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Catherine Weetman 01:05
It’s episode 108. Welcome back to the second part of my wide ranging conversation with Sian Sutherland, co founder of a plastic planet and plastic free.com. In this episode, Sian explains why instead of seeing a miserable picture ahead of us, we can reinvent a better, brighter future. As Sian says, “By fixing the plastic crisis, we’ll fix so much else.” Sian Sutherland, an award winning serial entrepreneur across several industries wants to ignite social change. A plastic planet is one of the most recognised and respected organisations tackling the plastic crisis. And plastic free is the first materials and systems solution platform for global creatives.
Catherine Weetman 01:54
At the United Nations plastic treaty negotiations this year, Sian and A Plastic Planet partnered with the Plastic Soup Foundation to launch the Plastic Health Council. This brings experts scientists to the United Nations plastics treaty negotiating process to highlight the impact of plastic chemicals on human health. These days, we find plastic in almost every part of our lives. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best or only solution. Many of those people who resist the idea of a move away from plastics tell us that it’s a fantastic material. That plastic products help us solve all kinds of challenges. The plastics industry spends millions on promoting plastic as the perfect material for 1000s of products being cheap, lightweight, clean, and convenient. But we’re becoming more aware of serious downsides for our health, and for the health of our living planet. On social media, you can see people cherry picking examples of plastics used in medical and safety products, such as syringes, personal protective equipment, PPE, safety glasses, glasses, life jackets, and so on. I’ve noticed most of these people are in roles that depend on the continued use of plastics. But the examples they list aren’t the whole picture. And is not a given that those examples are of plastics that are safe in use, or safe at the end of use. What’s more, those examples don’t mean that we should just go along with the continued expansion of single use plastics, and other plastics. Instead, let’s find better ways to design products, packaging and systems to meet the needs of people planet and profit. So we leave a better world for the generations who come after us.
Catherine Weetman 03:54
In the first conversation, which went out in Episode 107, we discussed the new plastic free.com solutions platform for creatives, showcasing plastic free materials and products such as the degenerative sneaker, we moved on to greenwash on why Sian thinks the world would recyclable should be banned. Then we explored the importance of understanding chemistry. To help designers and material technologists get clear on the good and bad aspects of chemical processes. Then we discussed some of the latest scientific advances that point to linkages between plastics and a wide range of serious health conditions. In this episode, we discuss neuro marketing, some of the uses of microbeads and micro capsules that you might not know about, and why systems change is even more important than changing the materials. Sian tells us about the work of the reusable packaging coalition, founded by another podcast guest Jo Chidley. We ask why big companies are finding it so difficult to break away from those last century systems take make use and dispose, and how those businesses risk becoming irrelevant. Following in the footsteps of Kodak, disrupted by better solutions. We rejoin with Sian talking passionately about why it’s up to all of us to reinvent our future. And at the end, I’ll be back with my usual roundup of what I took away from both parts of the wide ranging and inspiring conversation with Sian.
Sian Sutherland 05:38
We invent the future, we have to reinvent the future and create a very different picture of this positive, bright, optimistic, exciting future, that I feel a personal responsibility to create that vision and help build a roadmap towards it. Because I didn’t grow up with the Armageddon, miserable picture of the future that my sons now have. And I feel an absolute responsibility, because I’ve been such a big part of the problem for my entire life, really, of hyper consumption and the just the way that we live believing more and more and more stuff is going to make us happy. And I think we all have a responsibility now, to paint a picture of a different future.
Catherine Weetman 06:25
I think you’re absolutely right. And you know, that the story that we tell ourselves that more stuff is gonna make us happier. That’s not a story that we invented. In our own minds. It’s, you know, it’s how marketing pitches things to us. And I won’t go into another one of my my rants about about marketing, but I’ve started bookmarking, you know, interesting articles about, there’s even even a thing called neuro marketing. Wow. So, yeah, lots another interesting, interesting subject. Yeah, absolutely.
Sian Sutherland 07:02
But one, one great book, if you haven’t read it, you would love the Day the World Stopped Shopping by JB McKinnon, who is a Canadian journalist, he also wrote the 100 mile diet. And I was fortunate enough to interview him a couple of years ago. And he he we talked about exactly this, obviously, for the minute, we are both busy. He was saying, Don’t feel guilty about being a consumer. Because the minute you are born, we are bred to consume. So we are the people that can step off that hamster wheel of I gotta wear more in order to buy more and live the life that I believe will make me happy. The people that have the bravery to step off that I think a really phenomenal I still get a little buzz when I buy something. And I would love to imagine that I could be brave enough one day to step off that consumerist train treadmill?
