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Meet This Week’s Meaning Maker: Will Pearson, Ocean Bottle Co-Founder

Every so often, you meet someone who is actively making our world a better place. Will Pearson is one of those people.

As the co-founder of Ocean Bottle, Will is working to solve the problem of plastic in our oceans. No big deal, right? We were fortunate enough to help him launch the Ocean Bottle brand, inspiring a socially-conscious audience to buy a bottle and, in time, a better future for our oceans.

Today, Will and his team are on a mission to fund the collection of 7 billion plastic bottles by 2025. Here, he shares how he got started and the Origin Story that has carried him through every step of the way.

What is it in you, your family or your history that led you to solve the problem of plastic waste? 

I recently heard about the concept of being a ‘twice born’ in entrepreneurship. Essentially, it’s the idea that you’ve had an experience in your life that threw you off the cliff and taught you how to fend for yourself.

My personal experience was when I was 11 and I was told I was moving to Norway. I couldn’t speak Norwegian beyond saying ‘hi’ to my granddad and I found myself in a Norwegian school. The experience of having to fend for yourself — and it doesn’t need to be something complex or really difficult — is a powerful basis for any entrepreneurial Origin Story. 

At Ocean Bottle, our Origin Story came from environmental inspiration. For me, it all started at geography class in high school.

We learned about people, the planet and the intersect between all of it. It was then that I started understanding all of the ugly things and massive problems we need to fix. 

I decided I wanted to work to protect the planet. The ocean element for me grew from being fortunate enough to sail with my granddad in Norway. After that, I went to work on a boat for a year in the Indian Ocean and then, again, when I went to Colombia I realised just how much plastic was going to flood out into the ocean when rains and monsoons came. That’s when I started to research the problem. 

I remember when I came to you guys at Make Us Care for the first time — I was pretty angry about it, slamming my fists on the table and saying “we’ve got to fix this”! I learned that 22 million kg of plastic is going into the ocean EVERY day. By 2040, that number is set to triple.

We’re still seriously going in the wrong direction, but we do have the opportunity to fix it. That’s what got me. I’ve always been fascinated by people and consumerism — I saw people genuinely wanted to do something about ocean plastic and I wanted to help them do so. 

That was the whole reason why we started Ocean Bottle — we wanted to connect people and give them the opportunity to have a real impact on stopping ocean plastic.

We decided that each of our Ocean Bottles was going to fund the collection of 11.4 kg of plastic, which is the equivalent of 1,000 plastic bottles. Each Ocean Bottle is smart chip-activated with an NFC chip. This means that in the future with digital advancements, owners will be able to donate more money to plastic collection when refilling at partner locations. 

It’s such a big challenge that we have to innovate and attack from all corners. Consumers have massive power — more than they can possibly imagine. I often talk about it as an Oreo effect — you’ve got consumers at the bottom, companies in the middle and the government at the top. They all massively affect each other.

As consumers, we have limited choices, but where we do have a choice, let’s make the right ones.

When it comes to articulating your Origin Story, what have you learned about making people care about your mission? 

We’ve tried to stick to what we’re doing from the beginning. 

One of the things we’ve tried to channel is radical transparency.

When we first launched the product, we did 400 hours of research to get a lid that wasn’t made of plastic. We ended up with a lid that IS made of plastic. For it to be fully recyclable at the end of its life, you can’t have any composite materials. So, if you fuse metal and plastic together you can’t recycle it. 

We ended up exactly where we didn’t want to be, but we still told people about it and explained how we got there. I think we’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve always tried to be open and honest and say it how it is.

I don’t like the word passionate as it’s overused, but we have been really true to the mission. We did a survey with our Ocean Bottle owners and 96% of them said they bought it for the impact. People are keen to help which is amazing. 

We also had amazing partners. Amanda and Callum, Make Us Care’s co-founders, helped us kick off the brand — they built our first website and really got our name out there digitally.

As a socially conscious startup, how often do you go back to your Origin Story for guidance and motivation?

Often. Every time we present the brand, we talk about our Origin Story and why we started and where we’re going. It’s also motivating for the team to know why we came to exist. 

For any business, Origin Stories shape a big part of where you’re heading — things always change, you have to adapt to new opportunities, but going back to the Origin has always been there for us.

We have a big, hairy, audacious goal of funding the collection of 7 billion plastic bottles by 2025. When it comes to every single bit of marketing, we go back to our Origin Story, whether it’s our social media content, a newsletter or otherwise.

I remember going to pitch at a startup competition, we didn’t have a bottle — we had a bottle from a gym that was spray painted and had a paper logo on it! 

In the beginning, all we had was our reason for existing and, ultimately, that’s what people buy into before you even have a product.

Bianca Bass
Bianca Bass

Bianca is a Marketing and Communications Director who combines strategy with storytelling to build brands, reach new audiences and create impactful campaigns.

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