AI, a conscientious credit card, social plastic and underwater forests are just a few of the solutions showcased at SB Oceans that can help us restore their abundance.
Over the course of three action-packed days, the inaugural Sustainable Brands Oceans (14-16 Nov) in Porto, Portugal convened a stellar lineup of practitioners, researchers, NGOs, storytellers and innovators laser-focused on saving the ocean’s priceless biodiversity and resources while there’s still time. Here’s what we learned from a few of the innovators …
Alexandra Cousteau: How to restore abundance to the oceans in one human generation
Kicking off with star power, Oceans 2050 founder Alexandra Cousteau — filmmaker, activist and granddaughter of famed French explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher Jacques Cousteau — recalled her first experience of seeing the abundance of the oceans as a child in the 1980s.
“Since then, was have lost that abundance,” she lamented. “We have a decade left before we reach a tipping point of irreversible loss. If we shift course today, my children and your children could experience the abundance of the oceans.”
Cousteau created Oceans 2050 to catalyse change to restore abundance to the oceans, and campaigns for a new operation system to feed and power the world. “We need a step-change to be able to create food from the oceans while also restoring abundance to the oceans,” she said.
One possible solution lies in the different types of underwater forests that can regenerate the oceans. Ocean forests re-oxygenate the water, absorb carbon and give marine life a home. In fact, they provide five times the eco-system services of rainforests, and the space available for ocean forests is larger than the Amazon.
“Now is the time for bold, ambitious action. We have a moment where we are talking about taking action for the oceans,” Cousteau said, admitting she thought the time would never come. “Plastic has brought the oceans back to people’s minds. Companies have taken unprecedented action. That’s the good news; the bad news is that the oceans are still dying. How do we take what we have learned about plastic and use it for other issues, such as overfishing?”
To meet the goal of restoring ocean abundance in a single human generation, the time for taking action is now. The SB Oceans audience was properly poised for three days of learning how.
The ocean – plastic = a regeneration economy
Speaking of plastic, with an estimated 8-15 billion kilos flowing into the ocean each year, the most effective solution is surely to stop it at source. But short of that, the next best thing would be to turn plastic waste into a currency that could be spent like cash in developing countries around the world, which often lack effective recycling infrastructure: Suddenly, waste plastic has value and will be collected, rather than discarded.
That’s the idea behind The Plastic Bank, which founder and CEO David Katz described on Thursday morning as the world’s largest chain of stores for the ultra-poor. People in countries such as Brazil, Haiti and Indonesia that are littered with thousands of tons of plastic waste can now take it to a Plastic Bank Collection Center and exchange it for digital currency on a blockchain banking app, created by IBM.
Katz shares the story of Lisa, a member at a Collection Center in Bali, sponsored by new partner SC Johnson. Lisa is able to support her children with the income she earns from collecting plastic during the day from houses, businesses and streets. Digital payments are safe from robbery, and prevent the risk of money being used by her family to buy alcohol or drugs.
Plastic Bank is expanding, with centers opening in Egypt, Colombia and Vietnam this year. German chemical and consumer goods company Henkel recently announced plans to extend its collaboration with Plastic Bank for another five years, supporting ongoing projects in Haiti, the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as contributing to the creation of over 400 Collection Centers in Egypt.
And with the collected plastic, SC Johnson is soon to launch the first-ever 100 percent recycled ocean plastic bottle in a major home cleaning brand, Windex, as part of its collaboration with Plastic Bank.
Plastic Bank is also planning extensive programming with the Catholic Church. Katz reasons that all places have a church or place of worship and wants people to bring not just an offering, but also their recycling.
Bringing Plastic Bank to life for the audience, Katz asserted that for every attendee at Sustainable Brands Oceans, Plastic Bank will take 84kg of plastic out of the ocean. He invited people to have a conversation and take ownership of their purchasing choices.
“When you purchase, you vote. We all need to speak up for the new regeneration economy.” — David Katz
AI: A secret weapon in protecting our oceans
With the health of our planet under threat, understanding just how bad things are is crucial if we are to turn the tide on environmental devastation and global inequalities.
From tree loss and overfishing, to poverty and outbreaks of virus, many of the world’s biggest problems continue largely unnoticed and unchallenged. We have a lack of oversight as to the true state of our environment or the plight of the people and animals that rely on our natural resources to survive.
It is a situation that Microsoft, one of the world’s biggest corporate entities, hopes to change with its move into artificial intelligence (AI).
During his Friday morning keynote, Director of AI and Global Partnerships Scott Mauvais set out Microsoft’s vision for harnessing the power of technology to help everyone, everywhere build a more sustainable future. With $110 billion in revenues and 115,000 employees across 120 countries, Microsoft certainly has a big footprint. But it has lots of resources, too; and as Mauvais told the audience, the company wants to focus on where it can make the most difference.
Microsoft is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint. Seven years ago, it was the first major technology business to introduce an internal carbon fee, which has helped accelerate investment in clean energy and data-center cooling systems, for example. It has also led the charge for making products use less energy, while sourcing better materials and reducing packaging.
But it’s the Microsoft AI For Good program that gets employees like Mauvais most excited. The $150 million, 5-year initiative aims to give those working to solve environmental, humanitarian, cultural heritage and accessibility challenges the tools to create more positive impact.
The pillar supporting environmental protection is AI For Earth.
“This is about combining the power of environmental science and computer science — taking huge datasets, storing them in the cloud and allowing researchers to collaborate so that they can have much more impact than just doing what they can on their own,” Mauvais explained.
