What is collective intelligence and how can it help a company shape its sustainability strategy? This article is the story of how Breitling chose to use collective intelligence as a tool to amplify their Plastic Waste Reduction Action Plan (Plastic WRAP) with the help of their employees, key stakeholders, collaboratio helvetica and Let’s Talk Waste.
We met Aurelia Figueroa, the Head of Sustainability at Breitling, in March 2021 with the intention of building a collaboration between Breitling, collaboratio helvetica and Let’s Talk Waste. Breitling was initiating an action plan to reduce plastic waste in the company and in their production lines. The company was seeking ways to amplify and support their efforts through the knowledge and experience of both collaboratio helvetica and Let’s Talk Waste in the emerging field of systemic change. We quickly identified a way to put our expertise and skills to good use for Breitling: we offered to create a full-day experience with employees and key stakeholders to raise awareness on the topic of plastic pollution and to involve the participants in the development of the Plastic WRAP.
On March 17th, 2022, this collaboration spawned its first success by engaging 30 participants for a full day immersion into the topic of plastic waste. It took place in Neuchâtel at the coworking space hub neuchatel and it was deliciously catered with a plant-based menu and waste free services by Wishbone Eatery.
The day was organised in two main parts: firstly, sharing detailed information on the topic at hand, in this case plastic waste, through an interactive and educational workshop; secondly, jumping to action by exchanging ideas and insights pertaining to how participants could contribute to further strengthening the Plastic WRAP.
The educational workshop guided participants through an awareness journey with the two famous Let’s Talk Waste games. The participants learned about the impact of waste in nature and about proper recycling practices in Switzerland. They also discovered that recycling may not always be the perfect solution we think it is and found out that there are other actions they could consider doing in their private lives and at work to reduce their waste footprint.
In the afternoon, Breitling offered key inputs on the ongoing efforts to reduce plastic waste and the success achieved so far. We then invited the participants to have a generative dialogue about how the Plastic WRAP should develop in the future. This is where collective intelligence came into play.
The 1-2-4-all dialogue method
Collective intelligence can be tapped into in many ways. The way we choose for Breitling is the 1-2-4-all dialogue method. This method consists in first allowing time for self-reflection on a question or topic before going into an exchange in pairs, then in groups of 4. At the end of the dialogue, the essence of the discussions is harvested in plenum. This approach offers several benefits. First, it enables each participant to listen to themself from the outset, without being influenced by louder voices. In doing so, they can forge their own unique opinion and dig deeper to see what reactions are triggered, what may be a point of leverage or strong posture. These thoughts are then shared in a duo, allowing for cross-pollination by other perspectives. These new elements are in turn brought to a group discussion, enriched and summarised. During the plenum sharing, it becomes clear that the results of the reflections and discussions are representative of all the voices, not only the louder ones. And most importantly, the outcomes reflect much deeper insights from the collective’s mind than the standard brainstorming approach. Learn more about this method here.
How was it for Breitling
For Breitling’s dialogue, we tailored the questions around the Plastic WRAP and invited the participants to reflect on how they felt about the strategy. For example, if they saw or already experienced any challenges to its support and implementation, and how they would see it develop in the future. In the collective sharing at the end, it was precious to see how authentically the participants shared and learned from each other what might be needed for the Plastic WRAP to grow into something more powerful than it already is, from increased ownership to better information flows. The biggest highlight for us was that there was a strong agreement that cross-department collaboration is key to continue working towards zero plastic waste by 2025 across all operations.
The dialogue was recorded by a graphic recorder, Sketchy Solutions and here is the outcome.
Collective intelligence once again proved more powerful and fruitful than the sum of many and we believe that Breitling will be able to take the learnings and conclusions of the day to strengthen their work towards zero plastic waste.
Let’s Talk Waste and collaboratio helvetica would like to thank Breitling, Aurelia Figueroa and Brice Boissonneault for their leap of faith in us and our approach, and look forward to the continued collaboration.
