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Nat Geo's 'Planet or Plastic?' Initiative Latest Attempt to Save the Oceans from Plastic

Image credit: National Geographic

As the amount of single-use plastic in the world's oceans continues to grow, National Geographic is announcing a new, global commitment to tackle this pressing problem. On Wednesday, the media giant launched Planet or Plastic?, a multiyear initiative aimed at raising awareness of this challenge and reducing the amount of single-use plastic that enters the world's oceans.

As a global brand with a rich history of scientific discovery and exploration, National Geographic is uniquely positioned to tackle this crisis in a way that only National Geographic can — through storytelling and science. The Planet or Plastic? initiative will leverage the power of Nat Geo's media portfolio around the world; and the expertise of its explorers and scientists, who are witnessing firsthand the devastating impacts of this crisis. This organization-wide effort will include a major research and scientific initiative; a consumer education and engagement campaign; updated internal corporate sustainability commitments; and innovative partnerships with like-minded corporations and NGOs from all over the world.

"For 130 years, National Geographic has documented the stories of our planet, providing audiences around the world with a window into the earth's breathtaking beauty as well as to the threats it faces," said Gary E. Knell, CEO of National Geographic Partners. "Every day, our explorers, researchers and photographers in the field witness firsthand the devastating impact of single-use plastic on our oceans, and the situation is becoming increasingly dire. Through the Planet or Plastic? initiative, we will share the stories of this growing crisis, work to address it through the latest science and research, and educate audiences around the world about how to eliminate single-use plastics."

The launch is tied to the release of the June issue of National Geographic magazine, which takes an in-depth look at the role single-use plastics play in our society and the impact they are having on our environment. Starting with this issue, National Geographic announced that it will begin wrapping the US, UK and India subscriber editions of the magazine in paper instead of plastic, with the goal of wrapping all global editions in paper by the end of 2019. The June issue is available online on May 16 and on print newsstands on May 29.

In concert with the release of the June magazine, the Planet or Plastic? initiative will also kick off with the following:

National Geographic's
Jill Cress
will discuss
Success at the
Intersection of
Science, Entertainment

at SB'18 Vancouver
  • Planet or Plastic? Pledge: Nat Geo is asking audiences around the world to take the Planet or Plastic? pledge, a commitment to reduce their use of single-use plastic. The pledge marks the beginning of a comprehensive consumer awareness and engagement campaign that National Geographic will execute across its multiple platforms in the months and years to come.
  • Scientific research and documentation: The National Geographic Society will embark on a journey to better document how plastic travels from source to sea and to fill critical knowledge gaps. Starting with an initial expedition in 2019 to study the type and flow of plastic in a river system, the Society will provide science-based, actionable information to help local and national governments, NGOs, businesses and the public more effectively invest in and implement innovative solutions. The Society is also sourcing solutions to the challenge of plastic waste through an existing Reducing Marine Plastic Pollution Request for Proposal (RFP). Says Jonathan Baillie, the National Geographic Society's chief scientist and SVP of science and exploration: "By harnessing National Geographic's scientific expertise, we intend to pinpoint activities on land, particularly near rivers, that contribute to the flow of plastics polluting our oceans — and then use what we learn to inspire change at home and around the world. A crisis of this enormity requires solutions at scale, and National Geographic is uniquely qualified to amass the best in research, technology, education and storytelling to effect meaningful change."
  • Three-day social takeover: As the No. 1 social media brand, Nat Geo will use the power and reach of its platforms to educate people about the impact of single-use plastic and to encourage them to take the pledge. From Wednesday to Friday, National Geographic will "pollute" its Instagram feed with photos of the plastics crisis, as well as animated Instagram stories to highlight the true impact of humanity's pollution of the natural world. On Wednesday, @natgeo featured photos taken by photographer Randy Olson, who traveled around the world to document the plastics crisis and is featured in the June issue of the magazine. On Thursday, May 17, actress and singer Zooey Deschanel will curate Nat Geo's Instagram account, posting photos of the plastic crisis. On Friday, May 18, Nat Geo's photographers will be posting their own photos of the crisis. Also on Friday, Kathryn Kellogg — a writer and public speaker who lives a "zero-waste" lifestyle and focuses on the dangers of plastic pollution — will host a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) about small, actionable steps that people can take in their everyday lives. Kellogg, who is also featured in the June issue, has fit all of the trash that she has generated at home in the last two years into a 16-ounce jar.
  • Sky collaborationSky Media and National Geographic are joining forces in the fight to eradicate the destructive impact of plastic litter in the world's oceans. Nat Geo has committed $10 million to support the activities of Sky Ocean Ventures, an initiative launched by Sky Media to seek out investment opportunities in businesses that can help solve the ocean plastic crisis. Bringing to bear Nat Geo's scientific expertise, grants and media reach, the collaboration will identify and champion projects and groundbreaking technologies designed to reduce plastic waste and its impact on oceans. It will also support a series of events with industry leaders, corporations, institutions and foundations, engaging them around the issue of marine plastic pollution. Collectively, this new collaboration will create the largest global media campaign to date to reduce plastic litter in the ocean.
  • Corporate partnerships: Nat Geo will seek out and partner with a number of like-minded corporations and organizations that are committed to raising awareness about the enormity of the ocean plastic issue as well as to finding solutions — for example, The North Face, which is partnering with Nat Geo to introduce a limited Bottle Source Collection, featuring shirts made from recycled plastic bottles diverted from National Park waste streams (the shirts will be available for purchase online on May 23); and S'well and Nat Geo will unveil an assortment of co-branded bottles available for purchase beginning in June 2018.
  • Internal commitment: Finally, National Geographic will be taking steps to reduce its own reliance on single-use plastics. With its initial move to wrap the US, UK and India print editions in paper instead of plastic, the magazine will save more than 2.5 million single-use plastic bags every month; by the end of 2019, all global editions will be wrapped in paper, as well. This is just one of many steps Nat Geo is taking to reduce its own single-use plastic consumption. Over the next month, the organization will initiate a third-party audit of its single-use plastic use and develop a timeline and action plan to further minimize single-use plastics in the workplace.

The efforts announced this week are just the beginning of this multiyear initiative. Next month, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey in New York City's Times Square — an immersive adventure across the ocean from the South Pacific to the coast of California — will highlight the initiative during World Oceans Day on June 8. Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle will also be in New York City for the festivities to raise awareness about the damaging impact of plastic pollution in our world's fragile oceans. And on June 15, National Geographic will host a "Party for the Planet" as part of its annual Explorers Festival in Washington, D.C., a night dedicated to the elimination of single-use plastic.

Stay up to date on Planet or Plastic? and join the conversation on social via #planetorplastic.

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