Thought Leaders

Siân Sutherland: Inspiring Change in a Plastic World

AZoCleantech recently spoke to entrepreneur Siân Sutherland, the Co-Founder of A Plastic Planet, for International Women's Day. Her company's goal is to inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap to help reduce its burden on the planet. The company has successfully pushed the UK Government to ban single-use plastic food sachets and hopes to eliminate one trillion pieces of plastic from the global economy by 2025.

Please can you introduce yourself and A Plastic Planet?

Before my role at A Plastic Planet, 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. 

In 2017, I co-founded A Plastic Planet alongside Frede Magnussen with one goal: to dramatically reduce the use of plastic on a global scale and turn off the plastic tap once and for all. 

Taking a solutions-focused pro-industry approach, A Plastic Planet advises businesses on truly sustainable alternatives to plastic, working with governments to deliver change through legislation and the public to inspire action and educate on the often hidden truth behind plastic.

Sustainable technologies are advancing across many different fields. What inspired you to launch A Plastic Free Aisle and A Plastic Planet? 

A Plastic Planet launched six years ago with the singular goal of ridding our planet of needless and toxic plastic. The plastic crisis is the gateway to the climate crisis, and the solutions needed will go beyond eradicating just pollution.

Plastic is an indestructible material that is the product of fantastic engineering. However, it is a material that is misused in the modern world. If we move away from the unwarranted use of plastic, which is a scourge on the health of our planet and humans alike, switching to alternative materials is essential. This should include introducing reusables and prefill systems that ensure that the convenience we have become accustomed to is not impacted. 

plastic planet

Image Credit: ROMAN DZIUBALO/Shutterstock.com

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

Solving this problem will require seismic system change, pushing us to adopt new economic and consumption models that are regenerative, truly circular, and toxic-free.  As entrepreneurs, we believe in the power of business as a vital tool for change.

What do you believe is your company’s main achievement, and what does it set out to achieve in the future?

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 of research, design, and development - building on all our experience and expert advisors to create an education platform that ignites, inspires, and informs via thousands of case studies, proof points, and editorial features often featuring our 50 icon-strong Creative and Science Council. This 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.

A Plastic Planet is a leading Ocean Plastic Leadership Network member 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.

A successful past campaign is ‘Sack the Sachet’, which sought to eradicate the 855 million single-use plastic sachets produced yearly. After almost a year of pushing, the UK government committed to banning single-use plastic food sachets.

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

We are founding partners of the Plastic Health Coalition, the umbrella organization of doctors, scientists, and environmental technologists, which raises awareness of 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.

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.

The theme #EmbraceEquity is a theme for International Women’s Day 2023, focusing on helping everyone actively support equity within our lives. How do you think gender equity affects women in the STEM industry?

It is clear to me that women have been forced onto the back foot in the STEM industry, and only in the past couple of decades has there begun to be a shift in attitudes. While this change is positive, we cannot be blind to the fact that women and girls who aspire to a career in STEM, and who hold a burning passion for innovating and bettering our world, are still discouraged, consciously or unconsciously, from choosing a career they dream of. 

According to Imperial College London, the overall author gender ratio is 73 percent male and 27 percent female across the STEM disciplines and countries across the globe. It is still challenging to find a sector that has a complete gender balance, but 27 percent is concerning.

With education standards continually growing worldwide, I hope to see this percentage increase to an equitable place. A woman’s passion for STEM should not be snuffed out when they graduate from school or college. It should be nurtured into higher education and beyond into professional life. If this change occurs, it is not only women who will benefit, but humanity as a whole. 

Do you have any advice for young women or girls who would like to study or start a career in science?

As a woman who has not had a career in STEM but one who now works closely with several brilliant women who do, I would urge those young women or girls who are interested in studying in STEM or going further in carving out a career to firstly find an example of someone who has already trod the path in which they wish to follow. 

Find a woman who has been a pioneer in their area or has recently published a groundbreaking study, someone who works on a subject that ignites your passion. Follow their work, know their story as best you can, and even contact them for advice. You do not know what opportunities are out there, and there is no shame in asking others how they came to be in the position they are in today.

Heather Leslie, a Professor at the University of Maine, led the research that found the presence of plastic in human blood, and Professor Karyn Morrissey at the Technical University of Denmark carries out vital work on how we can implement truly circular systems in society. These are just two examples of great women currently carrying out important work and finding a path to a future free from the scourge of plastic pollution. 

Above all else, be curious and know your feminine approach is your difference and superpower.  

What are the next steps for A Plastic Planet?

We will continue fighting the plastic tide on all fronts through collaboration with policymakers and industry, championing innovation and highlighting necessary research that will spotlight the damaging implications of the throwaway culture that has infected societies globally.

I am attending the next round of the Global Plastics Treaty Dialogues in Paris in May, which will take us another step closer to lasting change and ensuring effective action. The dialogues are vital to helping deliver a Global Plastics Treaty, which many are working hard for. 

A Plastic Planet will continue its work in and around Westminster, working with the government and pressuring policymakers to ensure the UK is leading the way in environmental policy. 

Over the coming year, PlasticFree will be present at the most prominent design events, such as Salone Milan, New York Design Week, and London Design Biennale.

The team will continue to help grow a community supercharging the unique capacity of designers to imagine and improve the future.

PlasticFree aims to eradicate one trillion pieces of plastic waste from the global economy by 2025.

Where can readers find more information?

A Plastic Planethttps://aplasticplanet.com/

PlasticFreehttps://plasticfree.com/

A Plastic Planet Twitterhttps://twitter.com/aplastic_planet

A Plastic Planet LinkedInhttps://uk.linkedin.com/company/a-plastic-planet

Siân Sutherland LinkedInhttps://uk.linkedin.com/in/sian-sutherland-33485b10

PlasticFree Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/createplasticfree/

PlasticFree LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/company/plasticfree-com/

About Siân Sutherland

Siân Sutherland is the Co-founder of A Plastic Planet, one of the most recognized and respected organizations tackling the plastic crisis. 

Siân's passion lies in igniting social change and creating brands, campaigns, and businesses with soul.

Multi-award winner, including Female Marketer of the Year, CEW Achiever Award, Entrepreneur of the Year, and British Inventor of the Year, Siân is a serial entrepreneur with a varied background in advertising, skincare, Michelin Star restaurants, film production, and brand creation design agencies.

Her diverse experience has informed her unique blend of solutions-focused pro-business activism.

In 2017, Siân co-founded A Plastic Planet alongside Frede Magnussen, using a pro-business, pro-solutions, and pro-active approach to build a different kind of organization, helping the world turn off the plastic tap. From Davos to Westminster, A Plastic Planet aims to drive forward wholesale systems change through collaboration and innovation.

In early 2023, A Plastic Planet launched PlasticFree, the first materials and systems solutions platform, empowering the 160 million global creatives to design waste out at source.

Read more: Women in the Clean Technology Field: A Conversation with Adina Rom

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Laura Thomson

Written by

Laura Thomson

Laura Thomson graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with an English and Sociology degree. During her studies, Laura worked as a Proofreader and went on to do this full-time until moving on to work as a Website Editor for a leading analytics and media company. In her spare time, Laura enjoys reading a range of books and writing historical fiction. She also loves to see new places in the world and spends many weekends walking with her Cocker Spaniel Millie.

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