Catherine Weetman 07:58
Well, just going back to the neuro marketing, the dopamine buzz comes from the anticipation of buying not from the actual buying and wearing it Greenpeace did some work on how long the shopping buzz actually lasts. And it’s about 20 minutes or something that you know, the feel good from the anticipation of what’s going to arrive. And by the time it arrives. That buzzes that buzzes dead. Yeah.
Sian Sutherland 08:25
You’re on to the next thing. Yeah. Somebody said to me once, I’m going to develop this new little thing for Amazon, which when you click Buy, now, there’s a little drop down and it says, Buy now buy tomorrow, buying a week, buy in a month, or from a friend. Yes. That would be flippin genius, because I am also that person, maybe on a clothing website, that I’ll put things in a basket, and then I’ll think I’m not going to buy. And then tomorrow, if I really, really, really want them, then maybe I will. And it’s the nominal, how few times you go back.
Catherine Weetman 09:00
Exactly. And that I think that was the advice from Greenpeace was to was to do exactly that. And, yeah, I think that there are you know, people feel that there’s so much to do that it’s overwhelming. And as we said, the danger is that people get stuck. But I found with the changes that I’ve made, they I get this kind of, you know, a repeat buzz from every time we do that thing. And one of them coming coming back to chemicals and micro plastics. I didn’t realise until recently that there are microplastics in things like fabric conditioner. You know, I kind of thought that in cosmetics, it’s the which I don’t buy. It’s the beads for scrubs and things like that. So you would kind of know that they were there, but it’s not and they’re they’re for all sorts of other reasons.
Sian Sutherland 09:49
98% of all personal care products show
Catherine Weetman 09:54
these little capsules of containing, you know, other chemicals and
Sian Sutherland 09:59
yeah They’re invisible. So, so when obviously, my background is skincare, so I know how it how it works to give skincare, like a moisturiser, a wonderful feel, you need thickness, electrolytes, they’re plastic. So that’s why 98% To give you this extraordinary feel Premium Luxury 98% of all products on the market do contain microplastics. It’s not the scrubby bits, no. So when you get the European Union now saying we need to ban them, then we realise that it’s an extraordinary move. It’s not those little hand washes with scrubby bits for gardeners, which people always thought it’s actually so much more insidious than that plastic is everywhere. It’s in the paint on our walls, in coatings everywhere. You’re right, even seeds are encapsulated in plastic. So it is phenomenal. Hell this incredible, but toxic and indestructible material has infiltrated itself into every single aspect of our lives.
Catherine Weetman 11:01
Yes, you so right. And yeah, I think it’s finding those simple things that you can do that get that get you started. So in terms of the fabric conditioner. I was shocked when I read that. But I wasn’t too worried because for several years, we’ve swapped a fabric conditioner for vinegar. In the washer we buy in bulk cartons. Yes, they’re plastic cans, but they do go in the recycling. Hopefully they end up being recycled. But much, much cheaper. Your clothes don’t smell of vinegar, because it all gets rinsed out. And you avoid the need for expensive fabric conditioner. And all those chemicals that you’re putting into the, into the rivers afterwards.
Sian Sutherland 11:44
Is that a miracle ingredient?
