Has someone told you to stop sucking recently? That may be my fault, but it’s not what you think! I simply want you to think twice about that plastic garnish in your drink. 
Between eight and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter our ocean each year and future projections suggest this number will only continue to grow. Plastic pollution in our oceans is on a disastrous growth trajectory. With an estimated 25,000 ocean health organisations fighting for a healthy marine environment, why does the health of our ocean keep getting worse?  

I have a theory. It’s that we – the members of the ocean consevation community – are making it too hard for the average person to understand what is wrong with the ocean, why it matters to take action today, and what the solutions are to improve ocean health. Below are the changes I believe need to happen if we together, are to improve ocean health. 
Change #1: Challenge beliefs about the state of the ocean 
The ocean has been sold to us as a place to retreat and rejuvenate. Therefore, when we look at the ocean, we don’t think about the destruction lurking below the surface, or the role we have played in its health. We currently fail to consider the myriad of roles the ocean plays as a global economic and human health support system. For example, the ocean feeds nearly one billion people annually and plays a critical role as a CO2 sink. So, how do we change our perspective on the ocean? Recently Lonely Whale decided to wake people up with a sucker punch. We thought it worked, and so did AdCouncil. 

Change #2: Communicate like a leading brand 

The Harvard Business Review have found simplicity and trustworthiness are the two key factors in creating consumer “stickiness.” Admittedly, selling the ocean to the mass markets with the goal of inspiring consumer-driven activism is a challenge, but by following the example of leading global brands, we’ve sought to develop a marketing campaign that is simple, fun, and personal. We wanted to see if it may result in “consumer stickiness” for the ocean.  
We needed to facilitate an easy decision-making process, so we started by creating one simple message that could reach and resonate with people, provide a tangible solution, and bond individuals to the ocean. We already knew that plastic pollution was beginning to resonate with consumers, but plastic pollution is a complex problem. In order to make our message as simple as possible, we had to focus on a plastic item that connected all of us. That’s why we decided to challenge people to #StopSucking. 

Leveraging the simplicity of the straw, we posed a simple question: “Will you #stopsucking on plastic straws to save the ocean from plastic pollution?” Our simple and accessible challenge to refuse plastic straws allowed consumers to have ownership over their ocean impact by establishing a direct connection to its health. 

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Lonely Whale

Change #3: Enable personalised change and build a global movement
In order to make change we have to actively shift global trends and set a new standard. We have to start small so that individuals can feel that they have a direct impact. It’s this that will help us spark a global movement.  So, while the plastic problem plaguing our ocean is much greater than the plastic straw, it is critical that we break the problem down into one easy step, with a call to action and measurable impact – we sought to build a platform that could take the campaign global. 
We tested our theory with a social media challenge to #StopSucking and then with a month-long citywide takeover in Seattle. Within its first two months #StopSucking earned an organic reach of 32 million across 30 countries – it was also natively localised in more than seven languages. Even more inspiring was the number of innovative and personalised challenges launched. 
The hyperlocal “Strawless in Seattle” campaign resulted in the removal of 2.3 million plastic straws in one month. The campaign saw huge success with participants including the Space Needle, CenturyLink and SafeCo Fields. Ultimately, the entire city of Seattle participated, announcing their ban of single-use plastic straws and cutlery by July 2018. We believe the campaign’s success was due to the simplicity, celebratory tone, and ability to create a personal connection to the problem. Eliminating plastic straws allows for the opportunity to directly engage in the ocean health conversation with a low barrier to entry. 


We’re already seeing positive results, but in our minds, the campaign is only just beginning… We think we’re onto something special that has the possibility of positively affecting ocean health and we’re proud of our results so far:

  • 2017 saw a measurable amplification of the plastic straw and plastic pollution conversation
  • We’ve fielded requests to take Strawless in Seattle to more than 40 cities globally, and received support to translate #StopSucking into 25+ languages for release in early 2018
  • Our preferred alternative straw vendors are seeing an overwhelming increase in demand for marine-friendly straws

To ensure this campaign has as a positive and measurable impact on the ocean, we need more support and more voices. So, Virgin Unite readers, we challenge you to #StopSucking!

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.