Envisioning A World Without Waste: Q&A with Co-Founder of Gone Adventurin

“Each year our world throws away USD 80 to 120 billion worth of post-consumer waste. Asia is responsible for more than 80% of all plastics polluting the oceans and if we continue on our current path, by 2050 we’ll have more plastics in the oceans than fish,” said Laura Allen, Co-Founder and COO of Gone Adventurin (GA).

GA is an action and advisory firm driving the Circular Economy in Asia.  GA’s vision is a world without waste – and is on a mission to tackle this issue in Asia by unlocking business opportunities from post-consumer waste.

GA is a Singaporean born and bred social business and enables companies to design circular business strategies, implement deployments to recycle post-consumer waste and create closed loop supply chains so that nothing goes to waste, and engage stakeholders through storytelling.

LadyBoss spoke to Laura Allen to learn more about GA.

Our roots are in adventure (hence the name) and storytelling.

Q: How long have you been doing it?

A: Back in 2011 Ashwin and I were both working in big businesses in Singapore and Vietnam and felt there were a lot of opportunities for businesses across various industries to start putting environmental and social concerns into the core of their business operations and grow their business by doing so.

The opportunities were in areas such as greater sourcing of raw materials from sustainable sources, moving towards zero waste to landfill in manufacturing and post-consumer use stage, reducing water usage across supply chain and at consumer level. This was based on our firm belief that businesses can provide powerful solutions to widespread environmental and social sustainability concerns.

Our roots are in adventure (hence the name) and storytelling. We’ve always believed in the power of immersive experiences outside of the office to power change. Our first few projects were about taking business leaders on journeys across Asia to understand social and environmental issues first hand, gain empathy for the issue and the inspiration to do something about it through their core business; and communicate the stories to their stakeholders to raise awareness and/or funds. Over time, based on the breadth of our knowledge in Asia we also started building our advisory and project implementation services to enable companies to transition to the new paradigm of business where profit and positive environmental and social impact go hand in hand.

In partnership with pioneers in the sustainable business movement, such as Unilever, our dream of bringing sustainability within core business started taking shape. We worked with Unilever’s laundry brand, Comfort, to create #WaterHeroes: an effort to raise awareness about & solutions to water scarcity in Vietnam. Did you know that 1 billion cubic litres of water can be saved by encouraging consumers to rinse their clothes not 3-4 times, but 1 time? For a country, with 1 out of 3 people lack access to safe water, that’s a big deal!

We also partnered Singapore’s National Environment Agency on #KeepSingaporeClean yearly campaigns and became the Singapore long-term partner for National Geographic Live. Through a series of annual events with top National Geographic explorers we raise environmental consciousness and inspire the next generation of explorers within Singapore and Asia!

Throughout all our deployments until 2015, the waste issue was a recurring theme – plastic was polluting waterways, landfills polluting groundwater was affecting the healthcare of communities whilst at the same time, communities throughout Asia were and still are dependent on scavenging plastic and other materials in order to make ends meet.

Over the years our focus on waste management increased and we are intent on bringing to life circular economy within businesses around Asia. Today we predominantly work with FMCG companies, packaging companies and governments to implement some of Asia’s first Circular Economy strategies and deployments.

In the Philippines we recently worked with Dole Foods to create one of the country’s first recycling pilot programs in schools which has included setting up Materials Recycling Facilities and running educational workshops to educate children about the need to segregate their waste. The project was launched 2 weeks ago in Manila and we aim to make it self-funding within the next 6-12 months and then scale the pilot across schools in the Philippines.

Our adventures now take us and business leaders into landfills and open dump sites, into waste banks and cooperatives of waste pickers, into housing developments to ensure residents segregate their household waste and to recycling factories, to name a few!

Our adventures now take us and business leaders into landfills and open dump sites, into waste banks and cooperatives of waste pickers

Q: Tell us more about the companies you’ve worked with and the social impact they gained.

A: We’ve worked with a wide range of companies over the past 6 years from Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) to Consulting to Energy companies. In our work in 13 countries throughout Asia Pacific from 2011-2016, we’ve raised over $6 million for environmental and social causes, have created 50 plus partnerships to support the SDGs, have enabled 273,000 more people to have access to healthcare services and have increase awareness and actions for water saving with 1 million people to name a few.

