The second startup we are profiling for Earth Day 2020 is Kids Against Plastic. We spoke to the team to about sustainability and making a positive impact on the environment.
Tell us about your start up, and why you started
Kids Against Plastic is a small fledgling charity that was founded by my daughters Amy (16) and Ella (14) back in 2016 when they were being ‘road-schooled’. It began as a ‘project’ that was inspired by the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development – a key part of the ‘curriculum’ my wife and I were offering the girls as we travelled.
Amy and Ella had picked three of the Goals – Life Below Water, Climate Action and Responsible Consumption – and found plastic (particularly its usage and negative environmental impact) as a common thread across each of three chosen Goals. The rest is history with Kids Against Plastic being formalised as a charity in 2019 and nearly 1000 schools registered and using the free educational resources we provide to help them (the pupils) drive behaviour change – through awareness and youth social action – and the elimination of single-use convenience plastics from their schools.
We call this more discerning use of plastic being ‘Plastic Clever’. Being Plastic Clever isn’t just limited to schools: Amy and Ella have worked with cafes, businesses, Guide and Scout groups, as well as their local council and in Westminster via their local MP. Part of their charity work involves giving talks and running workshops in schools, at conferences and festivals, and with corporates in the ‘convenience plastic’ sector. Amy and Ella are strong believers that young people’s voices (and concerns) should be listened to and acted upon, because their generation looks set to inherit a planet choked in plastic and in the midst of a Climate Emergency.
What are the biggest environmental challenges facing businesses today?
I think the biggest environmental challenge facing businesses today is sustainability; being sustainable from an economic perspective as well as in terms of environmentally sustainable. Economically speaking, the uncertainty caused by climate change or significant weather events, uncertainty relating to supply of resources needed by businesses and their products, the uncertainty of supply chains and costs, as well as inflation, demographic displacement and energy security, make for uncertain times.
Economic uncertainty often results in a short term view … a ‘just get through it’ approach, usually by looking at keeping costs down and making decisions led by balancing spreadsheets in the here and now. Unfortunately, this approach can make it difficult for a business to achieve environmental sustainability as ‘green’ alternatives usually come at a premium or require a significant amount of time before they bring a return on the initial investment, which makes them unattractive, especially during times of economic uncertainty. The large markets, or customer demand, needed to make green alternatives financially viable to all, therefore, rarely materialise, making greener, sustainable, choices and practices luxuries that many businesses cannot afford or sustain.
How can data help businesses develop better environmental practices?
At Kids Against Plastic we are hoping that the data captured by our litter logging app will, over time, could be used to inform changes in policy at local council level and possibly at a national Government level, as well as putting pressure on businesses or individuals to make some policy or lifestyle changes. For example, if the data shows a prevalence of a certain type of plastic litter in a certain geographical location, this could: lead to better collection of recyclables; force a fast-food chain to change its packaging; be used to raise awareness in communities and encourage different behaviours of choices. The Kids Against Plastic litter logging app is free to use and the intention is to get our Plastic Clever schools on board as part of a social science project.
What’s your top tip for any new business who wants to develop a culture of sustainability as they grow?
We are a very small charity – family run – so lacking in experience or examples of how to grow a business, but I think the following can be applied to most scenarios:
Think big, start small: have big ideas and intentions around sustainability but don’t let these big aspirations prevent you from making a start. Everyone has their role to play so lots of people making small changes that take a business along the path to becoming more sustainable, is better than no one doing anything because they feel something is too big a step for them to manage and sustain. Having some unbreakable rules relating important and shared environmental principles can also be helpful in creating a mindset. For example, as members of Kids Against Plastic, we always refuse to use any of the BIG 4 convenience plastic polluters: bags, bottles, straws and cups/lids. As time has moved on, our banned items now include a greater range of products e.g. sachets, cutlery and such.