Catherine Weetman 11:46
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we use it, you know, for spray cleaners. And, yeah, it’s, and it’s another one of those things that we had a perfectly good solution. But then some markets have found a way of telling us that this was going to be slightly better. And we all believed it. So that brings us on to a concept of yours that I really want to unpack a bit more that of permanent packaging. So help unpack that a bit for us, please,
Sian Sutherland 12:17
Brent. So when we talk about plastic free championing the materials of the future, the materials that are available at scale. Now, we also want to talk about what’s the system’s change. So in the last six years, we have taken more resource from the planet than in the entire 20th century. That’s such a shocking thought to me. We all know you know, world overshoot your Earth Overshoot Day. Earth Overshoot Day, is getting earlier and earlier every year. I think last year, it was something like the 22nd of July. If you take that by country, then in the UK Earth Overshoot Day for the UK is in March. So we are literally taking the resources from our children’s future, making stuff with them today, selling them today and calling it GDP. So for me any opportunity where we can stop the single use culture, because plastic was the material that enabled us to create the single use culture of tape make chucking in a bin for some mythical recycling theory. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if we could create some systems where things are not single use? So one of the things I’m very proud that we’re a partner of is the reusable packaging coalition. And this is working with two fantastic individuals called Joe and Stuart chidley. And the Chili’s have done this brilliant thing of bringing together competitive brands, competitive retailers. So your boots or Superdrug at Tescos. All the retailers that normally would not sit around a table together. The Unilever’s the PNG is the body shops, the lashes are all those people in that space, ringing them together to agree that we will standardise packaging, and we will make packaging something that you can reuse many, many, many times. So what they are going to be building is the infrastructure. That means that if you have a 250 mil shampoo bottle, let’s say then that bottle will be used by many brands, the same bottle probably be made out of metal. And that bottle will then be in a complete closed loop system. So imagine you go to boots you pick up your regular shampoo, it’s in a metal box, it’s already filled. So no convenience is lost the you you pay a deposit, yes, probably a digital currency. You know you pay a deposit on that bottle so it has a value to you. And you will make sure that bubble goes back into the system that you don’t just throw it into a waste bin. But the convenience side of it is very important. I might not go back to that boot store. I might go somewhere else I might go to Starbucks but I can drop that 250 mil bottle off in 1000s of stores that are part of the new system of reusable, I get credited, I can now perhaps buy a cup of coffee in Starbucks in a reusable cup. So suddenly, you’ve created this entire system where nothing hits the bin. The brands don’t even own their packaging, they list their packaging. So they’re not responsible for its collection, washing, a redistribution, the umbrella organisation does that. So really, if you look at the milk industry, as it used to be, and this is now thinking, what’s a 21st century version of that, where the milk marketing board used to collect a wash and look after all of those, the glass bottle that was used by everybody, it could be exactly the same. This already happens. It already happens with the water industry in Germany, where everybody uses the same glass bottle, and simply the label changes. And that bottle is Washington use many, many, many times. It doesn’t. It’s not used once. And then it has to go into a recycling system, the beer industry, great example, that certainly in Scandinavia and most of Europe, the beer industry, those bottles are washed again and again. And even then if they if they are broken, if they’re scuffed, if they’re dented, if any of those, if there is a problem with that bottle, that jar, whatever it is, then it’s within a closed system, that it can then be recycled into another jar.
Catherine Weetman 16:28
And not down cycled into or whatever.
Sian Sutherland 16:31
Yeah, yeah. And we haven’t got it. And then imagine a day where in your kitchen, instead of a recycling bin and God knows where it goes, some kind of container ship off to Turkey, imagine you could have a reusable spin a smart bin, that actually registers that you’ve put all those things in the bin and your waste management company are not just collecting waste, they’re collecting the permanent packaging, because they’re already coming, they already come into the door, and they can then be part of bringing it back and putting it into that system. So I think when this happens, and it will happen, these brands and retailers aren’t whether they’ve signed a letter of intent. We’re on our second or third workshops now of what are the roadblocks to get into this nirvana? How can we accelerate this? Everybody knows it’s the final solution is lowering carbon, because obviously, so much less energy is going to be used. And obviously, it’s lower in resource in materiality itself. It makes so much sense, either as a customer, why am I being forced to spend such a vast percentage of the price of anything on a piece of packaging, majorly plastic that I put in a bin to become part of the problem? And I think we will soon wake up and think, wow, why was it ever okay, for me to walk into a boots or Superdrug in a Tesco and it’s like Jurassic Park of coloured plastic that is never going to be recycled. So I think we will look back and we’ll get to a place where these changes can happen very, very, very fast. We need proof points. But we mustn’t call it test cases. We mustn’t call it pilot studies, because it’s too important in that we’re not trialling it, we’re learning as we go. We will iterate and learn, but the mission can never fail, that we need to move to permanent reusable packaging.
Catherine Weetman 18:24
And as you say, there are just so many plus points. I’ve interviewed Joe chidley, who you mentioned, back in episode 90 Something I think it was about re her reusable packaging standard for for beauty products. And so I think if Joe’s behind this, it’s definitely gonna go places, isn’t it?
Sian Sutherland 18:50
And also, what I what I love about digital is that no ego. They’re doing this because they understand how to do it. They already have their own brand. They understand the system that needs to be built. There. It’s not about ownership. It’s about it’s mission critical. That’s just get on and do it. And it’s not about ego. Yeah. And that is so crushing in this world.
