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Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Sian Sutherland

Sian Sutherland is Co-founder of A Plastic Planet, one of the most recognised and respected organisations tackling the plastic crisis. Igniting social change, creating brands, campaigns and businesses with soul is Sian’s passion. Multi-award winner, including Female Marketer of the Year, CEW Achiever Award, Entrepreneur of the Year and British Inventor of the Year; Sian is a serial entrepreneur with a varied background in advertising, skincare, Michelin Star restaurants, film production and brand creation design agencies.  In 2017, Sian co-founded A Plastic Planet, using a pro-business, pro-solutions and pro-active approach to build a different kind of organisation, helping the world turn off the plastic tap.  Early 2023, they have launched PlasticFree, the first materials and systems solutions platform, empowering the 160m global creatives to design waste out at source.  

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

Before founding A Plastic Planet with Frede Magnussen in 2017, I had a long career as an entrepreneur with a background in advertising, running Michelin Star restaurants, film production, skincare and brand creation design agencies.  Long short, I am far from a plastic saint.

When I had my own personal epiphany back in 2016, I wondered if there was a way to create impact with a different kind of organisation – focused totally on solutions not the problem, working with business and governments. My belief of course as an entrepreneur is that business is the fastest tool of change. A Plastic Planet has one very simple goal – to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap.

Taking this solutions-focused pro-industry approach, in 6 years A Plastic Planet has become one of the most recognised and respected organisations tackling the plastic crisis, advising businesses on truly sustainable material and systems alternatives to plastic, working with governments to deliver change through legislation and keeping the crisis in the media through innovative campaigns.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

Six years ago we identified that the plastic crisis is the gateway to the climate crisis and the solutions that are needed and amplified by A Plastic Planet go so far beyond eradicating just pollution.

Plastic is an indestructible material that is the product of amazing engineering. However, it is a material that is misused in the modern world. If we are to move away from the wrong use of plastic which is a scourge on the health of our planet and humans alike, a switch to alternative materials is essential. This should be alongside an introduction of reusables and prefill systems that ensure that we maintain the convenience we have become equally addicted to..

Demonstrating that this is possible TODAY is at the heart of all the work we do at A Plastic Planet. Whether it be with governments, policymakers, the United Nations, academics or industry, we all must collaborate to bring about lasting solutions and protect future generations from the ever-present impact of plastic pollution.

How did you achieve awareness?

As a serial entrepreneur, I know how to make something happen out of nothing.  It’s what all entrepreneurs do, every single day.  Taking this approach into the world of environmental impact, using my marketing experience with bold messages, strong visuals and an empowering message is the key to our rapid awareness. 

Talking about the problem makes people feel scared, angry and guilty. Whereas showing them a glimpse of a brighter, more optimistic future that does not depend on toxic indestructible plastic is highly empowering.

Our superpower is the brilliant people we work with – Higginson Strategy on public affairs and media, Made Thought on creative strategy.  By working with the best in the business, we punch well about our nimble weight and change the rhetoric on plastic from ‘waste’ to an entirely new way for mankind to take, make and reuse/refill/repair/share – an entirely new way to live.

Collaboration is key. Allying with like-minded organisations disproportionately increases our impact.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

Over the last 7 years we have depended on philanthropy and consultancy to fund all our work. But, as an entrepreneur, the world of charity-dependence is alien to me so it is now very exciting that we are evolving the business, through our new solutions platform PlasticFree, to one of self-sustainabilty with our sponsorship and subscriptions model. We will always run a very tight ship, giving extraordinary ROI on all funding received. Having run my own businesses for 35 years, that’s a good habit you can never lose.

What are the key successes?

A successful past campaign that stands out is ‘Sack the Sachet’, which sought to eradicate the 855 million single-use plastic sachets that are produced each year. After almost a year of lobbying, the UK government committed to ban single-use plastic food sachets.

In August at the request of UK Government we submitted a ready-made ambitious Plastics Strategy for government ministers to help position the UK as  a world leader in  the removal of plastic from fashion and packaging.

