Saving the Oceans with Dune Ives of Lonely Whale (Transcript)

February 12, 2020

27 Min Read

[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:26] Liz: Hi, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Dune Ives, Executive Director of the award-winning Lonely Whale, a nonprofit organization raising awareness about ocean health. Welcome Dune and thanks so much for being here today.

[00:00:40] Dune Ives: Thank you.

[00:00:41] Liz: Please tell us about your background and how you've made your way to Lonely Whale.

[00:00:46] Dune: Oh gosh, this is a question I get all the time. It's interesting because my path to get to Lonely Whale is probably not a very traditional path in the NGO space. Just a quick background, I have my Ph.D. in psychology and have spent the better part of my professional career, over the last 24, 25 years really focused on corporate engagements and large-scale change efforts within the corporate environment and within and across industries.

I spent a lot of time in the utility sector, spent quite a bit of time working in commercial office real estate, high-tech, and then landed, thankfully, in one of the most incredible jobs I ever had, which was developing and then managing Paul Allen's first global environmental philanthropic portfolio, which is really where I cut my teeth on this hybrid between corporate engagements and philanthropy, and how those two things can come together to be a force for good.

[unintelligible 00:01:50] in 2016, and a mutual friend of mine, and Adrian Grenier introduced the two of us to each other and it's been Lonely Whale ever since. I'm going on three and a half years on Lonely Whale.

[00:02:04] Liz: That's awesome. I know a little bit of the origin of the Lonely Whale name but can you tell our audience why Lonely Whale and that it's really out there?

[00:02:16] Dune: Yes, I actually just got chills when you asked me that again. I love the origin story of the Lonely Whale. Lonely Whale was co-founded by actor and entrepreneur Adrian Grenier, his producing partner and longtime friend Lucy Sumner, and it came out of inspiration for this real creature, this lonely whale.

They were producing a documentary film about this whale that had been discovered as a result actually of U.S. nuclear submarine recording devices back from the Cold War era. They had captured the sounds that was unlike anything they'd ever heard before. No other whale sound matched it, no ships matched it, and researchers at Woods Hole identified it as a whale.

It syncs at a frequency of 52 Hertz, which is unlike any other whale has sung before or since, it's ever been recorded, and as the story goes this whale it's swimming up and down the Pacific coast, probably about 40, maybe 40 to 43 years old by now. Whales are believed to sing in call for companionship, so if you can imagine, this whale has been calling for companionship his entire life, never hearing a callback. All the while, it's seeking a connection.

We're able to hear the sound of this whale, we're able to hear its call and it's a really compelling character that we need to really connect to the ocean, understand then the impact that all of the pollution we're putting in the ocean is having on this sentient emotive creature.

That's where the foundation's inspiration came from, and what Lucy and Adrian really wanted to do is not create another foundation, have another foundation, but really to leverage this character in this story to help all of us recognize that at the end of the day, what we need more than anything is to be connected to each other, and once we're connected to each other and we really care deeply for each other, then we'll work together to save the ocean.

That was the genesis of Lonely Whale. When I heard the story, I immediately just fell in love and though, this could be it, this could be one of those characters that can really help all of us understand our role and our place with ocean health.

[00:04:37] Liz: Absolutely, and it's really hard to get that visual out of your head, so it really does stick and it helps you relate, like you said. The power of connection, that's amazing, what a great story. Speaking of great stories, you have a knack for some amazing campaigns, can you tell us about your recent Question How You Hydrate campaign?

[00:04:56] Dune: Yes, Question How You Hydrate campaign. When we launched the Strawless campaign in Seattle, on launch day and then on the wrap-up day, at the end of our event in Seattle, we were asked by someone, "Could you do for the plastic water bottle what you just did for the straw?" And that began about a 15-month quest and research effort on our part to figure out, "What does that really mean to do for the water bottle what we did for the straw?" Because they're very, very different single-use plastic items, with very different histories and their own origin stories.

