A plastic planet co-founder: the management lesson I learned in 2018

11 December 2018 -

A Plastic PlanetIn the season of goodwill, the founder of environmental campaign A Plastic Planet explains what she learned this year

CMI Insights

The fight against plastic waste has hit the headlines this year, with no organisation more at the forefront than A Plastic Planet.

The movement was founded by former skincare business owner Sian Sutherland with Frederikke Magnussen and its aim is to encourage consumers to buy plastic-free goods and discard less packaging that damages the environment.

2018 has been a great year for the two managers. A Plastic Planet partnered with Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza to unveil a plastic-free supermarket aisle and articles about the stunt were read more than 2.25m times, while radio broadcasts reached 17 million listeners. How did they do it? Sutherland puts her success down to defining the business purpose.

“Ultimately all of us, what we’re all doing in some way is marketing,” she tells CMI Insights. “What I realised is that now I am marketing social change, but in a way that empowers people so that they don’t feel helpless and overwhelmed with the scale of the problem.”


In the summer, CMI launched its white paper The What, The Why and The How of Purpose: A Guide for Leaders. It concluded that ‘purpose-driven, people-centric, values-driven companies outperform others’ and Sutherland concurs: “Great people who share your vision… want to come on the journey with you.” Since moving into the world of so-called ‘eco-environmentalism’, it’s become clear to her that “you need to lead with absolute focus on your campaign goal, versus getting side-tracked with other ideas, opportunities and missions”.

Sutherland reiterates to her team daily that they’re not about plastic recycling or circular economies; instead, “everything we do must support and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap.”

A laser-focus makes managers and organisations more powerful, she insists. “Everyone in the team is on fire with this goal – which makes it simply the best job I’ve ever created for myself.”

Could you re-define your purpose as a manager in 2019?

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