Quantifying the cost of plastic to the planet
How plastic can impact one’s health
Who should pay for the waste
How to deal with the lazy consumer
How can we factor the environmental cost into the end products?
Everyone agrees plastic pollution is a bad thing
We Are Addicted to Convenience
We Are Doing the Math Wrong
I’ve Seen Behind the Wizard of These Big Companies
The Cost of Not Doing Has to Be Greater Than the Cost of Doing
Plastic Waste Serves No One
When People See Information Clearly They Change Their Behavior
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Zal Dastur 0:01
Hi everybody and welcome to the Social Innovation Podcast. I’m Zal Dastur, your host, and today we are sitting with Sonalie Figueiras who is the CEO and founder of Green Queen Media, which is the largest sustainability-focused website in Asia, as well as the CEO of Source Green. Hi Sonalie. Welcome to the show.
Sonalie Figueiras 0:22
Hi, Zal. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Zal Dastur 0:24
So just as a quick introduction, Sonalie, why don’t you tell us a little bit about green, green media and source green and the work that you guys are doing there?
Sonalie Figueiras 0:33
Absolutely, I will start by Source Green. So we are we just rebranded. We’ve been around for about a year, we were originally a self serve sustainable packaging marketplace. So me and my co founder are avid plastic free activists are always lifestyle enthusiasts. And we felt that there just wasn’t enough out there to make it easy for brands and corporations to really quit plastic in their supply chain. And so the idea was to create a giant marketplace and showcase everything that was available. But the more we did it, so we spent a year doing that. So we built the site launched it last year, we had raised like a little pre seed round to help us get going. And over the last year working with suppliers, buyers, and just talking to everyone in the space and getting really knee deep in everything regulation, materials, certifications, we realized that this space is absolutely mired in greenwashing. And most people are hugely unaware of everything that’s going on in terms of a packaging, supply chain, and even packaging specialists at a company or supply chain managers or procurement officers, they are not necessarily always sure what they need to change to. And they are often pitched greenwashed solutions, and they often just don’t have the time or the resources to really dive deep into all the claims. And so essentially, they were coming back to us, we had hoped it would be more of a self serve model. And they were coming back to us and saying, Can you please like hold my hand? Essentially? Can you walk me through this? What are the certifications I need? What should I be thinking about? What’s the right material? Is this bio plastic is it’s not is bio plastic good? Is it not? What is biobased mean? What is compostable mean? All of this stuff. And so we felt that it wasn’t enough to just provide the solutions. And we also felt like we needed to be more implicated directly with the end customer, so the brand or the corporation. And so we have, we’ve changed the model, it’s no longer a self serve marketplace. It’s a sourcing platform where you come to us and we directly source for you. And we’ve added on a really awesome layer, which is our climate tech side. So we are essentially visualizing and quantifying the cost of your plastic packaging as a brand to the world. And we are doing so way beyond just carbon emissions. Because what we’ve realized is that carbon emissions and a lot of life cycle analysis LCA are not enough, they do not tell the complete story, they do not talk enough about the cost of using petrochemical based materials. And what is the external the what are the externality costs of your plastic ending up in the sea? So it’s all very good for a brand to say, Well, I’ve switched to 100%, mono material, recycled plastic, but then you look deeper into it. And across the world on average, 90% of plastic is not recycled. So you’re buying into this promised land of recycling, but there it isn’t happening. And so are you really making the best choice on top of it, plastics rely on us continually extracting petrochemicals. So we are really taking an anti plastic stance stance in a world where we believe in a post plastic world. And you know, the UN has recently called the plastic waste crisis, on par with the climate crisis in terms of its detriment to society. And there are environmental costs, there are costs to your fertility, my fertility, there are costs to our children that have microplastics in their bodies. And there are costs to our gut health, there are costs to brain development. Now we’re seeing more and more data is coming out about what all these plastics and there are toxins that are leaching into our skin and our bodies and our waterways and our air are doing to us. And so there’s this huge health cost that no one is talking about. And most importantly, no one is quantifying in a way that makes it easy for brands to assess. And so if you’re a brand packaging manager, and you go to your CEO, and you say I need to quit plastic in our supply chain, but it’s going to cost us three times to do that. Obviously your CEO and your CFO are going to be like whoa, I don’t know if we can afford have that right? Because the reality is the the worst solution for the environment and for human health is cheaper. And so we our idea, and our vision is to visualize and quantify the cost in a way that makes it easy for a stakeholder to go to their shareholders or their investors or their C suite and say, This is what we’re doing. This is what we’re crossing the world and, and regulation is coming, you know, other brands, top tier brands have moved to non plastic, here’s why we need to as well. And here’s a platform that we can join a SaaS platform where we can have reports, we can create a plan on how to quit plastic for all our plastic packaging, we can source that the solution that is plastic free. So we offer the whole 360 experience. But it starts with engagement and education.
