endless.

The future of plastics

Biodegradable bioplastics are a growing niche market. According to European Bioplastics, the global bioplastics production capacity is set to grow 300% by 2018. This growth will lead to a new generation of plastics, where abundance of plastics is powered by innovation. Oh, and it is sustainable!