Catherine Weetman 19:12
Yeah, absolutely. And back in episode 103, Brian and Chris, from Al grammar, were telling us that typically in grocery products, the cost of packaging can be up to 40% of the shelf price. So to make things more affordable, clearly making that packaging work over and over again, instead of, you know, take make and then chuck it away. That’s got to be the way forward hasn’t it? So that that kind of links into something that you’ve mentioned a few times already, which is the need for systems thinking. And, you know, maybe some of the levers of change, have got to be Systems Thinking type levers of change. And so, you know, you mentioned that investors are now a group of stakeholder All those that are interested in what the companies they invest in are doing and whether that’s good or bad for people and planet. And I’ve also seen more activity from insurers thinking about maybe some of these class actions around health and so on. Is there anything else that you want to say about those kinds of levers of change and systems thinking?
Sian Sutherland 20:22
Ultimately, what we’ve got to do is move the money, at the moment, the money, our pension schemes, even everything is still going down the road of backing fossil fuels as the answer. It’s, it’s going to be difficult, because, you know, I look today at the news from BP and the extraordinary amount, I think, was 4 billion profits in the last quarter. So it’s very, very difficult for us to turn away from things that give us that short term return. But that short term return we all know is going to create an unlivable planet. For us, not just future generations, for us, it’s happening so much faster than we ever thought. So again, we need to move the money to the opportunities of the future. Anyone who has control over those purse strings, we need to put pressure on. You know, let’s let’s look at the government of Norway. So Norway, the peacemaker of the world, obviously, you know, it has the biggest sovereign fund in the world, trillions and trillions of euros. If we could encourage just the Norwegian government, to show leadership to say we’re going to divest of all fossil fuels and their derivatives, I big plastic, and we are going to do nothing but back the long term solutions of the future, then, that’s the kind of leadership we need. It’s really that simple. That nothing will happen until we move the money. Because at the moment, everything is tokenistic. Every consumer goods company will have trials initiatives, pacts pledges, marketing, greenwash, a lot of it, whereas fundamentally, it’s business as usual. And in order, in order to make change happen, we need the stakeholders the shareholders to demand that business change faster.
Catherine Weetman 22:13
Yeah. And also, I think, because I’m just reading the Innovators Dilemma, a book that’s been updated a few times, I think it first came out in the in the 90s. And what’s hard for companies to do is to look at new markets and new customers. So they’re kind of looking at their important customers now, and perhaps not seeing that some of them are starting to query what they’re buying, but also that there’s a, you know, a new cohort of consumers elsewhere with completely different values. And eventually, your existing customers will either fade away because you know, they lose their spending power as they become pensioners or they, they die or whatever. But also their minds are shifting. But if you’re not speaking to the new group of customers who are going to replace those if you’re not tuned in to what they want, and we know that lots of young people want to buy from companies that really are doing the right thing for people and planet, not just kind of putting out some marketing, and they are much, much less in tune with the idea that owning stuff makes you happy. So things are fundamentally shifting. And if you’re not looking at that, as a big company, then you’re not really doing your homework properly. And you know, you risk being completely disrupted by a business that’s much more tuned in to permanent packaging, to plastic free products, to healthy ingredients and healthy health, nutrients back to the back to the system and so on. And I think that’s that’s what a lot of companies are not, you know, they, like you say that focus too much on the short term, and then not thinking about being on the bridge of the ship, looking at what’s coming up on the horizon.
Sian Sutherland 24:04
I totally agree. I worry a little bit about the fact that we think that the next generation care more, because there is a dichotomy of the massive rise of fast fashion like sheen. And obviously the success of businesses like Boohoo and ASOS and the extraordinary pollutive depleted of industry industries, that the fashion which makes me very sad as somebody who loves fashion, you know, that those industries have degenerated into. And you think what people say and what people do are very, very different things as you know. And, and so there is there is a whole swathe of millennials, particularly Gen z’s, you know, who who do want to live in a different way and who value experience over things more but the I think there’s still a bubble. We need to make that bubble much bigger, much faster. But ultimately, I still think it’s not down to them. I think if we, if we wait, if brands are waiting for the rise of this ethical consumer to drive their business, then it will take too long. We don’t have time. No. And that’s why we need laws, we need fiscal policy, we need those mechanics that force businesses to change faster, that create that level playing field, the industry to change faster, because fundamentally, people buy what they are sold it industry to job to sell them something different. And it’s the government’s job to mandate the industry do that faster. And those things aren’t happening. It’s stuck at the moment with people certainly in the world of plastic, you will have the Coca Cola is of the world saying if only we could educate the consumer to put it in the right bin. Like there’s a system once it is in the right bin, there isn’t a system. So we’ve got to stop pretending that it’s down to them. It isn’t. It’s down to industry, but who is industry, human beings. So let’s stop thinking about them. It’s a bit like plastic, we’re looking at the wrong end of the pipe. We’re talking about waste, we’re talking about the consumer, when we should be talking about the tap, we should be talking about why? Why is industry not reinventing itself, from the inside out. Everybody knows the future is about service versus commodity. I know many businesses who are there they are the the former, they want to be the latter, they’re looking at how they reinvent their entire model to become more service based, less commodity based, less resource based. So I think we live in this very interesting time of business trying to reinvent itself. And some businesses will step over the line that reinvention, and they will be the success stories of the future, exactly, as you say. And then some will be shooter dinosaurs. And some of the companies that we think are too big to fail. It’s going to be extraordinary. How many future codecs we see.
