Staff Writer
Dec 5, 2018

National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? sets benchmark for CSR in Asia

The multi-year campaign aims to stem the tide of plastics polluting our oceans.


Nine million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but a reality that brands are having to face up to. Developments like the #StopSucking movement to cut down on plastic straws and growth of the Plastic Pollution Coalition have very suddenly put the issue of plastic pollution back in the global limelight. Brands that want to keep up with consumer expectations and CSR benchmarks are getting on board.

National Geographic Partners, a joint venture between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox, recently launched a global commitment to tackle the problem, rolling out a multi-year initiative with an overarching goal of reducing single-use plastic and its impact on our oceans.

A platform for action

Planet or Plastic? has taken shape in several elements including: a pledge for consumers to “choose the planet” and drive change; new magazine issues wrapped in paper rather than plastic; and a US$10 million commitment to Sky Ocean Ventures, which invests in businesses that can help solve the ocean plastic crisis.

A particularly stunning component of the campaign is a composite map detailing the source and travels of plastic waste around the planet.  If there’s any question whether or not the issue of plastic needs to be on the minds of those in Asia, this map tells the whole story. Furthering the study’s findings, according to Ocean Conservancy just five countries in Asia contribute 55 to 60 percent of the plastic that end up in oceans across the globe. The National Geographic Society will continue to explore the journey of plastic waste over the coming years.

A snapshot of the estimated yearly mid-range plastic waste in Asia entering the ocean from rivers.

Corporate partnerships with companies like The North Face and S’well are also playing a large part in the campaign. Andy Baek, head & vice president of National Geographic Channels, Asia Pacific explained, “People and organisations are waking up to the urgency of plastic waste pollution, and that includes many brands in Asia and beyond. Teaming up with like-minded corporations and non-governmental organisations is helping National Geographic to multiply our effect, reaching more people and making a bigger impact for the planet.”

To explore the places storytelling can take the Planet or Plastic? campaign, National Geographic also partnered with content platform Wattpad for an ongoing story contest, which asks writers to creatively consider the alarming impact of plastic on the environment. According to Baek, the storytelling competition is “helping us inspire the next generation to protect the environment through artistic activism.” He went on, “We invite wordsmiths in Asia to join the contest and share their stories!”

Baek laid out the necessary ingredients of the initiative, “in the end it’s a combination of everything – the images, the figures, the research, and also the calls to action which drive audiences to get involved and become part of the solution.”

A new era for CSR

Reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages, National Geographic offers the perfect platform for a campaign of such scale.

Planet or Plastic? is a natural progression from National Geographic’s legacy of reporting on how humans affect our environment,” said Baek, “but it’s also a unique initiative in being multi-year and extraordinarily comprehensive—from the consumer pledge, to internal steps to reduce our own reliance on plastics, to global partnerships, to new investments in science and exploration to understand the plastic crisis.”

For brands staring at their own CSR barometer, take note, “That balance of internal and external initiatives, engaging a wide range of stakeholders, is a positive CSR blueprint that could be inspiring to other brands looking to create more impact and action from their own CSR campaigns.”

As far as campaign ROI, the proof is in the pudding, “So far, more than 10,000 people have taken the pledge and we have just broken the 140 million mark of plastic items people have pledged to reduce.”



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