Zal Dastur 5:51
And I’d love to talk about that a little bit more. Because plastic and definitely single use plastic is something that I just absolutely hate as well. And I see it so much when you start noticing it the fact that my bananas come wrapped in plastic from the supermarket and you’re thinking, well, these things are already come with a protective layer, why does it need something else? Are you seeing brands adopting even the higher costs and making that transition, and they’re doing it fast enough or is it still is cost the biggest driver here for all of these companies.
Sonalie Figueiras 6:23
The reality is that until recently, cost has been the biggest driver for packaging, because packaging has kind of lived in this dark hole of we’ve ignored it. And in the last five to 10 years, but especially in the last two to five years, the cost to society, both from a health point of view, and especially from an environmental point of view, is really becoming clear. And you know, in 2018 was the height of you know what I would call the zero waste movement, which was that movement where people started going, I’m not going to use plastic straws, I’m going to bring my own cup, I’m going to shop in stores where I can buy bulk, I’m going to use shampoo bars instead of shampoo bottles, like that’s when that really took off. But like a lot of great progress, we went three steps forward. And now we’re a little bit wasn’t backwards because that life is very difficult to achieve if you price and convenience and budget, right. So it’s expensive to live a zero waste life, which it shouldn’t be. But for many people in urban situations it is it is inconvenient. And I think despite what we would all like to believe we have become addicted to convenience. And I don’t know, if we can go back to a life that is inconvenient. And of course, you think of something like food delivery, which is a very visually rich representation of our relationship with waste and packaging, right? Because we’re literally ordering from a restaurant that’s like 20 meters away. And imagine the excess packaging that that is requiring not to mention everything else, the emissions, the labor, etc. But we are choosing not to cook so that we can order from 20 meters down the street and end up with four different plastic boxes that we don’t need and that plastic bag and utensils and stuff. And of course, there are things happening right like deliver ruined food panda here in Hong Kong will say to you do you need utensils? And if you say no, they won’t put it in. They are working to try and use compostable packaging, they are working on trying to use recycled packaging, but we exist in a reality where convenience is king. And we do not have adequate waste infrastructure management. And we are not looking at the problem holistically enough. What do you do when you want to change behavior? Right? We’ve tried to change people’s behavior. The zero waste movement was quite intense. I mean, I think it was that video in Bali of someone swimming in the sea. They were just swimming around plastic that went viral. I mean, it was in 2018. And that’s when I really saw the difference. Like we saw the difference on green Queen we saw that suddenly, we had a spike in zero waste up content of visits and searches on the sight. We saw I was starting to have conversations with people in my daily life that did not care before that suddenly were saying to me that this plastic thing is awful. And we really have to do something about all this waste. And I think the one great thing about the plastic crisis is that I cannot nobody on earth that I’ve ever spoken to whether they’re Republican or Democrat or neoliberal or non liberal, or from India or from the US or from France, like everybody agrees that plastic waste is a scourge on our lives and wants to get rid of it. Now I don’t I think we don’t all agree how to get rid of it. But it’s not as divisive an issue as something like reducing meat consumption, which really gets into people’s identity teas and food cultures, and you know, diet and nutrition needs. Plastic is different. Like I think everyone agrees that we shouldn’t be throwing plastic containers into the ocean, right. And having turtles end up with bellies full of plastic or birds or, or marine creatures, you know, dolphins and whales. So we all agree on that. Now he’s got to figure out how to get there. And my take on life is you can’t manage what you can’t measure, you have to have data. And so the more my co founder, Luke, and I started looking at the facts and the data, the more we realize, nobody is doing the right math. And this is just my call to action all the time. And this is my, my, my catchphrase, we’re doing the math wrong on everything. I mean, I think we’re doing the math wrong on the food on our plate, we’re doing the math wrong on on decisions we make about energy, but we’re especially doing the math wrong on plastic. And, you know, we have looming infertility crises that people are not talking about, that are directly related to the chemicals in the plastics we’re exposed to on a daily basis. And that is going to just get worse. And we’re gonna have to have these hard discussions. And this is happening in China, as well as in the UK, as well as in the US. So it’s not limited to one area, and microplastics are becoming an increasing concern. But what we’re really seeing is that now, you know, even when I started in this space a few years ago, we did not have enough data, from studies about what it does to us to have plastic in our bodies. So you wouldn’t meet people that would say, Yeah, sure, I’ll buy that we have microplastics in our bodies, or in the placenta of pregnant women or in the lungs of a baby. But we don’t have any proof that it does anything to us. Okay, but what we’re seeing now is the proof is coming out,
Zal Dastur 11:54
Surely nobody can think that it’s good. There’s no way it’s a positive.
