Since 2012, when Cyrill Gutsch founded Parley for the Oceans, an organization that rallies the power of creative thinkers, scientists and innovators to proactively heal our ailing oceans—its message has grown exponentially, and so has its urgency.
As a designer and creative strategist, Gutsch and Parley’s key to success is realizing that the delivery is as vital as the message itself. While the gravity of our dying oceans is very ugly, Parley inspires through the beauty of thoughtful design and eco-innovation. With economic systems driven by commerce, Parley in collaboration with aligned organizations such as Adidas, are reinventing Ocean Plastic®. From some of the eight million metric tons of plastic waste in our oceans comes a commodity and resource, discarded fishing nets are repurposed in to yarn and products are up-cycled from painstakingly, hand-collected plastic that’s washed up on shores around the globe. With his impassioned and compelling plea, Gutsch has the rare ability to incite a room of even the most jaded people to create and demand change. No one says it better than Cyrill. Here in his own words is a call to action.
“Nature is a permanent innovation process. We associate it with something old and low-tech, the truth is everything in nature is extremely high-tech. We got used to this cliché tree hugging picture of nature, but change perspective and go on a molec- ular, endoscopic level and suddenly you understand that there is a big design and so much evolution and innovation. Nature is extremely fast, and we are very slow when it comes to converting our language, because we always try to exploit our inno- vations to the max. We have created many intelligent technologies and materials that can be scaled up, but you suddenly realize that nature has done that for a long time and its own packaging solutions are amazing.
It’s not socially acceptable anymore to ignore environmental issues. We want to make purpose the new luxury. What is more desirable than knowing that a harmful material in a product that I’m wearing is removed from the environment. – Cyrill Gutsch
Photo Eric White
As a designer and creative strategist look- ing at all environmental issues, you quickly realize that the failing economic models are behind environmental issues. It’s the materials that we use and how we create, manufacture and consume them. Plastic is only the poster boy of that problem but you can inflate that to a lot of different areas and substances; food, transportation and energy in general.
When we started Parley in 2012, people didn’t believe that plastic was a problem or that the oceans were dying. People believed in the standards that were guar- anteed to be safe and they felt the oceans were huge and couldn’t be destroyed. Now in 2018, everyone is questioning plastic, it needs to go, there is no economy for it. On June 8, 2018, we called for a material revolution of the United Nations, we simply can’t afford to use harmful substances. We must completely rethink the way we’re making products and the design. The cre- ative industry has a leading role here and we should own it.
If you see economy as the driver of envi- ronmental issues, then you come directly to the creative industry because we are the ones consulting with brands on how to bring their companies in to the future. We don’t want to create desire for products that are harmful. As a designer, if I can’t change it, then I should demand it—go to the manufacturer or brand I’ve been hired by and say ‘I don’t want to do it. I want new materials’.
It sounds naïve, but it really isn’t naïve to have a strategy to get from an old economy to a new economy, where harmful substances don’t have a place. We must look at what it means to make 20 billion plastic bottles. How do we deal with that? How do I change society and impact nature with that? These questions need to be asked and this is the moment.
When do we realize that the planet is under attack and we are the ones attacking it? It’s about global collabora- tion, not one person or one organization can do it alone. The question is not if, but how. We must detox from these materials. Ask how much plastic are we using? Which mate- rials do we really need and which can be replaced with already existing alternatives? Then isolate these materials and ask how much it costs in time and resources to reengineer them and create alternatives. Part of the process is to question our prod- uct consumption. Knowing plastic is such a problem, we want to avoid more being made, phase it out and avoid plastic where it’s not necessary. On the other hand, you can intercept all the material currently out there, but that is very expensive and difficult to do.
One reaction is pseudo-solutions; to increase our recycling efforts or offsetting it. There are many ways to say the current technology and material is fine, we are just using it wrong, but in my opinion this is the wrong approach. We cannot get plastic under control with recycling.
The problem is at the end of life you’re tossing it away in your recycling box, but before you use it, it has been made and producing it uses a lot of chemicals. Then while you’re using it odds are you’re shedding chem- icals and particles into the environment and in to your own body. For example, when you drive home today or in a cab or on a bicycle, the tires wear off synthetic material and it stays on the streets. It dries up, the next rain comes and flushes down the gutter, into the river, into the sea. Or it becomes dust and you breathe it in. You’re leaching and leaking when you’re making it and then when you’re usingit, and a small percentage gets recycled. Who guarantees that these materials get recycled? Some products are composed of up twenty different types of materials, no one cuts them apart to be recycled. It’s an enormous effort to take plastic back out of nature, the water or a beach. There is no circular economy for plastic. Our technol- ogy is wrong when you compare all of that with a grape or an apple where we can eat the packaging.
We are extremely advanced and have the knowledge to solve simple problems like packaging materials. It’s just a question of resources—of people addressing and putting money behind innovation and running these processes in a very creative and collaborative way. One organization can’t do it all. It is a question of networking and thinking exponentially, not linear.
Media is creating a global buzz, getting the attention of people on different societal levels—from brands in creative industries to government. To inspire
them with the beauty of what we have and show them how we are losing it with this material (plastic). They’ll then start to understand and communicate with others. This is a big trend right now but it’s still an abstract thing. Plastic waste in the Dominican Republic or the Maldives is still far away. The big challenge is to take it down to the everyday life of people out there, but before we do that, we want to capture the people who can actually change it. Because it is very frustrating for consumers, for everyone, to see a problem which they can’t answer to. And that is highly demotivating. Parlay’s first audience were the creatives, the thinkers, and the leaders. The people who own companies and industries, who run coun- tries, who have special knowledge, and influence. Getting these people behind the movement was our first objective—to inspire them and have them support a change of perspective. Now a critical mass of people understand that there is a problem. If there’s no awareness or media influence, you can’t see the problem.
That is the job of the creative community— with the scientists, writers and artists—we must communicate this problem. If you have comparable products and one has an intention or purpose, then people buy this product over the other one. They’re making the decisions not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the new etiquette. It’s not socially acceptable anymore to ignore environmental issues. We want to make purpose the new luxury. What is more desirable than knowing that a harmful material in a product that I’m wearing is removed from the environment. When looking at design, it is all about the intention, the message, it’s about this product being the key to something that stands for values.
We’re currently facing the biggest threat to our species ever. This planet is about
to become uninhabitable for us, survival is therefore, the next super-trend. We believe that we created these problems but we can also create solutions. Our biggest problem is time. We are definitely too late. If we had taken the warnings and science seriously thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have had an issue.
I don’t believe anyone gets up in the morning and decides to destroy the oceans. I also believe that we have more knowl- edge than ever. We are all connected on this planet and I think with the tools that we have, we can turn it around. I believe it.”
Leading environmentalists see the end of most sea life happening within the next 6–16 years, with this urgency, Parley initiates a 360 strategy to save our oceans via the radical reorganization of production and economic systems. But it’s not just up to corporations and governments, the collective shift lies in the hands of everyday people. A.I.R. AVOID. INTERCEPT. REDESIGN is a scalable strategy to be immediately employed by everyone. Through education, Parley Ocean Schools provide an “immersive approach to environmental education that simplifies complex marine threats.’ This initiative is led in collaboration with local schools, NGOs and governments worldwide. For more informa- tion visit www.parley.tv