The Power of Systemic Change: Social ventures as bottom up change makers to eliminate plastic pollution

How a structured and systemic approach to entrepreneurship could proof and build solutions that have the power to drive sustainable change and parallelly create an eco-system that enables and stimulates these innovations to succeed at scale

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

R. Buckminster Fuller

Plastics being a persistent material that accumulates in the environment, it is a challenge today that requires urgent action. With the current system that perpetuates the production of plastic packaging, this challenge will only increase in order of magnitude in the future. In Indonesia, we see start-ups emerging that reimagine the way we deliver, use and dispose products and packaging. Additionally, we see reuse market opportunities that indicate a high and growing potential to make reusables the new normal. By putting this in relation to the great population of Java, it quickly becomes clear that the movement remains small and fragmented. Additionally, these zero waste alternatives are currently mainly available in urban areas and usually in higher price segments. As such, the innovation ecosystem needs support to scale up ventures and new innovations that enable a single-use plastic free living in order to create impact for a great share of people.

Therefore, two key interventions are proposed to drive this system change: bottom up venture building on the one hand and creating a supportive innovation ecosystem on the other. Both endeavors form the core of what we do in the Zero Waste Living Lab. Let’s dive into the specifics!

Building disruptive business models and scalable impact

The Zero Waste Living Lab is a three-year market development program in which we build and scale disruptive business models that skip single-use plastic and radically reduce single-use plastics at the source in Indonesia and beyond. Our mission is to develop the market for zero waste consumption and enable a radically more sustainable consumption paradigm.

Our approach revolves around three strategies: scaling existing Indonesian start-ups (“We help grow and scale what is already there”), replicating successful business models from abroad to Indonesia (“We replicate what already works effective elsewhere”) and ideating new business models that fit the local Indonesian market (“We develop new ideas that meet remaining gaps in the system and act upon opportunities”). The social enterprises will bring zero waste solutions in an affordable and convenient way to consumers, hereby developing the market for zero-waste consumption and enabling a radically more sustainable consumption paradigm.

Social ventures are bottom up change makers

Let’s explain a bit more in detail how setting up these ventures will lead to scalable impact on the issue of plastic pollution. The ventures can be seen as bottom-up market developers. The set up as social enterprises follows an ‘impact first, profit second business model’. Social ventures are designed to become financially self-sufficient motors of change that strive to continuously grow its impact.

“We believe that social ventures have the unique capacities to reach unprecedent impact in a financially self-sufficient and rapidly scalable way.”

Sanderine van Odijk, enviu

Creating lasting impact: Direct and Indirect

The visible impact of these enterprises is reduced consumption of single-use plastic packaging at the source and thus radically reducing the plastic leakage. Additionally, more product service systems will be available on the market that enable a plastic-free lifestyle and create jobs. With a growing movement, the zero waste stakeholders are better connected and create cross-sector collaboration. For example, local and global zero waste NGOs play a pivotal role through lobby and awareness campaigns, as well as local and national governments that create supportive policies for plastic packaging free deliveries and consumption models. Another direct impact deriving from the venture building activities of the Zero Waste Living Lab is a growing capacity among local, social entrepreneurs.

The (mostly) invisible impact is a diversification of the market for zero waste. The more ventures that prove that there is a (growing) number of customers for zero waste solutions, the more zero waste solutions become financially viable. Competition breeds innovation and that is a great opportunity to create a more inclusive economy that enables zero waste consumption patterns and lifestyles for all. The more capital for zero waste solutions is attracted, the more inspiring the zero waste market becomes for new entrants, and the greater benefit they create. The more the plastic packaging free business models prove themselves on the market, the easier policy-makers are supporting the need for new, pro plastic packaging free polices and legislation.

The ultimate impact reach of ventures that enable a plastic-free, reuse lifestyle in Indonesia is expected to even go way beyond the national market. Indonesia will start to serve as a global showcase market for many other countries around the world. Many of the ventures will ultimately be able to also expand to other markets to serve growing numbers of consumers elsewhere in the world.

7 Leverage Points to create enabling conditions for an innovative eco-system

Complementing the market development through venture building, it is important that a more level playing field is created, meaning that all stakeholders can participate in a zero waste lifestyle and market. Together with local Indonesian stakeholders, such as social entrepreneurs and NGOs, the following list of enabling conditions was developed:

  1. Creating a supportive ecosystem with access to financial support, experts and other measures for social entrepreneurs that design and build sustainable business models
  2. Redesigning externalities, policies and levies to incentivize businesses to reduce plastic packaging and shift towards product delivery and services where valuable materials stay in the loop over a longer period of time
  3. Increasing social engagement through inspiring zero waste behavior and informing about the health benefits of a plastic-free lifestyle on social media. Offline communication channels e.g. the local Warung owners complement this to reach a rich diversity of people. (Warung: Local small shop, cafe or restaurant that is usually family-owned. A warung is an essential part of daily life in Indonesia.) Specifically, effective is the involvement of role models and influencers such as community leaders, religious leaders and celebrities that showcase zero waste behavior in practice.
  4. Educate from day one by making environmental education to the school curriculums and making the school water bottle and reusable food container mandatory (like the school uniform that is purchased at the start).
  5. Internalizing environmental costs and removing subsidies of the resource industry of plastics enables alternative material innovations the same market and levels the playing field for all actors. Potentially even taxing plastics that are unrecyclable such as diapers to incentivize the usage of reuse products.
  6. FMCG companies selling products in bulk so that products can be sold in smaller portions and refills in warungs and stores. Zero waste entrepreneurs can create convenient refill and delivery systems to serve the consumers products conveniently without plastic packaging.
  7. Stimulate innovation research and development at universities and research institutes to forge new technology and material development that further facilitates the transition to a zero waste society.

“Common people follow the Instagram influencers and celebrities.”

Taxi Driver, Jakarta 2018

Making reuse the new normal and skipping single-use plastics is within reach in the Indonesian market. Following the above mentioned recommendations, an enabling ecosystem can be created for ventures to thrive in. While the Zero Waste Living Lab gives a boost to the early stage market creating the first exemplary and scalable businesses, more capital, innovators and entrepreneurs are drawn to the Indonesia. Together we can now start making this dream of a circular and zero waste future come true.

Within the Zero Waste Living Lab Indonesia, we scale, replicate and develop disruptive business models to make zero waste the new normal. This blog is part of a series of blogs that share how we can build the Zero Waste future with refuse, reduce and reuse businesses that reimagine the way we deliver, consume and pack products.

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All photos and graphics by Zero Waste Living Lab, a program by enviu and Plastic Solutions Fund.

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