What we discovered is, globally, we use 500 billion single-use plastic bottles annually, we recycle about 30% of those. In 2017, 26% of all new PET polymer production that comes from oil and gas, was produced with the express purpose of meeting the growth needs of the plastic water bottle industry. When we did our national poll, we realized that people use a lot of single-use plastic water bottles. They use a lot of single-use plastic water bottles al lot of the time, but they also use reusable almost equally as much.

We were really curious about this disconnect that we were seeing. We know what the right solutions are to hydrate the right way where we don't use single-use plastic. We're using those options today, so what really was holding us back from that? And that was we're a very curious team, and being a psychologist, I'm always very intrigued by how do we make decisions and what influences us in making those decisions.

That led us to creating this campaign and partnership with our creative agency, Young Hero, called Hydrate Like [laughs] for those who are familiar with us, we call it Hydrate Like a Mother because we truly believe that Moms-

Once my daughter says there's another word that comes after that, which she's right. Hydrate Like a Mother really for us became the strong call to action internally that if what we want to do is we want to save the ocean from plastic, then we do need to hydrate like Moms who tell you to clean your room all the time. They tell you to hydrate, they tell you to eat well and to sleep, just became a rallying cry for us.

Question How You Hydrate is a campaign that's just like Stop Sucking campaign is really intended to get people to question how many single-use plastic water bottles you use in a daily basis and to challenge themselves, corporations to challenge themselves to hydrate like they give a damn, to hydrate like the ocean matters and really to hydrate like future generations depend on it. It's been really successful to date, we only launched in June, and really excited about the progress that we're seeing globally.

[00:07:42] Liz: That's amazing. Same with Stop Sucking, you guys seem to align the perfect hashtag with great local activations and expanded support nationwide. What do you think the secret of success is to these programs?

[00:07:57] Dune: Well, first and foremost, we don't create the hashtags ourselves, I think that's important for- When I joined Lonely Whale, one of the things I recognized in Lucy, Adrian and into myself was this desire to think and act- the way that people watch us that they connect.

Let me explain this, in the NGO space I think we tend to think like scientists or we tend to speak like policymakers, and for the most part, even with me and I'm in this space, I don't really receive those messages very well. It doesn't move me to want to get up and dance, it doesn't move me to want to ask the question of, "Okay, wait a minute, so 315 tons of ice just broke off at [unintelligible 00:08:36]? Okay, so what do I do now? I'm ready, I'm ready to go."

We knew that if we wanted to really reach people, we had to reach people where they were. In this journey, we had to talk to them the way they wanted to be talked to. As we scanned who does that best, brands do that best, why do you buy the shoes that you buy? Why do you shop at a place that you shop at? Why do you even go which where you're vacationing? It's because marketing and advertising tell us that's what we should do and we do it.

When we think about our environmental campaigns, it really is through the lens of a brand marketer, so we hire the best creative agencies to create the best campaigns. We're absolutely part of that creative process, but we work with agencies that work with top brands around the world because we want them to influence the way that we translate these really hard to understand environmental messages into very easy to digest sound bites that make you want to dance, that make you feel really good about the choice that you just made and make you want to do it again and again and again. So far it's worked, Stop Sucking was fantastic, Hydrate Like a Mother has just been really amazing, so what it's telling us is that it is the right path forward. Obviously, we have tons of lessons learned and there's so much room for improvement, but I'm really excited about where we're heading and where we can go next with our campaign work.

[00:10:09] Liz: That's fantastic. I love how you're bold and you think like a brand, that makes you stand out for sure. Like we talked about before, that's the sticky factor, right?

[00:10:21] Dune: That's right. We think about selling like a pair of Nike shoes and there's a brand value promise associated with that, and what we're selling is we're selling a healthy ocean. There's a brand value purpose when you can sell a healthy ocean. Ultimately, that's our mission.

[00:10:37] Liz: That's great. Have you found ways to measure the success of these programs? I know behavior change is hard and it takes a lot of time and energy but, wondering about what you've found since this launching?