Sonalie Figueiras 11:59
Yeah, I mean, I would agree with you, obviously. But I’ve had discussions with people that say, Hey, we’re overblowing this right? Like, yes, there are pieces of plastic in our bodies, but we are, but we’re fine. It’s not. But now we’re starting to see things like Oh, actually, people with higher levels of microplastics have gut disturbances. And I’m sure you might have figured out or maybe you know this anecdotally, from people around you, but we’re having more and more digestive issues, right, we’re getting more and more stomach cancer and colon cancer. And a lot of that is because of the food we eat has completely changed. We’re all quite fiber deficient. There is too much processed foods, empty calories in our diet, but some of it is also linked to having microplastics in our body.
Zal Dastur 12:44
So let me ask you in terms of plastics, because I know that you know, if you take a look at a company like Coca Cola, for example, where they’re probably one of the largest collectors in the world, in terms of the production of their soft drinks, and the bottles and all of that that cannot be recycled. Is it a question of they did something very clever when they push the recycling on to the consumer, they made it the consumers responsibility to deal with the waste that they were producing? Where does it come from? Is it a is a consumer problem to solve? Is it a business problem to solve? And should the businesses be held accountable for the waste that they are producing?
Sonalie Figueiras 13:26
Yeah, that’s the right question to ask. And we could honestly spend the entire podcast talking about this question. And it speaks to kind of everything in our society in terms of how do we fix these huge problems like the plastic crisis and the climate crisis? And what you’re essentially asking if I’m understanding is where does the buck stop, right? And for too long, we’ve put it on the consumer, like, if you change your straw, if you bring a reusable bag, if you choose a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, the market will solve its problems, right? And that’s neoliberal capitalism. Like that’s what that’s one way of looking at the world. What I want to throw back is we’re not asking the right questions about So whose responsibility is it to handle our waste. And we know that in situations where companies are regulated in terms of how they dispose of their waste, we know that they change. We know that they remove dangerous materials, toxic materials from their supply chains, we know that they change the way they deal with their waste, and they become responsible for it. So I think there is a very strong argument that we need more regulation and everything we can see shows that regulation is coming in California you have regulations around Single use, packaging, and around PF A’s, which are a very dangerous group of toxic chemicals that are used in plastics and especially in in packaging coatings, but also in things like the nonstick layer on your pan. It’s basically all these layers that help you make things greaseproof in one waterproof. So whatever product you’re using that has those layers, you can pretty much guarantee they have PFS, they’re not your friend that I mean, we know we have data that shows links between these substances and infertility and cancer rates, and even things as far removed as obesity and heart disease. So we know something’s wrong there. I mean, again, the causality is not necessarily right. When I say these are links, we don’t have outright proof on everything on some things we do, because some of these things have been looked at for two decades. And that’s why there was such a big outcry against one pee fast, especially called PFOA, which is the one that is in nonstick pans. And you will see so many pans if you go into a kitchen store that will it will say not no PFOA, because that became a huge consumer issue, because we were able to make the link, right. But the point being that progressive, local, municipal and state governments are seeing the forest from the trees, and they are really creating regulations, because in the end of the day, it serves no one this waste serves no one, right? It is it pollutes our waterways, which ends up polluting our marine environments, which affects things like how many fish are in the sea for us to eat, right? If for people who do believe in eating fish and eating seafood, right, it also is a huge expense. And that’s one of the issues, for example, across Asia is that because we lack