Catherine Weetman 27:09
Yeah, yeah. And Kodak is one of the stories that I quite often use in my in my talks. And yeah, that was that was really interesting, how they failed to understand what their customers wanted all along. Which is, you know, kind of what I was saying that there’s there is this, this group, and it is a bubble, and we do need to grow it. And maybe we have to encourage companies to think about what they’re doing in the world. And as you said, you know, when are they providing nutrients to go back into one of those two streams? So are they helping regenerate the planet? As Pulkit? Paul Hawking said, Are you regenerate? Are you healing the planet or stealing the future? You know, it’s one of those two things. So, you know, is what you’re doing poisoning people and planet? Or is it providing nutrients for tomorrow and future generations? And it’s kind of you know, it’s as simple as that really, isn’t it? And, you know, no company will be doing everything right. But it’s kind of, you know, where are the biggest areas in which you’re providing poison or poisoning harmful stuff? And what could you do to to instead, turn that into something that’s permanent, keeps going round around? Or it’s a genuine nutrient?
Sian Sutherland 28:28
One of the things I love to challenge any business with is, does your business brand product, whatever it is, does it push back Earth Overshoot Day? And if it doesn’t, what you’re doing is wrong. Let’s recognise that now. And if it does, do more of it, and it’s super simple, really, when you look at it that way, and obviously, as an entrepreneur, entrepreneurs have to make things super simple. No, you can’t move forward. You have to see solutions, not problems, opportunities there. Otherwise, it’s you couldn’t get up in the morning. And I think taking that mindset into the crises that we’re in right now, is really, really important and just challenging yourself with basic fundamental questions, simplifying things down. Everybody makes things too complicated. There are so many reasons why we can’t change from where we are today. I don’t want to hear them. I’m just you know, my only power is my radical naivety. That I don’t know the reasons why nots, I don’t want to know them. Don’t tell them to me, because that will stop us moving forward and forward is the only direction that we can go.
Catherine Weetman 29:38
Brilliant. Another another really nice quote that I’ll be tempted to, to use in the in the podcast promo. So onto our quickfire questions. And Sian, first of all, what have you struggled with most and what surprised you in the years since you set up a plastic planet?
Sian Sutherland 29:57
I wish I had thought about that question more before you have speech. But as you know, it’s always good if you just say the first thing that comes to mind. And I think the pace of change is the frustration to me. And here we are, we are five years now, since Blue Planet two, with five years since we launched the plastic Breon in Amsterdam, trying to demonstrate the change was was possible. And so it frustrates me. And the biggest challenge is the pace of change. So all I look at now is what are the levers of change? What are the accelerants of change? And number one is, is the extraordinary availability of scalable, viable solutions. Today, they’re there, which is why we built plastic free to give them more oxygen and bring everybody into connection with them. And, and then moving the money and the resistance that we have, and the in transients, that within industry of realising that there will be no global south market opportunity for them, if we don’t change very, very fast. And when you see people talking about where their ingredients come from, you just think, well, they won’t be there. Because they know that we will not be able to grow those particular ingredients, those crops in those markets in those countries going forward. And it’s happening so much faster. So the level of denial, I think is still quite extraordinary. Nobody’s denying that there is a climate crisis. Definitely nobody did. No, there are no plastic deniers out there. But the recognition of business being the tool of change, a fast change, I think, is a frustration to me that business doesn’t realise how it can be a massive part of the solution. No longer part of the problem.
Catherine Weetman 31:49
Yeah, I think you’re right. And that’s what I’m trying to work on now is creating the business case for businesses. But making sure that that business case doesn’t end up encouraging people to do things that then create rebound, you know, because we now think, Oh, this is okay, I can buy loads of it. We’ve got to we’ve got to avoid that as well. So it’s a balancing act. So when you’re talking to businesses that want to start out or go circular, you know, what’s your number one top tip for them? And that might be something you’ve already touched on?
