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Leading Voices in Global Sustainability

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Simon Baldwin

Global Head of Circularity, SecondMuse

10 Questions to Change The World

March 2022

How do you think climate change and the global sustainability agenda will
impact your industry over the next 3-5 years?

Let’s set the context: People contributed an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste to the ocean in 2010. It was also found that just a handful of countries in South and Southeast Asia were responsible for more than 60% of plastic flowing into the ocean each year, mainly as a result of waste mismanagement. 

Asia deals with the burden of sorting, aggregating, processing & management of waste. Most of that ends up in landfills or the ocean -- rather than recycled for greater value. Asia is also the fastest growing market for flexible packaging, with over 42% of the global market share. Studies show that a 45% reduction in plastic leakage is possible by improving waste management and recycling in just 5 countries with fast scaling economies in South and Southeast Asia. (Source)

With the recent news on the UN’s Global Plastics Treaty, it’s clear that more attention will be drawn to the Climatetech sector, with a spotlight on high-potential solutions that can tackle the complexities we face in plastics today. There have been promising advancements made on a country-level. Policy-makers across South and Southeast Asia have made commitments to curb and manage plastic waste, such as phasing out single-use plastics by a certain date. It’s now apparent that tackling plastic pollution is receiving more attention across the board. 

I see greater potential for cross-sector collaborations to take place, with greater inclusivity to involve all stakeholders in the plastics value chain openly in the process of transition to a circular economy. Just as it is important for us to include entrepreneurs in the conversation, it’s equally important to include waste workers and ensure their livelihoods and provide better economic opportunities. 

The most meaningful change happens when entrepreneurs connect with stakeholders, corporate or consumer. Together, they can advocate for innovative solutions, which trickle down impact throughout communities.

What is one ‘sustainability hack’ you’d recommend to an organisation
wanting to transform into a more sustainable operation?

At The Incubation Network, we believe in the value of connecting promising startups and entrepreneurs with a collaborative network of key stakeholders - corporates, technical experts, governments, and more. 

By coordinating the ecosystem, and navigating startups through this emerging space, we can provide entrepreneurs with the support to get started, and connect them with grants, funding and mentors that are difficult to access if they don’t know where to look. Our programs also support capacity building for them to refine their solutions, including the integration of sustainable practices and considerations into their business models.

The most meaningful change happens when entrepreneurs connect with stakeholders, corporate or consumer. Together, they can advocate for innovative solutions, which trickle down impact throughout communities.

For example, organizations looking to reevaluate their operations to be more sustainable can look to implement a Gender Analysis Framework. How are they approaching gender in their organization, and in their business model? Are they acknowledging, and better yet, addressing gender nuances through a gender-lens approach? The Incubation Network has developed a Gender Toolkit that can be applied at each stage of a program or project cycle and is available to all members of our community.

Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?

At the risk of sounding ethnocentric, I work in sustainability because I care deeply about people, especially about addressing issues of marginalisation and structural inequality. 

It is my personal belief that the “earth” will be fine, it has survived significant shifts over its life. However, it's clear that as a species, we are at risk if we don't change our behaviour. While this will eventually impact all of us - if we can’t, won't or don't change - it will impact those with the least resources first.

What are some of the wins you have achieved in your career to date?

While this will eventually impact all of us - if we can't, won't or don't change - it will impact those with the least resources first.

I started my career working on issues that focused on ensuring access to lifesaving healthcare for marginalised people living in Asia. I was part of a global movement that significantly reduced the burden of HIV and AIDs by many orders of magnitude. 

At The Incubation Network, we believe in the value of connecting promising startups and entrepreneurs with a collaborative network of key stakeholders - corporates, technical experts, governments, and more. 

By coordinating the ecosystem, and navigating startups through this emerging space, we can provide entrepreneurs with the support to get started, and connect them with grants, funding and mentors that are difficult to access if they don’t know where to look. Our programs also support capacity building for them to refine their solutions, including the integration of sustainable practices and considerations into their business models.

What do you want to have achieved before you retire?

I don't have a clear picture of retirement; in fact, my vision of the future revolves around a life balanced between family, friends and projects that I’m passionate about. The types of problems that I've worked on in my career are rarely “solved” so it's hard to ever really say that's “done”.  I deeply treasure flexibility, the ability to pivot and respond to life's consistent changes. The idea of retirement and golf, that's not for me!

What advice would you give for organisations looking to start or advance on their sustainability journey?

To startups and entrepreneurs working to tackle plastic pollution, I would firstly stress that there is no silver bullet to this challenge. Flexibility and the ability to iterate and have multiple pathways to market is important, especially when trying to land corporate partners. Knowing how to convey the importance of your work is crucial in striking interest from big companies, the ability to translate and de-risk your solutions. 

This is where The Incubation Network can come in to support. We view our roles as translators in this space, supporting and introducing operating startups and connecting them to the problems that we’ve helped understand and identify from corporates.

Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?

Knowing how to convey the importance of your work is crucial in striking interest from big companies

I seek my inspiration from a wide range of sources. When I need to learn something quickly, I turn to podcasts and Medium articles. If I need more rigour, I am still a little nerdy and rely on academic literature. 

I’m also lucky to have an amazing network of people to ask questions; core to our belief as a company is that no single actor has the resources to solve the types of complex problems that we are working on and so we need to create opportunities to bring together a wide range of actors. 

I draw on this crowd wisdom daily. Finally, I also subscribe to a few really amazing and diverse newsletters. These include those written by Quartz (for daily news and current affairs), Banks Benitez from Uncharted (for more personal musings about innovation and community building), and Surface Magazine (for news from the art world).

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- Simon Baldwin at The Incubation Network Conference -

How do you offset your own footprint?

As a family, our first approach is reduction. We try to eat locally, we don't own a car (we have an electric bike) and we measure and review our consumption regularly. Despite that, we haven't achieved a positive footprint yet - what Paul Polman calls net positive - so we offset our carbon through credits, and donate some of our income to social causes that we care deeply about. I'm very influenced by the “give what we can movement”.

What is your one ‘guilty / non-eco’ pleasure? (that you can’t live without)

Flying, and surfboards! While there are efforts on my end to make these both more sustainable, at the moment they don't really stack up with some of the other decisions that I make in my life!

If you had to choose one person, organisation or community to lead the world in sustainability, who would it be and why?

I think we have a lot to learn from indigenous communities around the world. Many of them thrived for centuries, in harmony and deeply connected to their environments. I’d love to live during a time when we could somehow learn to balance that ancient wisdom with modern technology.

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"If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours you could - and should - see a wonderful recovery.”

 

-​ Sir David Attenborough