Our clients include FMCG companies like Unilever, P&G, Danone, Dole Foods, packaging companies such as Amcor, government agencies like National Environment Agency and NGOs including National Geographic Live.

As we continue our adventure, our focus is firmly on driving the Circular Economy in Asia. Our impact includes mitigating plastics leaking into the oceans, increasing recycling & reuse rates, educating & engaging youth to drive circular economy, decreasing food waste and creating partnerships to achieve this.  Stay tuned!

Q: What are some of the programs you run at Gone Adventurin for businesses?

A: We are championing Circular Economy in Asia amongst businesses, government and society because we need all players to come together for solutions.  A few initiatives we run include:

– Bi-monthly Circular Economy events that we call “Get Wasted” to showcase the business value in Circular Economy, highlight innovative examples and to create a community that can learn from each other. Check out our next event on Food Waste on 15th August here and join our online communities (Facebook; Linkedin) for updates.

– Bi-monthly mailer highlighting innovations, landscape of waste & circular economy issues in Asia and interviews with business leaders which we call #LeadersWithPurpose to highlight best case practices.

– Speaking at conferences to share research reports and work we’ve recently completed. We’re doing a couple of big research studies at the moment which we’ll be launching at conferences such as Sustainable Brands and Responsible Business Forum later this year in Singapore and the region.

Starting a new business is consuming. A career in sustainability means that your work is never done – there is so much more we need to do. So starting a new business in sustainability is doubly challenging!

Q: What were the challenges you faced starting Gone Adventurin and how did you overcome challenges and obstacles?

A: I burnt out at the end of 2014 primarily because I wasn’t living a balanced life (work had become almost everything) and I was putting too much pressure on myself to make GA successful. It was a big wake up call and I’m mostly glad that it happened as it’s helped me to become a better person, share honestly with people I care about, set better boundaries and much more.  Most of all depression taught me vulnerability.

At the end of 2015 after a year on my journey to recovery I wrote an article to share my experiences with depression. I did this as part of my recovery and in my small way to help remove some of the stigma associated with mental illness – and because depression and mental illnesses is something that the entrepreneurial crowd, C-Suite and also women suffer from disproportionately. I will continue to do what I can to raise awareness about mental health and depression.

I burnt out at the end of 2014 primarily because I wasn’t living a balanced life…

I’ve realised many things over the course of my recovery. Here’s some of the high level realisations:

– Be vulnerable and share. After all, is your job or your startup really worth more than your life?
– Understand Your Limits & Schedule Regular Breaks Off Grid
– Get some Aerobic Exercise!
– Cultivate Habits for Happiness and Gratefulness
– Take time to do things you love and that relax you
– Social Connection – Take Responsibility for a pet and/or Spend time with friends and family – and make sure it’s booked in or it doesn’t happen
– Realising it is about the journey
– Clarify your Expectations for your business.
– Think about Failure — Can you accept it? Think about it. Talk about it.
– Get yourself checked up — the same way you’d have a physical check-up every couple of years.

If you’re struggling, please talk to someone — a friend, your colleague, family or a doctor you feel comfortable with. Just take that first step. Just talk. At the end of my article I’ve shared some resources I’ve found useful and a helpline for Singapore. As you keep sharing and talking honestly, everything else is more likely to work itself out in time.

Q: What is it like working with your spouse? Any advice for those starting a business with their spouse?

A: It’s wonderful and I’m very grateful. Work is such a big part of everyone’s lives that I’m incredibly fortunate to get to spend so much time with my life partner.

I’m sure it’s a different experience for everyone depending on your personalities.  For us, what has worked is drawing clear boundaries between home and work.  We do our best not to bring work home to do on evenings or weekends – we only do it if it’s mission critical. A wise mentor once shared that he and his wife would designate 1 room in their house to work conversations if they had to happen (e.g. the study) so we do this too, which works well.

It also helps that we’re both aligned in what we want professionally and personally, so it’s very rare for us that something that happens at work comes home, and vice-versa.

Work is such a big part of everyone’s lives that I’m incredibly fortunate to get to spend so much time with my life partner.

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