Sian Sutherland 32:24
It probably is something I’ve already touched on, because I think that world Overshoot Day question is quite a fundamental one. Does does whatever you’re creating, does it push back world Overshoot Day? Because I think now we have to be so brutally honest with ourselves if the answer is no, don’t make it and really, really challenge. Whatever we’re doing. Is it is it going to help make our planet more livable going forward? Is it going to be additive in any way, because the world does not need more stuff that is completely generic. We are overwhelmed with choice right now. And I think we need to edit the choice down, we need to reinvent entirely new business models. I can’t wait to get to the future that I think that humankind can set a plot a course to I think it’s going to be super exciting, it’s going to be extraordinary. So my challenge to business is always there. Number one, use plastic as the gateway. Because plastic is a really extraordinary mechanic. Because it brings teams together, everybody feels guilty about plastic. And if we fix the plastic problem, we will directly and indirectly fixed so much else. So use it as the gateway. Because carbon, it’s very difficult for people as individuals to get their head around, I don’t know, I can’t see it, I can feel I can touch it plastic, as a shopper, as an individual, whatever I watch on TV, I feel guilty about it every single day. I don’t want to be part of continuing that crisis itself. So I think if you if you just pick one thing within your business, pick plastic because it’s highly popular. That’s and it will it’ll have so much more extraordinary impact than you ever dreamt because it’s such an extraordinary gateway.
Catherine Weetman 34:18
Yeah, I think that’s that’s a really interesting take and and it could be a really wait a really exciting conversation or opener with a lot with a lot of companies, particularly those that are wrestling with, where do we even get started with carbon? Because it’s a lot easier to kind of understand where the plastic is in, in your business. So thank you. And John, who would you recommend as a future guest for the circular economy podcast?
Sian Sutherland 34:46
I’ve got two people. I know you’ve asked me for one but let me give you two because well one would be my dream podcast person who I’ve never met but I have so much respect for and that is Kate Raworth, who obviously created it. The Doughnut Economy principles. And I think her TED talk the way she simplifies everything down that you just think, duh. Of course, we have to stay within societal and planetary constraints. Of course, we have to do this, a bunkers that we think it ongoing, never ending growth is possible on a planet with finite resources, duh. But I think her practical tools and the entire movement that she has created, this is her time. And I think she would be a fantastic podcast guest for you. And then the second person who I have known for a couple of years because I sit on the bridge beauty Council sustainability, and she, she is co chair of that. And I think she is just a genuinely wonderful person. super humble, but really great in everything she does. And she is the country lead CEO of Weleda, and Weleda, I think are a really amazing skincare personal care company, and the principles that that company is based on. Imagine if every business in future was based on those principles. And I know we all say it, wasn’t it great. Patagonia. No, they’re now saying stakeholders, they’re only stakeholder is nature. It’s kind of easy to say that when you’ve made your billions, and you built your business on plastic, let’s be honest, you know, technical fabrics are largely made out of plastic. So huge respect for Patagonia. But then I look at a company like we’re leader. And their principles came from the very beginning. They have always had nature as as a primary stakeholder, in fact, they rewrote the statute, their articles of association of their very business to embed nature. So they were there first. Obviously, Rudolf Steiner was one of the cofounders the provenance of their ingredients, their biodynamic principles, everything they do, there is not a single microplastic in any of their formulations. Yes, they use plastic in their packaging. Yes, they’d love not to. So obviously, there’s work that there’s every company has jobs to be done. But I think that business model and is successful, doing good does not mean bad business, it does not mean that you cannot make profit, we just should no longer make profit at the behest of everything else. And that’s been our model for decades. And I really celebrate businesses like the leader of doing things differently. So I think Jane would be an extraordinary guest for you as well.
Catherine Weetman 37:32
Fantastic. Well, I’m a really big fan of Kate Raworth’s work and the Weleda story sounds fascinating. So thank you very much. And I’ll follow up with both of those. So the big the big question, then, if you could wave a magic wand and change just one thing to help create a better world, what would that be and why?
Sian Sutherland 37:51
It’s super simple. I ban plastic. And I know that sounds draconian in many ways, because we’re so dependent on it for the lifestyle that we currently have. But I think if we banned it, we would create a vacuum, where innovation, these grew, these green shoots of new ways of us imagining that different future would sprout very, very, very quickly. And it’s only when you ban something that you create that vacuum. So that would be my simple request. Yes. So if you get if you get into parliament, Catherine, can you just do that for me?