In the last three years, more than 230 grantees in 65 countries have received support from Microsoft. Among them is OceanMind, which is trying to boost the sustainability of global fishing by tracking fishing boats in real time and using algorithms to identify any suspicious patterns of behavior.
Ocean vessel movements are captured via GPS, sonar and satellite imagery. The data sources are layered on top of AI algorithms to identify behavioral markers of illicit fishing.
“Tracking illegal fishing is hard, mainly because it looks just like legal fishing,” Mauvais told the audience. “OceanMind uses satellite imagery, radar photos and AI to recognise different fishing activity so that it can identify vessels that might not have a license.
“Now, the API is available for anyone that wants to use it in the fight against illegal fishing.”
AI can also be used to track krill populations — the tiny crustaceans that are incredibly important to the world’s marine food chain. By tracking and analysing growth patterns of whales that feed on krill, Microsoft can help conservationists identify where overfishing might be taking place.
“When human ingenuity and technology meet, they have the power to solve some of the biggest environmental challenges. AI really can solve the world’s most pressing challenges.” — Scott Mauvais
Transaction declined: The credit card that will stop you buying stuff that is bad for the planet
Imagine a credit card that denies you making a transaction based on the impact you’re having on the planet, rather than how much money you have in your account.
Well, that’s what the much-publicised DO Black credit card does. It’s the world’s first card that gives users a carbon limit to stop you from overspending based on the levels of CO2 emissions caused by your consumption.
In Sweden, the average consumer is responsible for around 10 tons of carbon emissions each year, 60 percent of which is linked to consumption. In Finland, up to 80 percent of it is linked to consumption.
It is a challenge you wouldn’t expect to be solved by the financial industry — a sector built on encouraging people to spend money. But that’s exactly what the Finland-based Bank of Åland has focused on during the last few years. It was the bank, rather than an NGO or environmental campaign group, that initiated the creation of DO Black.
Yes, Åland is a small bank with just 700 employees and 100,000 customers. But it is a bank that cares, says Anne-Maria Salonius, head of the company’s Finland operations, during her Friday morning keynote. “Consumption is eating away at our planet. Yes, people want to do good. But we’re lazy,” she said. “There are other carbon calculators available on the internet, but you have to be really interested in the subject to seek them out.
“With our card, you can’t avoid seeing the footprint attached to your purchases — we send it to you via a mobile app.”
The so-called Åland Index, which is the brains behind the DO Black card, calculates the footprint of each transaction and reports it to customers, giving them a track record of their spending behaviour over time.
The carbon-tracking credit card is just the latest in a long line of initiatives by Åland to encourage others to do the right thing.
“I love the ocean, and I sail a lot; it’s in my heart,” Salonius told us. It was in the summer of 2014 while sailing around the Baltic Sea that the seriousness of plastic waste hit home. “I knew we had to do something.”
And so, Åland’s Baltic Sea Project was born, not only to raise awareness of the importance of protecting our oceans, but to support individuals and companies that might have good ideas about how to protect and preserve the Baltic Sea.
So far, the bank has invested €2.3 million in a number of different Finland-based startups and projects to scale and grow — some of which used the Porto event to showcase their ideas.
“We built a new online platform to make it easy for people to apply for support for good ideas. We help to fund them, shout about them and put them in touch with other partners that might also be able to support,” she explained.
For example, Clewat received €70,000 in 2018 to support its high-tech cleaning solution to remove plastic from our seas. The multiple-award-winning Sulapac got €50,000 at a crucial stage in developing its biodegradable and microplastic-free materials designed to replace plastic. And Solar Foods received €50,000 to support the creation of Solein — a protein produced from CO2, water and electricity.
“It’s no longer about talking B2B or B2C. Now, it’s all about H2H,” Salonius concluded. “At the end of the day, we are communicating with people. It needs to be straightforward, honest and authentic.”
This is Searious Business (or, the woman on a mission to turn off the plastic tap)
Willemijn Peeters quit her job four years ago for one good reason. Speaking to delegates on the final day’s session of case studies at SB Oceans in Porto, she described the two huge, conference-sized rooms filled with plastic rubbish that end up in our rivers and oceans every hour.
“I knew I had to do something about the situation and was triggered into action,” she explained.
Moving from a linear model of production, which ends up with materials ending up in landfill, Peeters has built a company – Searious Business – focused on using circular models to rethink design.
Described as a “project office,” Searious helps a number of big companies get towards zero plastic waste, as she pointed out, “because a clean ocean starts with preventing plastic leakage on land.”
Peeters highlighted the award-winning project Searious has initiated with Dutch furniture manufacturer Gispen. The Sett CE is a sofa made out of around 95 percent recycled plastics. Developed in just four months, the sofa uses the company’s very own plastic packaging waste and take-back material in its production. Searious Business worked with waste collectors, plastic recycling companies, machine builders, designers and engineers to obtain and use recycled plastics. The sofa is fully recyclable and ready for easy disassembly at end of life.
“After getting the sofa production-ready, we helped Gispen to build their business case and optimize production costs,” she added.
The business also helped the firm build its marketing story, picking up the 2019 Dutch Design Award in the process. And it worked, with Gispen securing its biggest-ever tender to supply furniture for €10 million a year for the next decade.
“We helped Gispen rethink its business model and the way it uses materials,” Peeters said. “Most companies use plastics, but they are rarely seen as a valuable resource.”
Showcasing just one of her projects to this ocean-loving audience, she demonstrated just how local recovery and recycling of plastic materials can help to build commercial advantage while making sure plastics stay out of the environment.