[00:10:48] Dune: It's interesting that you say behavior change. As an organization, we don't measure behavior change. We track it, but it's not something that we look at and we say, "Okay, done." Part of it is because I'm a working Mom, I have a five-year-old child at home, I travel all the time, I get it wrong every day, I say all the time that, "If you were waiting for me to save the world, I would disappoint you every single day because I'm human." Behavior is state-dependent.

Even though I know I should exercise every day, even though I know I should eat a more balanced diet, even though I know that I should sleep more, I don't. I don't do it every day because I'm human and behavior change is a human trait, we behave every day. If we were only tracking awareness and were only talking behavior change, what we would miss is we would miss market shift, and that's what we really focus on.

While we're out here with our shiny objects saying, "Just stop sucking, just don't use single-use plastic straws." What we're tracking is we're tracking how many single-use plastic straw manufacturers convert to a more sustainable alternative, we're tracking how many new alternatives come to the market, we're tracking what the price point is on plastic straws versus paper straws, versus others.

Because fundamentally we understand market dynamics, and this is where I think the corporate work comes in that I've done for so long. If we are going to make significant shifts in the way that we engage with the environment, it is going to have to be led by corporations. Now, the movement at an individual level helps to identify the path forward for corporations and for policymakers, but the actual shift that we're looking for is corporate shifts.

When we think about the water bottle campaign, we were able to help bring to market a new brand of canned water, Ever & Ever, and it was really with the intent of showcasing to Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle and others, that there is an alternative and people like it. I think for a long time people were like, "No one is going to drink water out of a can." Actually they do and they don't mind it, they don't really even think about it.

There's no excuse to not shift to aluminum as an alternative, or even to other alternatives delivery mechanisms. The water-bottle campaign for us has been successful today because within just the first few months of the campaign, we saw this massive shifts happen with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and those send signals to the marketplace that the market is now paying attention to, and I fully expect over the next 18 months we're going to see more shift.

[00:13:46] Liz: I like that. Speaking of Ever & Ever, I spoke with Jane Pryor last week and she was raving about how you guys on Lonely Whale, how you're helping them work with their long term sustainability plan, and she mentioned how obviously they're willing to share the spotlight because they wanted this shift. She mentioned Pepsi and Coke coming to the table and that shift she's thrilled about.

From your perspective, in addition to that work that's being done in that immediate benefit to the market, is that your goal? Because she was raving about how you're not just working on that, but you want to help them with their long-term strategic sustainability vision. Is that how you like to work with companies? I'm thinking it is, but can you tell me more about that? And how you like to work with corporations and companies like Jane?

[00:14:37] Dune: Yes. We don't work with very many companies, interestingly. We choose very specifically who we work with, and the reason we choose to work with specific companies it's because they have a strong sustainability ethos and practice, they have the right people in leadership positions who can make change happen. They have market cachet, or because of the work that they're going to do, we believe that it will create an inflection point in the marketplace.

When we met Jane, and wherever Jane Pryor goes next, I'll work with that company. [laughs] Because she's a force of nature. But when we met E&E, I think that there were probably several NGOs that would not have worked with E&E, with [unintelligible 00:15:27] because of their packaging, but what we saw was an earnest desire to really understands with their environmental footprint was and to work diligently to make sure that they weren't contributing to the global trash problem. That is a prerequisite for us.

Do they have all the answers? Absolutely not. Were they willing to listen, and be guided, and to grow together in this? Absolutely. That's one of the reasons why we were so excited to work with them. We didn't start working with them with the intent of them bringing a new brand of canned waters to the market, that was a surprise. Two months after we started working together, Jane called me and said, "Should we bring a new brand of waters to market?" I was, "Yes, that would be amazing. Can you add that? Can you do that? How fast can you do that?"

We work with partners like Alaska Airlines, who has such a strong sustainability performance records and is been such a leader within the U.S. based airline industry. We work with them on campaigns, they're willing to be a little bit of playful with us as well and have some fun.

