Plight of a planet of plastic

Thanks to TV documentaries such as David Attenborough’s captivating Blue Planet II, plastic pollution is now firmly at the forefront of public consciousness. It’s therefore arguably more important than ever that business harnesses this heightened momentum to lever robust and collective action on environmental issues. At Hopscotch we’re already seeing businesses striving to cohesively link sustainable business goals with effective PR and marketing, to establish authenticity when communicating progress. What’s exciting is the appetite that’s emerging for schools and business to collaborate in educating the next generations on the big issues we’ve all got to grapple with.

Having done a masters in sustainability, I’m familiar with the pit of despair you can easily spiral into when considering the global scale of environmental issues and so gladly attended the PRCA’s Green Room event: ‘Plastic – The new evil’, to find out more about how such problems are resonating with business. What struck me was the consensus that the responsibility of business is to not just work with government policy, but to act now and not passively wait for the future environmental policies to come into fruition.

With consumer consciousness and loyalty on the line for businesses that greenwash on environmental issues, the marketplace has opened a space for business to shape change and demonstrate leadership in addressing it. The public hunger for change is clear in the fact that since the 5p bag charge was introduced in 2015, a staggering 9 billion fewer plastic bags have been used by shoppers.

Given our love affair with plastic really began shortly after World War 2, it’s shocking that it’s taken us until recently to engage with the scale of the problem (despite academics researching in this area since at least the 1980s!). Sure, there are many occasions where we buy things we’re aware are made from single-use plastics but what’s clearly hit a nerve, is the emotive response we can’t help but feel seeing our waste entangled on helpless ocean life.

The fact that a vast wave of plastic pollution has made it to our oceans rings major alarm bells as to how it’s being managed on land and begs troubling questions such as: what can we do about the plastics we individually receive, that we didn’t even want in the first place? Where does all the plastic go that can’t be recycled and for that matter – where has all the plastic gone which has been mass produced across past decades?

The answers are often complex but educating people on key issues like waste and plastic pollution is at the heart of going a step towards finding solutions to combat it. I’ve been impressed by the proactive engagement our clients John Lewis and M&S have shown in communicating the importance of environmental issues, not just for their respective businesses today but for future generations too.

John Lewis’ latest schools’ competition is an upcycling challenge to get children thinking about waste and ways we can ‘close the loop’ on the traditional linear model of a product’s life cycle. Aimed at 9-11 year olds, the Innovation Challenge asks pupils how they would reinvent a surplus school blazer to give it a new life. Since its launch, teachers have leapt at the opportunity to teach their pupils to think about waste and how it can be repurposed. Such clear demand shows that it’s not just filling a tangible educational need but that it’s inspiring teachers too.

While the media undoubtedly plays a huge role in communicating the scale of our problem with waste and plastic, we shouldn’t neglect the power of business in being transparent in its communication of it. M&S has now long-established itself as a leader at the apex of sustainable business and we’re delighted to be working with them to translate the company’s sustainability goals into a schools’ programme which brings these real-world problems to life in the minds of the children we reach.

With waste and single-use plastics being placed firmly on the global business agenda, it’s likely we’ll see a surge in businesses showcasing their steps towards change and I’m optimistic this will extend to other environmental issues too. In the meantime, we’ll continue to work hard at Hopscotch to leverage social purpose campaigns which educate, inspire and engage all generations with the big issues we must collectively address.

About the author

Ellie Thomson

Ellie works across a range of clients including HS2, Shell, Kellogg’s and DfE. She has an MSc in Environment, Culture and Society with Distinction from the University of Edinburgh, alongside a First Class Honours degree in BSc Geography from the University of Bristol. Most recently, Ellie worked at Marks & Spencer within their Plan A sustainability team and was a news and politics intern for the BBC, after becoming NCTJ qualified in 2012.

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