so much regulation around waste, waste is just strewn around. And eventually someone has to clean it up. And I mean, I can tell you that in India, they’ve suddenly implemented a very, very tough anti plastic waste stance that has just come in. And it’s going to have huge repercussions for businesses. And obviously, there were huge lobby dollars spent on pushing back against that. And so same in the EU, that the single use plastic directive came out last year, and it really caused changes. In the UK, you have there’s a there’s a few schemes that are basically trying to get you to change to commit to 30% recycled materials in your plastics. The other problem is obviously plastics are linked to link to greenhouse gases. And they’re linked to emissions. And I think, finally, after years and years of activism and work by journalists, and and really people who are so passionate and have dedicated their lives to these causes, finally, people are starting to make this link between petrochemicals and climate change and emissions. And so it’s getting harder and harder to justify the cost of plastic and the cost of extracting plastic. Right. So you’ve got all these things that are that are kind of bubbling up all in different ways. You know, we’ve also, a lot of the data shows that we’ve never been more aware of the climate crisis than we are today as as a mass population. And so that also has caused, you know, anger and a reaction in folks. And so whose responsibility is it to fix it? You know, and when you talk about a company like Coca Cola, it’s really difficult to, to paint them with one brush, because the activist in me wants to say, you know, they’re the worst, they’re the problem, they’re selling us bottled water, bottled water should really not exist, they absolutely are both on they both pay lobbyists to fight plastic regulation. But then they also sit on sustainable material alliances, right, and they sponsor prizes for innovation and materials. So what I’ve learned in the last few years working with a lot and talking to a lot of big food companies, right? I’ve had the luck of also being a journalist and being, you know, taken behind the scenes, right, I’ve seen like the Wizard, like behind the curtains of the wizard for a lot of these big companies. And what you see is that, yes, their business model is problematic. I mean, arguing that would would be silly, and they have survived for so long, because they have been able to make money without pricing in the externalities of their supply chain. Right. But there are people in those organizations that absolutely see the problem. And there are there are parts of the organizations that are working to do better. And some of the most polluting organizations in the world are also some of the same organizations that are funding, material innovation, or waste infrastructure innovation. And I think that if tomorrow you presented them with solutions that could work at scale. I think that we could get somewhere.
Zal Dastur 19:44
This goes back really when you talk about that consumer business as a problem. The way I look at it is businesses follow regulation. Regulation is set typically by politicians, politicians are put there by people in democratic countries, they’re put there by people that vote And so the idea of as a population, being more mindful of voting in politicians that are more in line with green thinking, or at least believing in climate change, I mean, I think, was it the chairman of the World Bank came out just now saying that he wasn’t sure what the data said about climate change. And you’re like, how can you have somebody that’s representing this global institution, who doesn’t think that climate change is actually occurring? There is kind of like this cycle that they’re the consumers can demand both from the businesses and from the people that they’re putting in power that they want these changes to take place. But I guess, as you said, we are now fighting a culture of convenience, where if your food isn’t delivered in 30 minutes, you’re like, Oh, this is ridiculous. People are upset when things are not happening instantly, that instant gratification doesn’t happen. So it seems that there’s so many people, there are a lot of people out there and there are more people out there that do see this climate as a problem and want to make a difference. How do you convince non believers? How do you convince people that don’t think it’s real? And then the ones that do change? How do you convince them to do something about it?
