Rocío González, CoFounder Daravi & Unplastify, February 2022
When Marty arrives to November 5, 1955, he finds out he has no plutonium to go back to the future. Neither would he find as many plastics as in his 80s life, since rapid growth in global plastic production was not realized until the 1950s. Seeing what plastic pollution is today, maybe he’d prefer to stay there. At Unplastify we don’t have the Delorean but we have started to go back to the future to solve this problem.
I’ve started working in sustainability since I finished Architecture school and decided to build projects instead of houses or buildings. My entrepreneurial journey began inside a button factory where I designed a product line from their production scrap as a hobby. The hobby grew into a company, with sustainable design becoming more relevant and opening new opportunities. With the help and expertise of 2 great partners this company became Daravi, a triple bottom line factory model that gives work opportunities to a community of +40 families producing +150,000 units per year. This model upcycles discards from the textile industry to create products and gives training and work opportunities to the community.
We still upcycle industrial discards from button factories. Clients have asked us to reuse their post consumer discards and although we’ve had several specific design projects, the work to make these efforts significant was never achieved. Post consumer materials need logistics, cleaning and sorting that we weren’t able to solve at our scale. But even if we grew our company to do so, would it be enough?
Today, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year (Jambeck et al. 2015) and only 9% of produced plastic gets recycled (Geyer et al, 2017). Also, although recycling rates vary per region, on average they reach up to 10% of plastic waste.
When Marty travelled to 1955, plastic was a novelty and everyone was delighted with the new convenient disposable items that were integrated into daily lives. Not much has changed in that way, we’ve grown accustomed to using this material that lasts forever in a disposable manner. Of all the plastic we consume 42% is packaging. .We are using an indestructible material for a single use. To change this problem, we must rethink habits, operations and norms and understand how to make people, communities and organisations join us in this challenging quest.
In search of better solutions for plastic pollution, after many years rethinking discards, I embarked on the journey to tackle plastic pollution from its roots and co-founded Unplastify.
Unplastify is a social enterprise on a mission to change the human relationship with plastic. We accelerate unplastifying systemic processes with individuals, organisations, companies and governments – reducing the use of disposable plastic through the re-design of operations, habits and norms.
So where do we get inspiration from? How do we change this much larger-than-us problem, how do we scale up solutions?
Since the pandemic hit, I decided to live and think in the future. Maybe it was a survival instinct, but lockdown and the new normal forced everyone of us to rethink how we live. And to solve big problems, when so much was changing around us, the tools of foresight became a regular tool to plan and build our strategy. I brought this tool to my companies and, in that moment of complete uncertainty, we could analyse our future opportunities and navigate turbulent waters by seeing clarity through future scenarios.
In February 2020 we travelled with Unplastify’s team to Ushuaia, to work on our vision for an unplastified world. We went trekking and camping and had profound conversations in the middle of nature to define what we want for our future and from there design our company’s strategy. But what we really did was time travel, borrowing an imaginary Delorean. To our strategy planning, in the middle of the mountains, we added the foresight component.
We understand the need for systemic change in plastic pollution, but most people don’t even see the problem. We work every day to enable solutions, but our own families, friends and community aren’t informed or aware enough, nor acting upon it yet. In the past years we’ve seen how climate change has become more popular and is now part of the international agenda. We believe plastics are a huge problem now but they will be an even greater problem in the future and will become popular in the next few years. We need to bring the future NOW to learn and implement what works for change. To understand what went right in that unplastified future and what went wrong in its alternates and start twisting now the events, as Marty twisted his, to lead our unplastified future.
Since our Ushuaia sessions, future thinking has become a common exercise that led to strategic decisions as a result.
Our team learned to have conversations with our futures personas, to understand how they solved the issues we are foreseeing today by understanding how the world looks to them. When we define programs or initiatives of our company we integrate these personas in the discussion to enrich outcomes.
In all future scenarios we described, good or bad, the main pain point that led to plastic pollution recognition was the concern for the effects of plastics on human health. We are working on reinforcing this relation, by investigating future effects, for the better understanding of the problem in our community.
Another insight was the power in communities. We identified the relevance of local responsible leaders over regulations, how individual leaders lead a community to change much more than regulations alone. Once the community understands the need for change it drives it further and leads the prevention of the problem forward. Technology already enables us to connect and be a platform to these leaders and communities today.
Bringing the future to our everyday discussions has enabled us to:
• Mobilise change: insights we brought from the future are part of our current programs and strategies (Young Leaders Program, UPF COIN).
• Unite our team strategically: we all know what we are talking about. Even more than OKRs, we now understand where we want to be and we’re building every day by bringing those hints we brought from this future trip.
Our main initiative now is driven by community and technology. We’ve incorporated the future into our discussions and sometimes, when we share our work with others, we think it’s misunderstood because it’s ahead of our time. But to tackle this big problem that will be more relevant and bigger in the next few years, we’re confident we need to use as many tools as we can. We don’t have the Delorean but we’ve managed to learn from the future and start changing it today.