We work really closely with Bacardi, again, they're willing to be very playful, very fun, live on the edge. What they believe is that the right way to talk about this or to work with this and they really experiment. I think that all comes back to one of our foundational principles, that if we keep addressing these issues the same way that we always have, we're going to keep failing the same way we always have.

For the 20,000 NGOs out there focusing on the environment, I look at the state of our environment today and I'm really, really concerned, we haven't made the progress that we need to make. There's little tiny pockets here and there, but for the most part, we're not getting the job done. That means we have to work with corporations and we have to be willing to be more creative and we have to be willing to let go of our assumptions about the way it should be.

We did that and Jane did that with us at Ever & Ever, and looked at what happened, they brought this amazing product to market that created this movement with Pepsi and Coca-Cola to really shift the timing with which they were going to bring aluminum to market. It was never a question that they were going to bring aluminum to market, it was the timing with which they brought that aluminum to market, that was the big market shift. I love the partnership we have with Ever & Ever and I'm really excited to see where we go with it.

[00:18:01] Liz: Amazing, that's great. I've also read about the new HP laptop. I know you work with them, but I know there's a bigger movement behind that. What is NextWave Plastics and could you tell us more about that and that movement?

[00:18:16] Dune: NextWave Plastics was an initiative that we started with Dell Technologies. It really got its starts when Adrian Grenier was hired by Dell as their first Social Good Advocate and he asked them to help him. They asked him to help them communicate their social good goals, and he said, "Great, I will do that. I need your help too, I need your help to fix this ocean plastic pollution problem".

That began an 18-month quest for Dell to really understand, what could a tech giant do to affect change in this plastic pollution crisis when no one really make a bunch of plastic packaging that gets thrown in the water, or is on the ground. They discovered that they could source ocean-bound plastic and then integrate it into their products, but they realized at the same time the issue is so gigantic, that it's going to take a lot more than one company doing this on their own.

At the same time, HP was doing the exact same thing. HP was working in Haiti, they were standing up the supply chain, they were testing material integration in their ink cartridge, it went really well. The important thing about what HP was doing in Haiti is that they were using red-tinted plastic bottles. Well, nobody liked the idea of trying to recycle colored bottles, it's much more difficult, what we'd like to recycle is clear plastic bottles.

HP was really looking at, "How do we solve this gap?" Which is both, "We don't have infrastructure for recycling in Haiti. Let alone, even if we did, nobody would take these red bottles." You had these two tech giants working in parallel paths at the exact same time. What we did with Dell in 2017, we stood up an initiative we called NextWave Plastics, and it's a fully transparent collaborative initiative that works now with 10 corporations, including HP and IKEA, and we're soon to announce a few others.

It's working with the intent of ensuring a minimum of 25,000 pounds plastic that was once bound to the ocean, never makes it there. Instead, gets fully integrated into products that will never make their way back into the ocean. If you can imagine a Herman Miller couch made from ocean-bound plastic, well, nobody in the right mind is going to throw a Herman Miller couch in the ocean, that would be crazy. We joke all the time that we're like, "If only we could find a Herman Miller chair on the beach." [laughter]

[00:20:42] Dune: An amusing concern.

[00:20:43] Liz: Exactly.

[00:20:44] Dune: It's not going to happen. Just like most of us are not going to unscrew our water bottle holder from our bicycle and throw it in the river. Track has been integrating ocean-bound plastics that came from fishing nets that once would have been thrown over the boats off the coast of Chile to do harm to marine life, because it's so expensive to dispose of these properly on lands, but Track working with [unintelligible 00:21:11] has been able to integrate this material into their water bottle cages.

Which is really cool, not only is it a cool story but it's having direct measurable impact. These companies, they're at the table together, they're working intently with each other, they're really making change happen on the ground, in parts of the world where the issue is the most acute.

I'm particularly excited about HP's recent announcement with the Dragonfly. Integrating ocean-bound plastic in this case, brown water bottles also, that nobody wants to recycle because they're harder to work with, brown water bottles into what's called ABS plastic. They created a blended polymer, the first time we've seen this. Really opens up the technology innovation discussion in a way that we haven't seen today.

