Can circular design help this beverage multinational end waste?
A world without waste is an incredible vision, but a surprising discovery had us re-evaluating everything: removing plastic completely is not the solution. In fact, it could make things worse. Instead, to solve this I'd need to untangle a complex system and uncover the truth of what to change, factoring in cartels and government corruption.
The beverage multinational decided it was time for a change; they were ready to figure out how to eliminate waste from their business model. Any skepticism reading that could be justified given press coverage.
However before agreeing to take this on, I worked with their Senior Leadership stakeholders to critically evaluate the ambition; was this a greenwashing marketing exercise or an exciting effort to use their considerable influence for good? What we found was a group who were empowered and willing to do whatever it took to create real change. The common sense of purpose between our team and the client created an incredible, close working dynamic - one that I've rarely experienced.
Focusing on the LATAM region; the challenge was in three parts: first, map and expose the pathway to achieve zero waste; then identify the most influential leverage points for this company to act on, and finally turn that into immediate action. Because this valuable insight wouldn't be worth anything unless the company could execute.
With the scale, resources, and clout of the company and stakeholders involved, this was an incredible opportunity for positive change in the world, but one that would have to be planned very carefully to ensure these assets were leveraged to their greatest potential.
|Insights & mind shifts||
🌎🗑🤯 How to map the entire LATAM waste ecosystem... in three weeks?
There's a lot of "common knowledge" out there on how to reduce waste. But to do this properly, with the buy-in of the LATAM VPs, we'd need to take an evidence-based approach, and start from the bottom up to reach our own conclusions, and on a tight time schedule. This took a bit of creative research structuring. I focused my team's analysis on developing an 'ideal state' of a circular (zero waste) product lifecycle, and uncovering the barriers by triangulating existing academic research and data analysis, with first-hand interviews with people and companies in different parts of the value chain, across the region (7 timezones - great fun for interview scheduling). This gave us a 360-degree view of what was really going on - and it was surprising.
🥛 Removing plastic isn't a silver bullet; it could do more harm than good (that includes those recycled plastic running shoes).
With so much press and vocal activism about plastic, this was a shocking mental shift. There's a long list of reasons behind this; for example, the first focus to eliminate waste should always be to focus on reducing packing used in the first place, followed by reuse. Recycling is a last resort. Glass, the fan favourite, only makes sense if distribution and refilling all happen within a 50km radius; beyond that there's a much higher footprint than plastic. Plastic remains one of the studiest, long-lasting materials for reusable containers. When it comes to recycling the PET (current material) plastic bottles; companies would love to use a higher content of recycled material, but they literally cannot get enough plastic bottles BACK into the recycling system. Instead, they go to landfills, or fashion companies pay a premium to greenwash with recycled plastic garments or accessories. I could go on...
🐱👤 Negotiating with cartels wasn't part of the plan. There were a few quirks of this region to navigate in order successfully change the status quo; the deeper we dug for root causes, the more complexity we found. Shockingly, we discovered solving an environmental issue could actually create an enormous social problem; if PET plastic waste is immediately eliminated, it would put hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans out of a job; the 'recicladores', or plastic waste pickers. But in investigating how to transition employment as PET plastic decreases, it turned out a particular group was making a big profit from this low-income workforce. To move forward, some creative agreements had to be struck in a way that created value for all parties involved. A number of other road blocks, like corruption in governing bodies, required some tactical gymnastics and time/budget buffers; implementation wasn't going to be straightforward.
⚓Change sticks when it's your own decision: give them the tools to solve the problem, not the answers. No matter how good the strategy is, it means nothing unless it's executed. For this reason, it was incredibly important the LATAm VP's and the working group felt total ownership over the solutions we reached and felt bonded as a group; that wouldn't happen if my team simply presented them with solutions. Instead, I structured a series of tight, high-momentum interactive workshops for the busy executives, located offsite (Google kindly donated a workspace); where the group worked together to determine focus areas and design action plans. My team created a huge 3x3m circular map of the complete, circular product lifecycle, and placed moveable "barrier" cards - the root cause issues we'd identified throughout the cycle; this created a focusing backdrop and made the problems visible and tangible.
🐅🐯 Ultimately we set up three action teams that would go on to lead programs in the business, focusing on three different, but critical challenges to solve: the first to embed sustainability in the core value of the company, the second to provide consumers with sustainable options and lastly, to use their massive influence to convene others in the industry in a pre-competitive agenda to create change.
🚗Each team created a 12-month action plan, business model, and transition plan to make sure the imitative would plug in neatly to the company's current structure and priorities.
🌍🔍The map we'd created of the waste system was the first time stakeholders had seen the system all in one place and could see how they each related to the departments of each other. As a by-product, this map created increased alignment and momentum by giving stakeholders a common language and baseline.