Be a conscious consumer. Be a steward of the environment. I cannot think of anything more important. Be someone who cares for life. Be someone who cares for other people. Set a good example for children. Your children will not do what you say, but they will do what you do. You can try to “be in the thick of things” and be gimmicky, but that is not what your children will emulate. Be authentic, and that is what they will become.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Katz.
David is the founder and CEO of Plastic Bank, an internationally recognized solution to ocean plastic with global partners that include SC Johnson, Henkel, Procter & Gamble, Carton Pack and Advansa. He is a steward of the Earth and a champion for the poor whose humanitarian work has earned him international recognition. David is also the past president of the Vancouver BC Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and has received the United Nations Lighthouse award for Planetary Health, the Paris Climate Conference Sustained community award, and the Ernst and Young Lifetime Achievement award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
As a young child, the ocean was important to me — like a good friend. I was lucky to live close to a beach which became my playground. I would go to the beach when I was in trouble or needed to think. The beach is where I went to have fun and spend time with friends. The beach was like a second home to me, and still is.
In addition to growing up near the ocean, I also developed a deep connection to the life inside of it. My hometown was on the West Coast of Canada, in a city called Victoria, which is on an island surrounded by the ocean. My father was a sailor, and I grew up to understand the importance of hard work, labor, and perseverance. As a child to first-generation immigrants, I also grew up to understand xenophobia and bullying. All together, these experiences gave me the ability to overcome difficult circumstances, and to keep going despite what others would say.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that led you to your current career? Can you share that story with us?
Because of my strong connection with the ocean, I wanted to protect it, and one way to do this was to stop the flow of plastic from entering it. Keeping our oceans clean and healthy also protects ocean life, such as turtles, fish, whales, dolphins, and ocean birds. My career is rooted in protecting something important not only to me, but also our world. It is not about being an environmentalist — it is about doing something that is right.
The beautiful thing about what I do is that my desire to protect the ocean has turned into so much more. It also opened doors to help people and improve lives in vulnerable coastal communities. Plastic Bank recently announced it reached a significant milestone of stopping one billion plastic bottles from entering the world’s oceans, which is an incredible accomplishment.
One billion plastic bottles is the equivalent of more than 20 million kilograms of plastic that would have otherwise found its way into the world’s oceans. To reach this milestone, Plastic Bank worked in partnership with more than 17,000 individual collectors across Haiti, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, and Egypt. In exchange for collected plastic, collectors receive premiums which help provide basic family necessities such as groceries, cooking fuel, school tuition and health insurance. While we know there is more work to be done, we call this a win-win situation.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
I love any conversation that includes a question for children to think about. As a parent, I do not ask my kids what they want to be, or what profession or career they aspire to. Instead, I ask them, “What problem do you want to solve in the world?” Then, I let that question inspire their imagination.
Life is not about being anything. It is also not about any kind of destination. Life is about the journey and the learning of all those things combined. When your heart is caught by the inspiration of service and doing well in the world, life becomes purposeful and meaningful. That is a lesson I would want every young person to know.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
At Plastic Bank, we have monetized waste. We are like “bank branches” for those less fortunate. That is a metaphor of course, but it is what we do. We allow people to deposit plastic garbage they have worked to collect and then withdraw cash, or cooking fuel, or cell phone minutes — whatever people need to get by.
Our work is really about the ability to use plastic waste as currency. Doing so happens to result in circularity, regeneration, and sustainability for the world, while also helping repair the lives of people who are afflicted by the degradation of their environment by needless pollution.
Can you share a lifestyle tweak that the public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
I do not think people are aware of how powerful they are as consumers. They do not know that there are teams of people listening carefully to the voices of the consumer today, urgently trying to figure out what they want. I think everyone should know that whenever they purchase something, they are casting a vote for it. If you are buying things that are excessively packaged or contain single-use materials that are degrading to society and the environment, those things will continue to be produced. Consumer choices impact the planet.
That is why we cannot sit back and hope that someone else will save the ocean. We all have a role to play.
There is a simple “hack” that can help change the conversation. Know that every time you buy something, you are voting with your wallet in favor of that product, including how it is made and how it is disposed of. Please vote with purpose. Every time you go into a store, find an employee or the manager and ask them, “Could you point out the products here made from recycled content? Could you point out the items you carry that are helping regenerate the Earth? Could you show me where you keep the products that are most sustainable to our planet’s future?”
By asking questions like these, you are encouraging retailers to consider stocking brands that better align with your preferences. In turn, those retailers may start to ask questions of the brands they chose to buy and sell. The retailer listens to you, and eventually the big brands listen to the retailer. Be an army of one. Create the space for that retailer to change. Then, continue to stand up for what is important to you as a consumer.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
Again, be a conscious consumer. Be a steward of the environment. I cannot think of anything more important. Be someone who cares for life. Be someone who cares for other people. Set a good example for children. Your children will not do what you say, but they will do what you do. You can try to “be in the thick of things” and be gimmicky, but that is not what your children will emulate. Be authentic, and that is what they will become.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The paradigm of business that has resulted in shareholders benefitting at the expense of all others is changing. The real power and great profitability in business lies in serving all things — win-win, or no deal. At Plastic Bank, everything and everybody truly wins, even the plastic when it becomes new again. When we are connected to the abundant and the infinite, we can ensure that business creates value for all things and people — no longer just focusing on the notion of profit. This old paradigm of a zero-sum game, where “I can only win when you lose”, is short-sighted.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It is ultimately my children. I had a daughter that was born with Down Syndrome, and she taught me to express fully, and to always be in the present moment. My daughter taught me consciousness. She brought passion, compassion, and everything else to life as she lived in the world — loving all things and not caring about what other people would think or say. She would show up in a way that was playful, expressive, and always free. Through her eyes, I got to see the real beauty in every soul, the gift of everybody and everything.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be a new place of consciousness. There would be no more ego attachment to wanting more in our lives so that other people would like us or think better of us. Too often we think to ourselves, “to succeed, what do I have to achieve, buy, or look like in the world?” That is where we are today, because of the degradation of the self and of the soul. Everyone is trying to buy their way into being enough because we no longer think we are enough in ourselves.
If there is a movement that needs to be led, it is consciousness: an awakening for society that we are whole, complete, remarkable all on our own — that we have everything we could possibly need and are beautiful beyond measure right now. It does not matter what your hair looks like, how long your nails are, or what kind of car you drive. You are beautiful.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
My quote is for parents, and it reads, “We have the opportunity to choose who our children’s parents will be.” For my children’s parents, I’d choose someone healthy and compassionate. I would choose someone who serves, gives, and changes the world. I would choose someone who perseveres and always has kindness in his heart. We all have a choice in life about who we will become, yet far too many people do not know that they even have that option.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!