Sonalie Figueiras 21:18
Yeah, I mean, I think it really depends on on how you see the world? I mean, do you see the world as are we obsessed with convenience, because it was made available to us? And it’s, it makes life easier? And we’re all looking for the easiest, most lazy option to do everything? Why are there some companies that basically only commit to whatever is legal versus what’s not? And then why are there some companies that go above and beyond, some companies do go above and beyond for the environment or for health, or for worker rights than they have to So they obviously see some kind of benefit in their business to it. Because at the end of the day, we do exist in a neoliberal capitalist framework where shareholder cap is capitalism runs our lives. So that is where we are. So Coca Cola is operating within that system. And if they were sitting on this podcast, they would say to you, we, our job is to give our consumers what they want. And what they want are delicious drinks that are convenient and well priced. And, you know, easily accessible. So from their point of view, their argument would be, well, the consumer wants this, and then the consumers point of view is probably well, I don’t really have any reusable choices made for me. But if suddenly, you were given reusable choices, would we take them up, and I can tell you that the results are mixed on that very, very mixed, I can tell you that off the record, I have been told by startups who have reusable models, and we’re trying to implement them with restaurants or delivery platforms or coffee chains, that it has not universally worked, and that consumers do not want that extra step. So then it’s incumbent upon us as as innovators to create systems where it solves a problem and is innovative, right. And so for example, that’s what you see a lot in the materials space, you see some incredible innovation of 100% bio based materials from waste based streams so that you’re not using feedstock that would go to agriculture, or that is, you know, non renewable, or that could be used for something more important than packaging, right. And you are seeing, you’re seeing solutions from algae and from mushrooms and from, you know, entry flea paper and an ag waste. And arguably, these companies have a market and are innovating and are being funded and are coming up with fantastic solutions. Because they have a market like there are companies that want them to make these materials and that want plastic free packaging. So as with everything, it starts with the early pioneers, right, the early adopters, when the first kind of smartphone came out, it was too early. Right? And that’s sort of where we are with a lot of this climate tech stuff. And this kind of sustainability tech stuff is that there are super big pioneers out there that are doing it. There are companies taking the lead and saying I want to be ahead of the sustainability curve. I want my supply chain to be you know, transparent and and have responsibly sourced feedstock and I want it to be petrochemical free and I want it to be ethical, but those companies are not the mass market. And we are still peons of what costs less like that’s how our economy works. So if you’re asking me how I think We’re gonna get mass change, we’re gonna get mass change when the cost of not doing it becomes greater than the cost of doing it right? Or other way around, whichever however you want to phrase it, but basically, what it costs more to have plastic in your supply chain than to not have it, everybody will switch. And so the question becomes, how do you get to that tipping point,
Zal Dastur 25:23
you know, I had another chat with another guest where we were talking about the effectiveness of a carbon tax, and the fact that when you look at plastic as a petrochemical product, and you were to tax it at the right level, it probably wouldn’t be cheaper than some of the alternatives that are coming out there. Because you would have to pay the real price of whether that’s to clean it up, or whether that’s to produce the plastic I read in the UK, you know, just as an exercise charging, I think it was five pence for plastic bags at a supermarket, they saw the decrease of about 95% of plastic bag usage. And that’s just by putting a small, a small charge to it, if you start looking at the real cost of a product, not just the what it cost to manufacture and distribute, it makes a big difference.
Sonalie Figueiras 26:09
So what we need, we need regulation, that’s one way. Another way is transparency. And that’s where we’re coming in, right, we are providing transparency, and showing the cost of those externalities. And I believe that when people see information made clearly for them, they change their behavior. And they are able to engage stakeholders, and those around them. And I also think that we are moving towards a world of more transparency, I think we want to know the carbon labels in our food, we want to know this, you know, the ethics of our, our T shirt supply chain, we want to know where our packaging has come from, and is this plastic bag, going to kill the turtle, you know, we want to know all these things, we want to know so much more about our products than we ever did. But we want to know it in a way that isn’t so expensive, that we can’t afford the product. So I think that there will also deviate from industry. So for example, beauty is a much easier industry, I think to really make some inroads, because those usually a higher margin product versus food where it’s much, much harder. But also, for too long, we have not priced the cost of waste disposal, right. And so instead of taxing people on plastic, or what have you, you could also approach it from Alright, this is costing us as government’s too much to handle. So we’re gonna push that costs back on the business. And that’s called EPR laws like and producer responsibility. And you can see a lot more of that coming about right. And then you’ve got other headwinds. Like, for example, in the UK, you have something called the Green claims code, which is basically a blueprint for greenwashing regulation, right. So you’re getting to the point where it’s harder to lie to your customers, it’s getting harder for you to avoid the cost of disposal of, of your end of life, the product end of life, your your customers want to know everything about their product, right? And all of those things together, becomes actually kind of an expense to the business. And then it’s sort of like well, actually moving to the renewable waste space, plastic free material suddenly becomes attractive. Because you don’t have to worry about greenwashing, your waste, disposal, responsibility goes down, you are able to be transparent and communicate about it right? Instead of kind of lie or obscure obfuscates from your customers, what’s going on. And eventually, I think, really smart CEOs and businesses see 10 years down the line, and they see that this is coming eventually. It’s just a question of when so why not start now and build that in?
Zal Dastur 29:05
So what is it that an individual can do? So everybody that sits there and says, Oh, you know, I’m just one person? What’s the impact that I can have? What’s the advice that you would have to somebody that’s listening and individual? What what is it that they can they can do to have an impact?