If you can imagine every laptop made with plastic that once bounced for the ocean, or every TV in your home, or anything, your phone, anything that has a hard shell plastic around it, that's the innovation that HP just created. Yes, it's in the laptop, it's in the speaker, I think that's really amazing. It's a game-changer from a design engineer standpoint that I'm really expecting it will shift the way that a lot of companies think about what they could be doing to integrate ocean-bound plastic into their products.

I'm so excited for this innovation, I think it's one of the best things that we've seen.

[00:22:36] Liz: That's amazing. How exciting, can't wait to watch this shift happen. Do you think that we will see a time when recycled plastic makes more economic sense than virgin plastic?

[00:22:46] Dune: As part of the UN General Assembly in Climate Week, we saw an announcement by the Australian entrepreneur and billionaire Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola Forrest and The Minderoo Foundation. They have committed 300 million dollars of their own money to addressing that pricing disconnect between a virgin and recycled plastic. Today, virgin plastic is so inexpensive that it does [unintelligible 00:23:16] for companies to buy recycled plastic, plus, we don't have that much recycled plastic available across a variety of substrates.

When we think about plastic, we think about number one or number two, fairly easy to find but we still don't have a ton of those available, recycled resins in those numbers. This initiative is really intended to do two things, one is to fix that price imbalance between virgin and recycle plastic so that we see more end of life remediation, meaning we collect more of this [laughs] we collect it before it gets into the ocean, and that we see more technology innovation to be able to help companies figure out how to utilize this recycled material.

How we solve for that price imbalance, we're never going to get out ahead of this. I think all these moments, like with HP and others are really exciting and they show us the path forward, is the market dynamic. Going back to the where we started in the conversation, we need a massive market shift, we need to fix the pricing disconnect.

We need to start to demands that oil and gas companies stop producing more single-use version plastics, polymers, without putting the right investment in the backend, and more remediation and technology innovation. Otherwise, we're getting excited about what I would call very inspirational shiny objects that show us the path, but don't allow us to possibly ever catch up.

I'm really hopeful and I love what Andrew and Nicola just did, I think it's the right conversation for us to be having, and now we just need the market to follow with them.

[00:25:01] Liz: Right. Okay, good. Well, I'm hopeful the shift will happen, it's just it'll take a lot of time.

[00:25:06] Dune: Yes, it'll happen. There's so much- I think positivity out there right now with NGOs coordinating, policymakers coordinating, and industry really caring. Industry really cares about making sure that the ocean doesn't have plastic in it. I think that's the one thing that we can all agree to, is that plastic does not belong in the ocean, and I think when you start with that as the basic premise, then anything is possible. I have to believe it's possible.

I have a five-year-old son, I want my child to be able to swim in the ocean, I just do. I don't think that's an unreasonable request. I want him to see sea birds, I want him to see fish that aren't nibbling on plastic and I want him to see whales. I want him to experience turtles. Our children deserve a future that we had, and that's what we fight for at Lonely Whale every single day, we fight for a future that every child, every community deserves.

I know that it's possible for us to get there, I think we're going to see change happen a lot more quickly than it might feel like because of the momentum that I'm seeing right now from the industry, and it's really starting to align with the values and the principles that the NGO community has, that the parents and community members have all over the world. It's not to say we don't have big hurdles to overcome, but I'm really, really positive that we will see a future where we stop the flow of plastic going into the ocean.

[00:26:43] Liz: That's fantastic. I think you're right. Where does policy change fit into your agenda?

[00:26:49] Dune: We are not policy ones at Lonely Whale, we appreciate policy, but we're not the ones who will be writing the policy language. Our job at Lonely Whale is to just ask questions and to help people become curious in a way that allows them to get engaged in the issue in the way that's the most fitting for them, the same is true for corporations.

What I know from policy is that policy will follow, so when consumers are engaged, demanding change, when corporations get engaged and they can demonstrate that they're willing to take this challenge on whatever it is, then it's much easier for policymakers to then follow next, and to put in place policies that match the aspirations and the intention of communities.

