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The real WALL-Es, Eves, and Captain McCreas

Last week I was watching WALL-E with two of our children for the first time in years. I didn’t remember much about the film apart from building sand WALL-Es and Eves on the beach when my oldest was little.

The picture painted in the film is an uninhabitable Earth with only one tiny plant left. A pretty grim prediction of the future. In reality, we’re not particularly heading in the opposite direction. Here are some daunting facts:

  • E-waste, the waste from our end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, increasing three times faster than our population.[1] Children, exploited in the informal e-waste sector, are exposed to harmful toxins[2] with adverse health impacts including impaired neurodevelopment and behaviour issues, changes to respiratory, thyroid, and immune system function, DNA damage, and an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.[3]

  • Global plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years.[4] Over their lifecycle, plastics contribute 3-4% of our global greenhouse gas emissions, almost double that of the entire aviation industry.[5] Plastic is posing severe threats to our health and biodiversity. A million seabirds and 100,000 sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals die every year from entanglement or digesting plastic.[6] Scientists have only begun to scrape the surface of how the five grams of microplastics we now eat, drink, and breathe on average on a weekly basis damage our cells, guts, and overall health.

  • The UN Global Stocktake reported this summer that the world is far from meeting the Paris agreement to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 degrees.[7] Extreme weather, such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and storms, has tripled since 1960.[8] An estimated 60,000 additional annual deaths are expected due to the increase in extreme weather events, and a further 250,000 deaths due to heat stress, particularly for those with cardiovascular conditions or respiratory disease.[9]

  • The risk of irreversible loss of many ecosystems increases with the extent of global warming, especially at 2 degrees or more.  The Living Planet Index shows that there has been an average decline of 69% across 31,821 studied animal populations of 5,230 species in our world from 1970 to 2018.[10]

  • Air pollution is estimated to cause 6.5 million deaths annually[11] (more than double the global annual deaths caused by Covid-19 during the first two years of the pandemic).[12] 

The bravery of WALL-E, Eve, and Captain McCrea is what saves Earth in the film, and humanity from floating in space, numbed by screens, sugar, and the system around them.

There are real WALL-Es, Eves and Captain McCreas in our world innovating solutions to save us, our children, and their children from living in an increasingly polluted world with more extreme weather, food shortages, rising inequality, and worsened mental and physical health & well-being. Entrepreneurs and business leaders who create systemic solutions that tackle our key global issues genuinely effectively.

Interface is a hugely inspirational example, as featured in the documentary Beyond Zero. Their case shows how a large multinational operating in over 110 countries in traditionally high polluting sector can transform from high emissions to being a global leader in sustainability. Their impact of achieving net zero and now going carbon negative extends beyond their own business. It extends to their supplier Aquafil, by partnering up to innovate yarn using recycled nylon. It extends to customers such as PwC who buy their carbon absorbing ‘CQuestBio’ tiles that contain carbon-negative materials made with bio-based materials and recycled fillers. And it extends to a wider environment, for example through UN Partnerships, EU lobbying and Founder Ray Anderson serving as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development during President Clinton’s administration, and the Presidential Climate Action Plan during President Obama’s administration.

Other examples tackle humanity's biggest challenges with exceptional outcomes. And at the same time gain a significant competitive edge. Like Tony's Chocolonely, who tackle poverty, illegal labour and child labour in the cocoa sector at its root, and have taken on the chocolate sector by storm. Or Brigade, who empower individuals who are unravelling with opportunities to transform their lives with a 300-400% higher success rate than most.

Not all impact initiatives achieve the best results however, nor the same competitive advantages. What we need to turn things around for a genuinely better future is for the right solutions to become more part of the mainstream.

If you would like to be inspired by the 'behind the scenes' of Interface’s journey you are welcome to join us on 24 January in London to hear from Becky Gordon and our other awesome panellists of global leaders who tackle climate change, pollution, poverty, child labour, and homelessness exceptional outcomes:

- Becky Gordon, Regional Sustainability Manager UK, Ireland & Middle East, Interface.

- Ben Greensmith, UK Country Manager, Tony’s Chocolonely.

- Simon Boyle, Founder and CEO of Brigade & Beyond Food.

Guests will be the first to receive a signed copy of the book LEAD LIKE A GENIUS: How to outgrow the competition and transform our world (out in January). A short talk by author Melanie van de Velde will reveal profound insights derived from award-winning research as to why the examples above achieve a 200-400% better impact return and more significant gains in growth, brand value and productivity.

Last but not least, you will be able to enjoy great company and exquisite canapés courtesy of the amazing Brigade Bar + Kitchen.

With a huge thanks to Brigade Bar + Kitchen, Beyond Food, Interface, Tony's Chocolonely, Crème Conferences, and Lulu Press!

Wishing you a wonderful time over the holidays!


[1] World Health Organization, 2022

[2] World Health Organization, 2022

[3] Parvez et al., 2021

[4] OECD, 2022

[5] OECD, 2022, UN, 2021

[6] Deloitte, 2019

[7] UN Global Stocktake, 2023

[8] WHO, 2018

[9] WHO, 2018

[10] WWF, 2022

[11] OECD/IEA, 2016

[12] OurWorldInData, 2020b

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