Sonalie Figueiras 29:24
Honestly, the first thing you can do is and it’s the same advice I always give as green queen. Absolutely. The number one thing you can do is buy less stuff. Like we buy too much stuff. So if you want an easy rule, try to go one month where you don’t buy anything that isn’t food.
Zal Dastur 29:49
I feel like for many months that I go without buying anything that’s that’s not food
Sonalie Figueiras 29:54
well that I think ahead of a lot of people I think that most of us live in a world of our Amazon deliveries and online shopping and malls and we need to get away from that. We need to really divorce ourselves from the idea that things are equal status. And I really am one of those people that believes that like 90 to 95% of our decisions are beyond survival decisions, right? So beyond eating and sleeping and needing to be healthy to survive, right, the basic needs, I do believe that most of us are making decisions based on status,
Zal Dastur 30:31
especially in this part of the world, especially in Asia, where I think status is something that is far more maybe sought after than in than in other parts, you know, face and the idea of where you are in society and what other people are saying about you seems people seem to care a lot more about that I feel in this part of the world.
Sonalie Figueiras 30:48
In that sense, yes. But I will push back and say in the West, it’s the same fundamental need to show status, it’s just that they show it’s a different outcome. So in Asia, we’re still at that stage where being flashy, can be desirable. Whereas a different way to show status, like if you’re a billionaire in Seattle, you looked like you are a college student. That’s, that’s also a form of status, but probably your hoodie cost more than most people’s food budget for the month. So yes, and yes, and no, but But I mean, the original status seekers, for me is the American economy, right? I mean, that’s built on consumer capitalism that exists on wanting to improve your status, the American Dream is wanting to improve your status. To some extent, it’s also wanting to provide for your family and basic needs of, of safety and security that I think are very important. But I think that we absolutely need to move to a world of degrowth, we need to move to a world of experience over things. And if we were to have everyone go on a consumption diet, beyond eating, right, eating and drinking food, I think we would cut out a huge amount of packaging just right there. But we would also cut out a huge amount of production, and a huge amount of emissions. And then what happens to those business models as a different conversation, right.
Zal Dastur 32:15
But I would argue that nobody is crying about the blacksmiths that lost their job, when we moved from horses to cars, as you consume less of something, it is the market at play here, right? You There is too much stuff in the world. So maybe we don’t need to be producing that much. And people can then find other ways for that capital or that resource to be deployed.
Sonalie Figueiras 32:41
I mean, I think that’s fair, and funding and where funding goes and how it gets there. I mean, that’s, that’s its own kind of really like Pandora’s box, I have to say, I don’t think that the best solutions, and teams and projects are always the ones that really get the funding at all, you know, I think, once again, I do not buy into this kind of the market will solve the problem. And so I actually meet a lot of incredible people through my job that are doing such important work. And they’re not necessarily getting the funding that they deserve.
Zal Dastur 33:23
Because the unit economics of their product or something like that is not there, it may not be in the words of a startup parlay, and scalable enough for there lots of different things that people are looking for when they invest and ultimately, really what they’re looking for, in many companies is an opportunity for an exit, as opposed to okay, what is the biggest impact that you’re having? Like, I’ve got this product that can save the world? But if nobody’s going to pay me for it, or if nobody’s going to buy it or acquire it the business, then you’re unlikely to find that investor that’s looking for just for the sheer good of the planet.
Sonalie Figueiras 33:59
Absolutely. And I think that we are caught in a bit of a rock and a hard place right now, because we’re in a kind of capitalist economy. But we’ve got this new kind of impact investing kind of energy and movement happening. But really, we’re still not totally clear on, on how to calculate our ROI. And it’s once again, because most of the time we’re not pricing in the externalities, right? So it’s, again goes back to we’re not doing the math, right. And so we need more solutions and products and platforms to help us do the math better. And we also need to be less siloed in our approach, and this is something I’ve always been really adamant about. There is no human health without environmental health and vice versa. We need both we need each other. We need the other. And I’m not I’m not sure we think about that enough. And but at the but the end of the day as an investor in today’s system, yes, you are looking for a certain return a certain exit. So, impact, I hesitate to say this, but I do still feel like impact remains a nice to have not an a key driver, I feel like we’re trying to fit impact into the capitalist box and go, oh, we’ll create an impact business. But it’ll also take all the boxes for shareholders and investors and unit economics. But I don’t know that everything that we need to solve can be solved using that system.