That's really how we see our role with policy and with policy integration. We are asked a lot though by policymakers, to provide additional information to help them understand the issues, to come and testify, to make presentations. What's funny actually recently is- not funny but fun- is we've had a lot of engagement by state-level policymakers all over the United States, who are proclaiming that they hydrate like a legislator.

They're showing when they're in session, "Here's my reusable water bottle that I brought to session." And I just love that. I just think that's so fun for policymakers to have a little bit of fun in this as well, and they're getting a little social media love from us, it's really symbiotic. I think it's our job, is give people something fun to talk about in this big heavy issue and then let's see where the conversation carries us.

[00:28:36] Liz: Well, I love that and you really focus on the positive, you're not into shaming anyone, you want to meet people where they are and just encourage them by example and with a bold fun campaign that they can do it a little bit at a time, and I think that's key to helping. You're not asking people to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, you're just asking them to do what they can in this moment, and it's pretty remarkable.

[00:29:02] Dune: Yes, that's exactly right. I think if we only focus on shaming we're not listening to ourselves, so how many of us have really changed our behaviors because we were ashamed into it? Guilt and shame, they're demonstrated to not result in change, long-term persistent change, so why would we use it in the environmental space? Doesn't work with us as individuals. What does work as individuals it's focusing on the positive, nurturing, encouraging, having a little bit of fun and in doing it with your friends. You don't have to go alone, you can really get engaged with other people and make this change happen. We fundamentally believe this is the right way to do it, we've seen it work in practice, and we're really excited to continue to be the organization that supports people who make these changes.

[00:29:55] Liz: Well, that's great. Then, what advice would you give people to affect change whether it's small or long-term?

[00:30:03] Dune: I heard some great advice from my colleague Emma Riley this last week. She was asked that same question and her response was so spot-on, so smart, and it is every day in your job, your life as a parent, as a spouse, as a sister, as a brother, as a mother, whatever it is, look for tiny moments where you can make change happen.

Don't feel you have to necessarily completely change your life, your orientation, who you are, what your job is, but just look for opportunities to make tiny changes every day, then you start getting really used to it and then you can really affect change. I think that's right. If it's, "I'm in the airport, I brought my reusable water bottle." Great, step one [laughs]. "I'm going to go try to fill it up." Step two. [laughter]

[00:30:59] Dune: I think that's right, I think it's has got to be small, tiny, don't make it too hard, have fun with it and find somebody to do it with you.

[00:31:06] Liz: I love that. What's next for Lonely Whale? What are your big audacious goals?

[00:31:11] Dune: Well, we're going to stay the course in all of our work, we have a really exciting program, the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp where we have kids from all over the world, more than 50 countries, coming together to learn how to campaign on plastic solutions, and more importantly, work together. We'll see that expand this next year. Just starting to think about what our next campaign is, so I think they'll have to stay tuned on that.

[00:31:33] Liz: I can't wait to see. Speaking of children, how important our children in the work that you do?

[00:31:39] Dune: So important, because they're often the ones who have the answers because they're really free to think about change rather than thinking about it the same old way that all of us adults have. They see it through a fresh set of lenses and different perspectives, so it's critical that they're engaged.

[00:31:59] Liz: Dune, I know you're at the airport and I'm going to let you go to catch your flight, but how can listeners learn more about Lonely Whale? Do you want to share your Twitter handle or your URL?

[00:32:09] Dune: Yes, just head up too, @LonelyWhale is our Twitter handle, as well as Instagram handle. We'd love to stay connected, tell us what inspires you.

[00:32:19] Liz: That's great and I hope our listeners will answer. Thank you for all that you do and what your team is doing because I know you're a small team, but your impact has been huge. We can't wait to watch your future campaigns and join right along with you. Thank you for inspiring us all.

[00:32:34] Dune: Thanks for the time today.

[00:32:35] Liz: Thanks Dune, have a safe flight.



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