One to Watch: Daniel Smith
31 October 2017 at 8:31 am
Daniel Smith is the founder of Clean Coast Collective, a not-for-profit lifestyle brand committed to cleaning up the ocean. He is one to watch.
A total of 60 of Australia’s brightest young changemakers have been selected by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) to take part in the 2017 Young Social Pioneers (YSP) program. It is Australia’s first, and only, national youth entrepreneurship incubator designed exclusively for young people leading initiatives that respond to society’s most pressing challenges. In this mini-series Pro Bono News speaks to a pioneer from each of the nine categories across the program about the differences they are hoping to make.
Smith, a 28-year-old social entrepreneur who is based in Byron Bay, founded Clean Coast Collective in 2014 alongside partner Natalie Woods after they were blown away by the amount of plastics in the oceans and on the beaches.
The pair realised that some of the most polluted beaches were the ones furthest away from the city. To solve the issue they decided we need to stop relying on disposable plastics.
Clean Coast Collective stops plastic pollution at the source by selling modern plastic-free alternatives, the profits from product sales then help fund massive beach clean up expeditions in remote Australia.
To date, they’ve removed more four tonnes of coastal pollution.
Here, Smith talks to Pro Bono News about stopping plastic pollution at the source, forming the Trash Tribe, and the responsibility to create a positive workplace culture.
What motivated you to start Clean Coast Collective?
My partner Natalie and I, who runs it with me, we were spending our weekends hiking to remote sections of the far New South Wales south coast, that was to escape the crowds and find our own little isolated beaches and that’s when we started noticing a lot of rubbish along those beaches and we actually started finding out there was more rubbish on these remote beaches than there was in the more urban areas and that sparked our interest.
Then we started researching online, that’s how we found out that basically the issue of ocean pollution was absolutely destroying the oceans and that just became a thorn for us, we couldn’t ignore any more and we just felt obliged to do something about it. Because we do get so much from the coastline, in terms of finding peace and relaxation, we felt a certain sense of responsibility to try and do something about it.
Then we found out a lot about the health implications of plastics in our lives and so that was another motivating factor. We just felt like it would be better for our health if we just avoided using plastics.
How does Clean Coast Collective work?
With Clean Coast Collective we are trying to, first of all, stop plastic pollution at the source. So to do that we sell a range of alternatives to everyday plastic items, such as the bamboo toothbrush instead of the plastic. That is really just trying to stop the plastic pollution from ever existing. Because if we can stop it from ever existing then there is no chance that it is going to end up in the ocean. So that is the source reduction side.
And then, all of the proceeds from those product sales go towards funding our beach clean up expeditions, in some of Australia most remote and most polluted beaches. And that’s basically to get the rubbish out of the ocean, out of the system, because plastic is an incredibly durable substance, so it never actually breaks down, it just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. Once it gets into the ocean, it just stays there so we have to actually go and get it out of the system. So our expeditions are focused on as it washes up on the coastline, getting it out of there and stopping it from getting back in the ocean.
The other side is education and just raising awareness about the issue of pollution in the ocean. I think part of it is that people just don’t really know, one about the issue and two, that everyday items that we’re using for fleeting moments, you take away containers, your coffee cups, these things we only use momentarily but they can potentially exist forever, and do so damage. So we’re really trying to push that information out there. So we run a number of marketing campaigns and we spend a lot of time targeting groups that wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in environmental issues, so we try reach people outside of the environmental sphere. That’s why a lot of our marketing and our branding isn’t stereotypical not for profit styling. So that’s really because we’re trying to get our message to a different audience.
So that really our three aims: source reduction, getting it out of the system and then education.
Who are the Trash Tribe?
So, with the Trash Tribe, that is what we’re labelled our expeditions, we basically send out applications to people to apply to come on the trip with us, and again we’re looking for non-environmental people. So on our last trip we had economists, musicians, artists, we try and look for someone not necessarily already in the space. We take them on these 10 day beach clean up expeditions. And then ideally they’ve got to pitch to us a project that they’re going to complete after this expedition just to share their experiences and they’re also sharing the message of ocean pollution. So they’re selected based on how unique their project ideas are and how much they can reach, again, an audience that’s not environmental. And so that how we form the Trash Tribe.
What more can we do to encourage the rise of conscious consumerism?
I think it comes down to what motivates people. You sort of see the same thing with the word organic, that was quite a fringe, “greeny” kind of thing at first but it caught on because people were motivated by health, for one example. And so I think if you can find what motivates people then you can really get them to make changes in their life in a way that is not difficult.
At Clean Coast we’re really trying to make the products fit into their lifestyle, people want to look good when they go out at a bar, so we have a gold straw, people want to feel luxurious in the bathroom so we have really nice Australian botanical shampoo bars and that’s really just trying to make it as easy as possible for people to take it up. Because I think with a lot of the environmental stuff, for plastic alternatives, you have to care about the environment enough to want to inconvenience your life, I guess to an extent and so I think that rise in conscious consumerism is about making it easy and making it popular.
What are you hoping to get out of the YSP program?
I applied because I saw it was the perfect opportunity to get access to a great network. There are a lot of just incredible people in the program itself and then all the presenters and the panel discussions we’ve had, it’s just really opened up a lot of doors for us. So there is the networking side of it and then there’s also the learning side of it.
So we’ve had some amazing workshops, and just learning about what the best way to structure our organisation is, and the best way to have the most impact, which is a really awesome lesson that we’ve got from the YSP program, is one making sure that we are having impact and two that we’re having the most impact that we possibly can. So those two things are something I’ve really got a lot out of YSP.
And then from the professional development side it seems like the YSP program is helping you be the best person that you can be and to make a contribution to the world.
How do you find leading an organisation at a relatively young age?
I find it exciting because you are not restricted to structures that are already set up, that are already in place. I still work in the corporate sector and I find it quite rigid and there is a lot of old systems in place that are difficult to change, so it is really exciting in that sense, you have a lot of control and freedom to create what you want.
But something I’ve been thinking about lately is the responsibility that you have. So we are all founders and directors in the YSP program, and we are going to be essentially creating a corporate culture in our respective organisations and with that comes a huge responsibility to create a positive culture. You see all these startups like for example Uber with pretty nasty cultures that have grown up, so that is a thing that is on my mind, how do I create the best culture within the organisation that I’ve created to make sure that I’m helping people to be their best selves and things like that.
So I find it exciting but I also find it quite challenging at times.
What advice would you give to other young people who want to make a difference?
I think one thing is to really find out what is driving you, so whatever your initiative is, why are you here, why is it important to you, why do you feel the need to work in that space. If you can really hone in on what is important to you I think you’ll be able to make better decisions down the track because you won’t be as easily swayed and pulled in different directions which is what happens. So if you can really hone in on what the driving force is behind what you are doing then I think it sets you up really well for whatever you are trying to do.
And then also thinking about people before business is another important thing. Whatever is happening, consider the people you are dealing with first and then consider the business after. I think that is a really good way of operating.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Well I was working in the public service a couple of years ago so things change pretty quickly. To be honest I would like to be doing what I’m doing now with Clean Coast and with a few other things I’ve got going on. I would like to be doing that but in a wider capacity I suppose, growing what we’ve got now, increasing the model. With Clean Coast I want to see us having a lot more impact, increasing all the work that we do, and doing it on a national scale. And then personally I would like to be contributing to some other initiatives as well, so sitting on boards, helping out other people setting up their initiatives and more of a guidance role I think.