Vikki Spruill is president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, which educates and empowers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean.
What does the notion of redefining leadership for sustainability mean to you?
More and more, I think being a leader means being a willing partner. Talking with each other—rather than at each other—is critical to build the trust needed to develop cross-cutting sustainability initiatives. We have to lead for solutions together if we want to make progress.
In your opinion, what are the most significant sustainable business trends of the last decade?
I’m especially excited and inspired by unexpected partnerships that lead to sustainable innovation. A great example is the Starbucks Cup Summit, which started with CEO Howard Schultz demanding that the company solve its “cup problem.” Coffee-cup trash is not Starbucks’ biggest environmental impact, but it definitely is the most visible to consumers. So they brought together experts, competitors, supply chain members, and resin manufacturers to work through the problem.
Through the process, Starbucks started talking with paper-products company Georgia-Pacific and sent them cups to play with while they brainstormed solutions. Eventually, Georgia-Pacific discovered that the used cups could be made into recycled-paper napkins. The process isn’t perfect yet—but they are beginning to seize a new market opportunity where before there was just trash.
When it comes to promising opportunities for sustainable business now and in the next five years, where are you placing your bets?
I’m betting on a similar collaborative effort aimed at an even bigger goal: eliminating ocean trash. Ocean Conservancy is establishing a Trash Free Seas Alliance, a commitment I announced at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative annual conference.
We are challenging innovative partners from across private and public sectors to collaborate on solutions and to harness the power of the marketplace to address the pervasive—and completely preventable—problem of ocean trash.
Over the last 26 years, Ocean Conservancy has mobilized millions of people around the world to remove trash from our ocean and waterways during our International Coastal Cleanup. But removal is just one part of the solution. Partnering with industry leaders, government officials, scientists, and conservationists can help us make trash too valuable to toss in the first place.
The Trash Free Seas Alliance will provide committed partners a constructive forum for dialogue and a safe space for imagining ways to reduce and, where possible, reinvent products and services that damage ocean wildlife or ecosystems. I’m betting that if we bring influence, brilliance, and passion together in one room, we can truly create cutting-edge solutions that eliminate all trash as we know it from the ocean.