Impact Before Profit: A Conversation with The Ocean Bottle
William Pearson and Nick Doman, co-founders of the Ocean Bottle and London Business School graduates, didn’t found their company with just profit in mind. What started as a shared passion for environmental impact grew into a company tackling the global issue of ocean plastic pollution. Co-founder Nick Doman gives us insight into the Ocean Bottle’s social and environmental impact and how London Business School helped jumpstart their company.
What’s the basic idea of the Ocean Bottle and how did you come up with it?
Will had the idea to start an ocean plastics company that would tackle ocean plastic pollution and fund the collection of it. So we came up with the idea of a bottle funding the collection and started building the strategy of that. We first determined that we wanted the impact to be 1,000 ocean-bound plastic bottles and have developed everything else around this. That helped us decide how premium the product should be, how much we should spend building it out, and how to bring it to market. We started talking about this idea in October/November 2017 and incorporated the Ocean Bottle in March 2018.
Can you explain the social and environmental impact of the Ocean Bottle?
We collect ocean-bound plastic with our partner Plastic Bank. They turn the collection of plastic waste into currency in countries like Haiti, Philippines, Indonesia, and Brazil. Plastic collectors are able to exchange collected plastic for bank credits to access cash, microfinance, medical insurance, and school fees. Having this social impact on top of the environmental impact has been so important to us and has been a real motivation for us. The funds we contribute to the Plastic Bank go even further than just a beach clean-up and 30% of everything we send to them goes toward building waste management infrastructure in these regions that have none – thereby creating a more permanent solution. Up to 80% of plastic in the oceans comes from 10 rivers, so building up the waste management and collection can make a huge dent in the issue of ocean plastic.
Do you think this problem of plastic pollution can be solved?
I think completely stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean will be very difficult, but we can make a big dent quite easily – it just needs funds and global action for proper waste management and, of course, reduction in single-use packaging. 22 million kilos of plastic go into the ocean every day and the rate is only accelerating. We need to stop the plastic going into the ocean before we can think about collecting what’s already in the ocean. The analogy that Plastic Bank uses is if your kitchen flooded because you left the tap running, you wouldn’t start cleaning up the water before turning off the tap.
In your opinion, is it important for businesses to have social and/or environmental impact incorporated in?
Completely! It’s the future of business. I think every company is going to have some social element ingrained in their business model because awareness of social and environmental problems is reaching critical mass. People are willing to pay a little extra and companies are willing to take a smaller margin in order to make an impact on things that matter.
Is there anything special about the bottle itself?
Beyond usability features, there’s a NFC chip in the bottle that is going to be the basis for our perpetual impact platform. The NFC chip allows us to partner with retail locations to increase the value we can give to all stakeholders in the value chain. Let’s say you want to put a smoothie in the Ocean Bottle, you go to one of our partners’ locations, buy a smoothie, and then tap the bottle on a reader in store. The retailer then funds the collection of up to 100 plastic bottles. It allows retailers to differentiate themselves in the market with impact and the consumers can continue to have an impact with simple actions.
Switching gears to business school, why did you decide to go back to school for your Masters in Management at London Business School?
It gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people. Going to one of the most well regarded schools in the world also gave me a way to differentiate myself, not just to employers but in how I think. It gives you a really well rounded skill set and education. Before going back to business school, I had just studied history. This is quite a common field of study in the UK and it’s hard to differentiate yourself, especially in the business world where people want skills in business and economics.
Have the skills you learned in business school help you build the Ocean Bottle? How so?
100%. I’ve learned everything from accounting and marketing to strategy and market research. It gave me a foundation in everything I needed to know to start a business. If I hadn’t gone to London Business School, I wouldn’t have met Will and the other co-founders. We would have been starting a business from scratch, but London Business School gave us a leg up.
The Ocean Bottle recently concluded their first Indiegogo campaign and they’re delivering their first bottles in June and July. Learn more about their impact and how to pre-order your own bottle at www.theoceanbottle.com.