Think at London Business School
Ioannis Ioannou and Nick Mickshik reveal how three LBS alumni devised a business to help consumers fight climate change
By Ioannis Ioannou
“Those bits of plastic packaging we come into contact with every day, which are in our hands for mere moments, can end up existing in the natural environment for potentially hundreds of years.”
LBS alumnus, Tristan Kaye MBA2015, is talking about the catastrophic consequences of plastic pollution. The statistics are chilling. An estimated eight to fourteen million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year, contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; even something as small as a ketchup sachet could take 500 or more years to degrade.
One company, Notpla (short for “not plastic”), is on a mission to change this, using a material that has come straight from the ocean: seaweed. Commercial director Tristan explains: “We’re making single-use, consumer-oriented packaging applications from seaweed, which is naturally biodegradable and home-compostable. And, unlike plastic, our products can take as little as four weeks to degrade.”
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"An estimated eight to fourteen million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year"
Seaweed, it transpires, is a remarkable material with over 12,000 known mapped species existing globally. “We use lots of types of seaweed in our products,” says Tristan. “In nature it has many of the polymer-like characteristics of ‘traditional’ plastic, as well as having an amazing ability to sequester carbon. A very significant amount of the oxygen you and I breathe daily comes from seaweed, not from trees.”
Notpla has already developed a number of items for the food and drinks industries. A collaboration with the delivery platform Just Eat led to the launch of a seaweed-coated takeaway food container, now being distributed across 10 European markets. And a partnership with Lucozade created 36,000 edible drink capsules – called “Ooho” – for the 2019 London Marathon, enabling competitors to hydrate on the go. In 2022, the startup provided biodegradable food packaging for 90,000 people at the women’s Euro final at Wembley, and in May supplied 20,000 Ooho for the Gothenburg half-marathon. Disposable cutlery is also on the cards.
Tristan recalls the chain of events that led him to Notpla. “I started out, when I graduated, with a business in food and wine distribution. After that I took on consultancy work for government initiatives, first in the science and innovation departments, then in oil and gas. I was spending time in beautiful parts of Southeast Asia on oil and gas projects,” he says, “but the beaches were littered in plastic. I felt, indirectly, I was contributing to that, by dragging oil and gas out of the ground. That didn't sit comfortably.”
This was the trigger for him to leave Australia and do an MBA. He enrolled at London Business School in 2013, where he learned about marketing and branding. A move to New York followed, working for a marketing and brand consultancy, then to London where he was appointed commercial director at Bread Holdings (GAIL’s Bakery, The Bread Factory).
“Prince William is talking about us globally, which is phenomenal”
In 2021 he joined Notpla. “They wanted someone who understood the food and beverage industry to come in at an early stage – which is where a lot of the focus of the business was at, at the time,” he says. “Plus, their goals fitted in with my aspirations.”
Tristan continues to draw on his global LBS network for support, ideas and connections. “Going there is a core foundational piece that led me to do what I do today.”
Notpla’s portfolio is growing and boasts six developed products that package everything from edible oils and cosmetics to fine arts and luxury goods. It even includes cocktail shots created for a Paris climate summit, where the organisers used them to show that they were thinking about sustainability in novel ways.
Last November Notpla won the ‘Build a Waste-Free World’ category in the Earthshot prize, established by Prince William. “As a result, Prince William is talking about us globally, which is phenomenal,” says Tristan proudly.
This year the startup won Tom Ford’s Plastic Innovation prize. “He established it to find a solution for the polybag – the bag you get when you buy clothing online,” says Tristan. “Notpla Film – part of our portfolio of packaging solutions – was the winner for that application. Through that, we’re doing really interesting stuff with a number of globally recognised brands in cosmetics and fashion.” Bubbling underneath are plans to collaborate with a global fast food chain and more European sporting events, as well as impending US market entry.
The hub for all this activity is Notpla’s offices in Hackney, east London, where a diverse team of 80 are united in direction and goals.
“There is a common thread of people who feel really strongly about environmental causes,” says Tristan. “That’s critical, because taking on the plastics industry is a David vs Goliath battle.”
We’re excited to announce that our Strategic Branding programme will be partnering with Notpla. They will be working with students on the Strategic Branding course to share a myriad of brand challenges they face daily on their mission to make packaging disappear. The cohort will also be invited to give their insights on the influence Notpla can have in driving action for their business.