We are founding partners of the Plastic Health Coalition, the umbrella organisation of doctors, scientists and environmental technologist to irrefutably prove the impact of plastic toxins on human health.  This year the Plastic Health Summit will be held in Brussels, attended by MEPs, industry and scientists.

In January, we launched PlasticFree, the world’s first material and system solutions platform to empower the creative industry to rethink everything from the beginning of the design phase. PlasticFree is the result of two years research, design and development – building on all our experience and expert advisors to create an education platform that ignites, inspires and informs, through thousands of case studies, proof points and editorial features often featuring our 50 icon-strong Creative and Science Council that  includes Thomas Heatherwick; Sir David Chipperfield; Sir David King, Professor Hugh Montgomery, Solitaire Townsend; Tom Dixon; Shaway Yeh and Skylar Tibbits of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In our other work, A Plastic Planet is a leading member of the Ocean Plastic Leadership Network working in partnership with Defra and industry giants such as Unilever and Nestle to set the UK road map tackling the plastic pollution crisis and implementing the commitments of the 2022 Global Plastic Treaty agreement.

All of this work flows into the same singular goal at the core of our creation: ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Society has become addicted to throwaway consumerism; it is this system of hyper consumption that has been perpetuated for decades by corporations and the petrochemical industry that presents the biggest challenge to those trying to protect our planet and human health.  

This attitude is slowly lifting but change is at a snail’s pace, with targets being continually missed by industry and government alike. This is why we will continue to not only present the damming evidence of the damage we are inflicting on our planet and our own health but also the solutions and alternatives that are at hand to transition to a plastic free future.

What are your plans now/for the future?

As ever, we will be continuing to fight the plastic tide on all fronts through collaboration with policymakers and industry, championing innovation and highlighting important research which will spotlight the damaging implications of the throwaway culture which has infected societies globally.

Where will we see the most impact – definitely through the rapid adoption and use of PlasticFree. If we can ignite, empower, educate a big percentage of the 160m global creatives, helping them to feel the smartest people in the room, we can change everything.  Because, think about it, everything from the clothes you wear today, the contents of your house, the street you live in – it is ALL designed.  We need the worldwide creative community to help us design using fewer resources, making everything beautiful, useful and durable. That would have an extraordinary impact on GHG emissions and how we live in harmony with Nature. 

Over the course of the coming year, PlasticFree will have a presence at the most prominent design events such as  New York Design Week and London Design Biennale. The team will continue to work to grow a community supercharging the unique capacity of designers to imagine and improve the future. PlasticFree has the goal of eradicating 1 trillion pieces of plastic waste from the global economy by 2025.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey? Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

If you have the appetite for the rollercoaster versus the roundabout, start your own business.  You will give up a lot of perks, you may not have the fat pension from corporate life, but the ride is living life to the full. 

Very importantly, avoid politics within your business – weed out the wrong ‘uns fast as they undermine everything. 

Make sure every person is on the bus – bring them all along with you.

My fundamental question for all entrepreneurs is always challenge your idea with SO WHAT? It is not enough to have a great product or service idea. Who is going to buy it and how are they going to know about you is what matters. 

What are you saying that NO-ONE else can say…. And are you saying it?

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

Kate Raworth, creator of Doughnut Economics, creating the principles of an entirely new way to build economies, focusing on thriving versus unsustainable  forever growth. She is challenging the system like few others, her complex message is communicated so simply and her time is NOW.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

My fave is this… easy to say but hard to live by

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

George Bernard Shaw

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?  

A Plastic Planet – https://aplasticplanet.com/

PlasticFree – https://plasticfree.com/

A Plastic Planet Twitter – https://twitter.com/aplastic_planet?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

A Plastic Planet LinkedIn – https://uk.linkedin.com/company/a-plastic-planet

Sian Sutherland LinkedIn – https://uk.linkedin.com/in/sian-sutherland-33485b10

PlasticFree Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/createplasticfree/

PlasticFree LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/company/plasticfree-com/

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