Young Folks

This Earth Day, we’re not going to tell you to quit plastic

As Earth Day approaches, the cacophony of well meaning but often repetitive messages about quitting plastics, cutting emissions, and supporting local brands doing good things fills our feeds. And we agree with them.

Yes, it can only be a good thing to say no to single-use plastics like straws, cutlery, and containers and opt for reusables instead. There are plenty of swaps you can make around your home – like using beeswax wrap in the kitchen, reusable cotton pads in the bathroom, and filling your wardrobe with secondhand pieces or clothes made from natural fibres like cotton, linen, hemp, and bamboo. 

You probably already know this, though. And there’s a chance you’re already doing a lot of these things.

But when ten of Australia’s top companies lack clear plans to stop using or supporting fossil fuels, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population produce as much carbon pollution than the five billion people who make up the poorest two-thirds of humanity, and twelve of the world’s wealthiest billionaires produce more greenhouse gas emissions from their yachts, private jets, mansions, and financial investments than the annual energy emissions of two million homes, taking your soft plastics to your local grocery store everytime you’re doing a shop can feel like trying to bail out a sinking boat with a teacup while a tsunami barrels towards you. Especially when you find out 11,000 tonnes of those soft plastics ended up stockpiled in storage. And just 120 tonnes were recycled. Yikes.

The truth is, many objects that we know to be disposable didn’t used to be. Beverages were once delivered in glass bottles, designed to be returned and refilled. Dry goods like flour and tea came in tins that could be refilled or reused. Even face creams, lip balms, salves, and remedies were whipped up by an apothecary and filled into quaint glass jars to be reused and refilled for eternity.

After World War II, manufacturers of steel and aluminium decided to enter the beverage market given these materials weren’t needed in the war anymore. The only problem was steel and aluminium cans couldn’t be reused. What followed was a mass production of aluminium, plastic, and other ‘disposable’ materials, touted by the advertising industry as a more convenient, cheaper, and hassle-free alternative

Why are we telling you this? 

Society’s love affair with single-use products is something that’s been culturally ingrained in us by big brands and marketers. While individual actions taken to reduce waste are undoubtedly important, perhaps it’s time to shift the narrative towards a more impactful approach: designing business models for impact from the ground up. Yep. We’re talking about systems change. That’s our way of saying it’s up to brands and businesses to undo the harm they’ve caused to society since the post-war proliferation of capitalism. 

No biggie, right?

A new model for business

Enter: the Five Capitals Model. 

Coined by Jonathon Porritt, this framework provides a lens to view sustainability in terms of wealth creation across five dimensions: natural, human, social, manufactured, and financial capital. Each capital represents a vital aspect of our collective wellbeing and economic prosperity.

Natural capital encompasses the resources, sinks, and processes that sustain life on Earth, like forests, water, air, minerals, and biodiversity. It’s the foundation upon which all else is built. We’re depleting these resources faster than they can replenish, jeopardising the very systems that sustain us.

Human capital speaks to the health, knowledge, skills, and motivation of people. It’s the fuel for innovation, productivity, and progress, nurturing the potential within each of us to create positive change.

Social capital highlights the importance of institutions and relationships in fostering collective wellbeing. Strong communities, trusted governance, and shared values are essential for building resilience and cohesion in an increasingly interconnected world.

Manufactured capital encompasses the tangible assets – tools, machines, infrastructure – that enable production and progress. Manufactured capital plays a crucial role in supporting economic activities and improving living standards.

And finally, financial capital. It includes savings, investments, and financial assets used to fund projects, businesses, and initiatives. It’s important to note that while it’s crucial for facilitating economic transactions, financial capital is just a representation of the real value embedded within natural, human, social, and manufactured capitals. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Shaping the world we want to live in

So, what does this all mean for businesses, particularly on Earth Day? It means recognising that true sustainability isn’t just about taking the train to work instead of driving or buying your bread in a paper bag. It’s about fundamentally reimagining how we do business – from the products we create to the communities we serve. Shifting from less harm to more good and focussing on regenerative practices.

By adopting an impact-first business model, organisations can align their operations with the principles of sustainability across all five capitals. 

This model emphasises how these different forms of capital connect and highlights the importance of managing them sustainably to ensure long-term prosperity for current and future generations. By considering the impacts and dependencies across these capitals, organisations can make more informed decisions to not only operate sustainably, but move towards a culture of regeneration. One that restores the natural world, circulates wealth equitably, and builds resilient communities. 

Because true impact lies not in maximising output, but in minimising resource use and maximising human ingenuity.

As an example, a fashion brand might prioritise sourcing sustainable materials (natural capital), investing in fair labour practices (human capital), building an inclusive community (social capital), designing products for longevity and recyclability (manufactured capital), and transparently disclosing its environmental and social impact (financial capital).

That’s why this Earth Day, we’re not going to tell you to quit plastic. 

It’s time we moved beyond surface-level sustainability and instead made some real change with impact-first business models. Whether you’re a CMO, brand manager, or company director, your choices have the potential to shape a future that’s not just sustainable, but radically better for generations to come. 

Because we know that business, when wielded with intentionality, holds transformative power. Power to shape a world that’s not just sustainable, but thriving.

Our Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula studios are open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. If you’re a brand in the business of doing good, we’d love to hear from you.

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