Sustainable Voices: William Pearson

January 18, 2019


Welcome to our Sustainable Voices series, where we talk to inspirational climate leaders around the world about their passions and projects.

Who, What, Where?

William Pearson, co-founder and CEO of Ocean Bottle. William’s interest lies at the intersection of entrepreneurship, social impact, and environmental conservation. He was recently awarded Forbes 30 under 30 and has also been selected as one of Norway’s top 30 leaders under 30 for his work pursuing the sustainable development goals. After completing his undergraduate degree in engineering, William spent a year working at sea in the Indian Ocean, where he saw firsthand the current state of pollution in the world’s oceans. William is no stranger to working in sustainability-focused businesses, with experience in product development, eco products and renewable energy, including the development of an atomically thin solar cell for his engineering thesis.

What was your a-ha moment that made you become engaged in sustainability?

I knew we’d made it when Magne Furuholmen saw the bottle and went Aha! My engagement in sustainability all really started for me at high school in Geography class. I became totally obsessed with the environment and the intercept between people and planet, in particular all the damage we are doing. But I was also excited about the work that needed to be done to help fix it. I remember coming home and literally talking at my family for hours on end about everything from extinction of species to renewable energy to electric cars. I’m also a total ocean fan and was lucky enough to grow up sailing with my grandparents in Northern Norway - nothing gives me more peace than being on a boat out in the big blue! After university I went to work at sea for a year and just saw plastic everywhere. This and a trip to Colombia was what really got me engaged in the plastic crisis and I felt inspired to take action. Action began with further research into the plastic problem, learning that 22 million kgs of plastic pour into the ocean every single day and that we need to do something drastic to help solve this.

What is your single best tip for someone who wants to do more for the environment on a personal level?

My top tip would be to change the daily decisions that are within your reach. For example, changing your diet to eat less red meat or none at all, the way you travel to work everyday, or how you get to your holiday destinations and even switching to a ‘green’ energy provider. Also where you invest your pension is important. It’s no surprise that I might also say, carry a reusable bottle! It’s very simple, but the effects are massive when you start to imagine 7 billion people doing or not doing it. I would recommend investing in durable, reusable items to eliminate single use plastics, such as bottles, coffee cups, bags and cutlery. It is an easy way to stop single-use in everyday life. We as consumers have a massive influence to change the world, just by being conscious about what we purchase.

What do you think will be the legacy of your generation?

Someone recently said to me, that the work that our generation is starting, the regeneration of our natural world, will last for generations to come and that this is just the beginning. This to me is an interesting thought, that the world might continue to get even better beyond where it is now. I do take this with a pinch of salt though. We have very little time to act and change the course of humanity. Having wiped out 60% of animal populations which have evolved over millions of years in the last 50 years alone, we really are on the brink of total collapse. These are my hopes for this generation: 1. I hope that we are the generation that turns the tide on the climate crisis, meeting the goals we need to reverse the effects of climate change. I hope that environmental movements and organizations - including ourselves at Ocean Bottle - have ensured that the future we create is environmentally, socially, racially and politically equal, just and fair for all. We are the generation who have committed to listen, learn and take action. I also hope that we are the generation that influences policy and changes the world to a better place for all. 2. Nothing is bought without thinking about what we are buying. People will understand that every buying decision we make has the power to change the world in some way. Consumers will demand transparency and know where their food, clothes and products come from - making direct and indirect impacts on millions of people as well as the planet. 3. Environmental damage has been a by-product of human progress and the quality of life one can live today and my hope is that this generation will reconcile our convenience with renewable living.

What is the most critical technological breakthrough that needs to happen for the world to reach the 1,5 degree goal?

Whilst technological breakthroughs will be vital for the world to reach the 1.5 degree goal, change can only be driven by policy and action on company and individual level. We have all the technological resources and development to solve climate change now, we have done for a few years. For change to happen it needs to happen in the court. It will be almost impossible to reach net-zero emissions without new regulations and laws. Take Norway as an example, here they have a parliamentary agreement that all new cars sold by 2025 must be zero-emission. This is something that will really help to drive consumer behavior. When it comes to plastic pollution, it’s really exciting to see that the world's corporate leaders have come together to call for a UN Treaty on plastic pollution.

What will this breakthrough demand from us as a society?

It will require us as individuals to take action and demand change. We need a greener, cleaner, fairer future now and we cannot wait for the next generation to fix these problems. To quote Greta Thunberg, “the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change”.

What is your company’s most impactful contribution to fight climate change?

The overproduction of plastic is a significant greenhouse gas contributor. By 2050 with plastic production set to quadruple and plastic could be responsible for 13% of the global carbon budget. Not only is there a direct impact on the climate from plastic production and waste disposal, but plastic pollution is one of the most significant threats to ocean health. By choosing Ocean Bottle, you’re not only reducing your own plastic usage and helping slow down production of single use plastics, you’re also playing an active role in keeping plastic out of the ocean whilst supporting the livelihoods of collectors in coastal communities. For each Ocean Bottle we fund collection equivalent to 1000 plastic bottles from entering the ocean. Since launching in January 2019, we have funded the collection of 1,026,940kgs of ocean bound plastic, equivalent to over 90 million plastic bottles, enough to stretch from London to New York 3 times. To date, we have contributed 17% of our revenue to plastic collection. No product is truly sustainable and in today’s world everything has a footprint. We also offset all of our carbon footprint with CHOOOSE, by supporting Mangrove projects in Kenya.

In your industry, what do you think will be the most groundbreaking change over the next 10 years?

I believe the introduction of a global product impact index and the transition towards a circular economy will be the most groundbreaking change. This impact will not only affect fast moving consumer goods but also lifestyle products. It is no good buying a long-lasting product if they are terrible for the environment in the first place and end up becoming delayed landfill. This will impact supply chains globally and the way people consume. We must transition from a linear economy to a circular economy that works in balance with the planet.

Which brand (in general) do you think is at the forefront when it comes to sustainability?

There are so many cool companies that are on the front lines of this and it feels like we’re in a force like the Avengers! We really like They make wristbands from recycled material that raise awareness for the UN sustainable development goals. They are made from waste, supporting local communities in Brazil. We’ve recently collaborated with them to create the #togetherbottle.

What makes you climate positive about the future?

The fact that we do have all of the resources we need to solve the climate crisis, with new technologies emerging every day and a new wave of climate activists in the younger generations suggests that the world is changing, for the better. There is also a wave of political action happening with Green New Deals and the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. As carbon emissions sharply fell during the beginning of the pandemic, it shows that it is within our reach to turn the tide on climate change. It has been a big environmental wake up call to us all.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Come and join the environmental gang. Chooose today!