National Geographic Fights Single-Use Plastic on all Fronts

Plastic pollution has become a trending topic over the past year. Companies have partnered with environmental organizations and nonprofits to upcycle plastic pollution, they have joined coalitions and launched a new initiative to address their supply chains – diverting plastic waste from our oceans. Plastic waste is such a critical issue, it was even the theme of this year’s Earth Day. With stakeholders from all industries working to decrease the impact of plastic pollutants, National Geographic kicked-off a multifaceted campaign leaning on its aptitude for storytelling in the hopes of reducing global reliance on single-use plastics.

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To communicate the size and severity that plastic waste is having on our planet, National Geographic dedicated its June cover to launch the “Planet or Plastic?” campaign. The cover serves as a warning that the 18 billion pounds of plastic that end up in the ocean each year are “just the tip of the iceberg.” The somber caption is dwarfed by the image of a plastic bag resembling an iceberg, floating in the ocean. The image has gone viral, sparking conversation and further spreading awareness to new audiences. But the effort is more than a splashy cover, the campaign is supported by a website where visitors can read more, take a pledge and participate in a Reddit AMA with a zero-waste blogger. In addition to leveraging its core competency of compelling storytelling, the publication has made internal changes. National Geographic will undergo an audit of its single-use plastic consumption and develop a timeline and action plan to minimize its impact. As a first step, the magazine aims to save more than 2.5 million single-use plastic bags every month by switching to paper wrapping for its print editions. National Geographic has also initiated a collaboration with Sky Media and corporate partnerships with S’well and The North Face to promote cross-industry collaboration and amplify its message.

Building on the publication’s long-standing history of documenting our planet, National Geographic tapped its explorers, researchers and photographers to share the stories of the growing impacts of plastic pollution. However, today consumers are demanding more than a one-off campaign – 90 percent of Americans want companies to operate in a way that benefits society and the environment. This means not only communicating compelling stories, but also looking within, ensuring external messaging matches internal programs and policies.