Catherine Weetman 38:29
Somebody one of my podcast guests was was off to see Prime Minister Rishi Sunak the other the other day, and posted on LinkedIn to say, you know, she’d got this this slot. And did anybody have any questions for her to raise? So, back kind of cheekily to say, ask him if he remembers somebody talking to him about one of his constituents talking to him in about 2018, you know, going on and on about the circular economy and how many opportunities it could provide to the UK. So obviously, that was tongue in cheek, but yeah, I think nagging parliament is is as close as I’m going to get to policymaking. But yeah, coming back to your top tip. It’s that phrase, isn’t it constraints drive innovation. And if we don’t have the constraints, then we just carry on with with incremental improvements instead of really radical world changing things. So
Sian Sutherland 39:25
look at us now look at us, talking on Zoom, doing a podcast on Zoom. You know, I’m sitting in Lisbon. This would not, we would not have considered that this was even a possibility or an acceptable level of change. If COVID hadn’t happened.
Catherine Weetman 39:39
And within a couple of years, it’s normal, isn’t it? So yeah, lots of things can can transform in what feels like an overnight sensation. So Sian, how can people find out more about you and a plastic planet and get in touch?
Sian Sutherland 39:57
Well, I always say that LinkedIn I think is is an incredible way to build a community and communicate. So please find me on LinkedIn can connect with me. And because I really enjoy the interactions on that I do have my my haters, but you know, let’s move on. At least you know you’re impacting if somebody there bothers to hate you. And then obviously, you can contact us at Sian at a plastic planet.com or shine at plastic free.com. And then sign up on please join us I implore everybody, we need, we need more people to jump on the plastic free mission express. And you can do that by subscribing and joining plastic free.com.
Catherine Weetman 40:42
Great stuff, thank you. And I’ll put all those links in the show notes. And make sure I update the I think I’ve referred to it a couple of times in previous episodes or blogs, so get those updated as well. So Sian, that’s been fantastic. I’d love to talk for for longer. I love your take on things. And I think the work that you and the plastic planet team are doing is just brilliant. And so lot’s of luck with
Sian Sutherland 41:09
right back at you, Catherine, thank you for everything that you’re doing. And putting all these messages out into the world and for your support. It’s really, really appreciated. We cannot do this alone. All of us we need to come together like we never ever had before. We’ve we’ve got one enemy out there. It’s called status quo. It’s not pretend that it served us well, it hasn’t. So you know, coming together like this, I think is really great. Thank you.
Catherine Weetman 41:35
Thank you very much. And best of luck with the next phase of all the great projects that you’re involved in.
Sian Sutherland 41:41
Catherine Weetman 41:44
I love Sian’s concept that plastic is the last century’s material. And now we know how harmful it can be. We need to come up with new systems and new materials to replace it. Sian is creating and championing new tools, approaches, and examples of these better systems and materials. We heard about plastic free.com The systems and solutions platform for creatives, designers, makers, technologists, marketers, and strategists. Plastic free.com is connecting people with better alternatives to plastic materials that can become nutrients for future products, or for nature, instead of becoming poisons and pollutants at the end of use.
Catherine Weetman 42:32
In Episode 107, Sian described the new plastic free, Degenerate trainer – sneaker -, with materials made by natural fibre welding NFW. NFW is pioneering ways to avoid the destructive recycling processes that prevent materials like cotton being reused for the same kind of products. We touched on green washing and the complex issues of materials like vegan leather, and textiles, which sound like an ethical way to reduce our footprints, but often contain plastics as well. So we’ve avoided using a byproduct from the meat industry, but we’ve ended up using materials that can’t be effectively recycled. Then we shared our outrage about the ethics of calling something recyclable. When so often, no local recycling system exists, and providing one would add millions to the cost of local services. I was all in on chance call for the word recyclable to be banned. We dug deeper into the challenges for today’s creatives, and how especially for designers, makers and materials technologists, understanding chemistry is becoming essential. Both the chemistry of human made materials, and how we can work with nature’s chemistry to create regenerative alternatives. Creating nutrients instead of poisons. Plus, chemistry and biology can help us find ways to work with nature to make problematic substances safe.