Zal Dastur 35:40
What I’m liking, and what I’m seeing more of in terms of, especially in the startup space, is companies where the product that they are producing, is having a positive impact on the planet. So the more they sell, the better it is for the planet. And there’s certain businesses where that it’s sort of like the their business model is based on that it’s not just that impact is a side, or an adjacent to what they’re doing it is that the more that you purchase of this or the more that you engage with, you know, whether that’s, as you mentioned, the mushroom packaging, or there’s, you know, sustainable products that are that are doing that there may not be enough, but we need to start somewhere, and it’s better than it was, you know, five, six, definitely than what it was 10 years ago.
Sonalie Figueiras 36:29
I think that activists do push back on that. Because I think, again, we’re getting into a situation where we’re using consumption as the tool to create impact and to fix problems. And that brings its own problems. And one really good kind of case study on this is what’s happened with the secondhand fashion market, where you have had for the last few years, this huge boom and resell platforms and so much attention to this problem. And we’ve really convinced people to to thrift to buy secondhand to buy vintage pre loved whatever the word you used to call it. And that was great, except here’s what’s happened. latest research shows that actually, consumers are not buying fewer clothes and keeping them longer. They’re buying fast fashion, flogging it on the secondhand sites. And then now secondhand buyers are going on these sites and going actually, I don’t want to buy a crappy, fast fashion brand shirt that’s going to fall apart in a few months. So the secondhand sites are ending up with a whole lot of inventory that is unsellable or low quality. And that eventually gets dumped, unfortunately, in developing economies, especially around Africa, and Asia. And the other thing that’s happening is that we’re continuing to buy clothes that are made from synthetics. So again, plastics, so plastics is actually not just a huge problem in packaging, it’s a huge problem in fashion, over 60% of all the clothes we we make and buy are made from plastic. And so you’ve sort of created this, this actual negative loop. And so now you have fashion activists that are saying, actually, the best thing to do is to look at your wardrobe, fix what you can use what you have to, until it’s absolutely the end of its life, invest in very few things that are long quality and lasting. So that’s how we used to live before 100 years ago, right. And that’s somebody like my mother, that’s how she’s always lived. fewer things that are quality, longer lasting, and that it’s sort of put a bit of a spanner in the wrench of the whole pre love second hand boom. And so that’s an example of where consumption will not solve our way into this. We cannot use consumer tourism as a way to fight the climate crisis. And so I do push back on these kinds of like, buy for good models.
Zal Dastur 39:18
So I mean, Sonali, I feel like we could talk all day on a wide range of topics here. I have one last question for you, which is, what advice would you give to somebody that wants to get involved in this space? Whether that’s climate sustainability, in that area, somebody who may be either is entering the job market or is looking to switch their careers. Would you have any advice on on how someone should take that first step?
Sonalie Figueiras 39:45
It depends how you want to approach it. Are you coming at it to to learn in which case I would say be humble and go and learn? Because one of the big issues I’m seeing in the space as I Watch the rise of greenwashing, which is just getting worse and worse and just more dangerous and more dangerous. It also has a lot to do with people who know very little feeling compelled to get into sustainability. Because one, it’s trendy, again, going back to status, and to because maybe they genuinely also care and see the environmental issues and want to get involved. And I think instead of really taking a step back and going, alright, how can I get educated here? How can I do some, like, shadowing of someone who actually knows things? How can I use my services to be of use in a company that’s already doing it? We’re having a lot of kind of people just going well, I know everything because I read the news, and I’m on LinkedIn, know. And that’s how we’re ending up with these kind of easy solutions, right? Or kind of superficial approaches to what is really a systems theory issue, and requires deep analysis and understanding and looking at things in you know, 100 different ways. And so I think the best thing you can do is really kind of take a step back and educate yourself more and go beyond just like social media videos to like, really understand. Where could you be most useful to this movement? What are you well trained to do? What do you enjoy doing? Where can you serve, rather than kind of looking at it as, oh, this is the next career bandwagon. Like let me how can this serve me?
Zal Dastur 41:35
No, that’s that’s fantastic advice. And Sonali, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to I really enjoyed this conversation.
Sonalie Figueiras 41:42
Thank you so much, Zal. Thanks for letting me talk about so many random things and for being so engaged. I’m really glad to have been here.