Catherine Weetman 44:11
Sian described nature being binary – that something’s either an nutrient or it’s not. Scientists have discovered a tiny number of species that can deal with problematic waste and poison. For example, plants have adapted to the toxic conditions created by nuclear waste from Chernobyl. And scientists are investigating how microbes might help clean it up through a process called Bio remediation. Scientists are also working to identify microbes that can feed on ocean and other waste plastics. However, these discoveries are few and far between and often the pollution has already poisoned humans and many other living species that brought us on to public perceptions. You shaped, of course by the plastic industry, that plastic is inert. And yet of scientists are discovering it mostly isn’t. Often plastic contains problematic chemicals that are released in use, and at the end of use, whether that’s disposal or recycling. Plus, there are microfibers, which can act as carriers for toxins. These are all across our food chains, drinking water, and inside every part of our bodies. So it’s no wonder we’re seeing increasing rates of cancer, neurological disorders and other non communicable diseases across all age groups. It’s important to emphasise these health risks when we think about recycling. The plastics industry and some big consultancies tell us that we can recycle our way to a circular sustainable future. But with current materials and recycling technology, we definitely can’t. It’s a false solution.
Catherine Weetman 46:01
As Sian said, and as Maria Westerbos explained in Episode 82, these health issues are serious and systemic. And our health is likely to be the catalyst, the essential tipping point for systemic change. Sian highlighted the massive range of manmade chemicals that companies are using around 140,000 known chemicals. With only half of these being tested, and often not tested. Alongside the other chemicals, they’ll be combined with an industrial use. Here, Sian pointed to the work of some leading scientists who are starting to draw links between these chemicals and the rise of other major diseases, including diabetes and obesity.
Catherine Weetman 46:50
In Episode 108, we moved on to talk about the power of marketing. And I mentioned neuro marketing techniques used to trigger brain chemicals that motivators into doing what the marketer wants. That took us to a few ways to step off that hamster wheel. Whether that’s avoiding the checkout altogether, or finding safer, simpler, and cheaper alternatives to those multi chemical products that we’re told will make our lives so much easier. Next, we discussed the concept of permanent packaging, including the work of the reusable packaging coalition, and initiative set up by Jo Chidley and Stuart Chidley. You might remember Jo Chidley, from Episode 84. The renewable packaging coalition is working with big FMCG brands and major retailers in the UK to create and rollout a convenient system for household collection of reusable packaging. So it can be sanitised relabeled and refilled by the brands. This sounds brilliant, a game changer. And it’s great to hear that some really big players are working on this. Sian shared her frustration with the tokenistic approach of many companies, trials, initiatives, pacts and pledges. A lot of it just good intentions or even greenwash.
Catherine Weetman 48:18
I mentioned Professor Clayton Christensen’s influential book from the 1990s The Innovators Dilemma, which unpacks key systemic blockages that handicap big business and prevents businesses reacting to or getting on board with disruptive innovations. The Kodak story is a great example of that. And yet Kodak decline wasn’t inevitable. Fuji, Kodak’s closest competitor took a different very radical approach, leveraging its chemical expertise and reinventing itself as a supplier of niche chemicals for a wider range of markets. Over just 10 years, Kodak crashed from market leader to bankruptcy. While Fuji increased its revenue by 50%. This system scale initiatives are critically important. We need big lever levers to change things.
Catherine Weetman 49:16
So many of our current business models, policies and habits are based on thinking from the last century. Now we’re starting to realise how much of that is based on false assumptions and silo mentalities. Virtual virtually every business and every product is causing harm to us to living creatures or to the earth systems we depend on. As Doughnut Economist Kate Raworth, says, We inhabit the only known living planet in the universe. I loved Sian simple benchmark. Are you making choices and changes that push back Earth Overshoot Day? If not, it’s time to rethink your approach.
Catherine Weetman 50:02
We’re at a critical turning point where we have the opportunity to wake up and do things differently. Let’s make less but better. Let’s share and use instead of owning stuff that isn’t something we intend to keep and careful, a forever product. Let’s repair, and remake. These are all profitable strategies with growing customer bases. If you’re in business or not already thinking about these strategies, then it’s time to get started before it’s too late. Don’t succumb to the Kodak syndrome, you need to disrupt or your company might die. So a massive thanks to our guests the amazing Sian Sutherland for sharing so many of her insights and ideas with us. Thanks also to Simon Hombersley of Xampla and Romi Sumaria of the Oblique Life Podcast for making this episode possible. And as always, thanks to you for listening, sharing and being part of the solution. You can find out more about Sian Sutherland, a plastic planet, and plasticfree.com – follow them on social media – and check out all the other links we mentioned in the show notes at Circular Economy podcast.com.
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