About the authors
Julia Bodin is an environmental engineer and a changemaker. She founded Let’s Talk Waste in 2018 with no small mission : to cut plastic pollution at its root for a plastic-free Switzerland. She was a Catalyst on the 2020-2021 edition and is looking to create spaces for dialogues about regenerative economy in Switzerland inviting all decision makers of the regenerative economy transition to the table and guiding them on a Social Innovation Lab Journey. Find out more about the initiative here.
Erica Mazerolle is a facilitator, a social innovator and a circular economy entrepreneur. Geographer by training and educator by trade, she is passionate about using participatory methods to raise awareness, drive engagement and bring transformation towards sustainable consumption and production models. Find out more about her projects here.
When starting your waste reduction journey, one of the things you will be testing is recipes for homemade products. You will be looking for ways to replace items you usually buy packaged with things that you can make from scratch.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Making your own product is the best way to control what is in them. Enjoy the perfectly tailored solution that homemade gives you.
- Marketing has us believing we need a product for everything: that isn’t true. I have reduced my cleaning products to a multipurpose spray, a toilet cleaner, a scrubbing cream, and a simple floor detergent. And I could probably still reduce. Can you think of a few things you might be able to replace with a multipurpose product?
- “Natural product” does not necessarily mean “good for you”: for instance arsenic is a naturally occurring compound. Test, read, and see what works for your skin, your hair, and your nose (I am susceptible to smells, maybe you are too).
- What works for me might not work for you. I have played around with proportions until I got things just the way I like them. Do the same until you get your perfect product.
- Homemade does not necessarily mean less waste. Be careful that by buying your ingredients, you are not in fact generating more waste. Try and find products in bulk or large quantities. Go for recipes that have few ingredients.
- Homemade products make original and unexpected gifts, but don’t use your family as test subjects. Make sure to let them know they can ask you for a refill when that container is empty.
Here are some of the recipes I have found left and right and liked!
multi-purpose detergent (from the book Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson)
One volume of vinegar in four volumes of water in a spray bottle. I like to add a little essential oil, but Bea recommends infusing citrus skin in the pure vinegar for a couple of weeks before mixing.
cleaning and “disinfecting” detergent (from Spirou’s Seuls: le Manuel de Survie, yes I still read Spirou)
One tablespoon baking soda in one liter of lukewarm water. Add one tablespoon of vinegar and a few drops of essential oils. I add lavender, eucalyptus, grapefruit, tea tree, and cinnamon. I got tired of the residue it left on shiny surfaces such as the glass door of my oven and stopped using it, but it was handy during COVID. Although not what I would have used if one of us had actually been sick in the house.
floor detergent (from my local drugstore)
One tablespoon of plain and simple black soap in five liters of warm water. It works wonders on wooden floors as well as tiles.
Three spoons beeswax for one spoon of coconut oil. Melt in a low-heat bain-marie. Remove from heat and add a few drops of essential oils (max 1%) if you want. I left it as is because I have susceptible skin. Pour into a handy container and let cool for at least an hour.
body lotion cakes (from Low Tox Life by Alexx Stuart)
Melt 30 gr of beeswax, 65 gr cocoa butter, and 125 ml of coconut oil in a bain-marie. When thoroughly melted, remove from heat, and add a maximum of 25 drops of essential oil (optional). Pour the melted mix into whatever mold you have -I used madeleine molds- and let cool for at least an hour. Rub in your hands or directly onto your skin to use.
Careful, this cake is a generous body lotion, so don’t use too much or you might be uncomfortable in your clothes all day and stick to the bed linen all night. I felt that it was too unstable at room temperature for me, so I reduced the amount of coconut oil and keep it in the fridge.
coconut scrub (from I honestly don’t remember)
Add two tablespoons of brown sugar and one tablespoon of lemon juice to 100 ml of coconut oil melted in a bain-marie. Mix well and pour into a jar. Let cool at room temperature.
To use, rub on a clean wet face and remove with a damp (reusable) cotton pad. Rinse with cold water to finalize. You can also use this as a body scrub -if you feel you need more scrubbing power, add coarse salt or coffee ground.
Bonus: I use this to remove marks left by my bike chain on my legs before I hop in the shower; it works wonderfully.
Melt half-a-cup coconut oil and two tablespoons of beeswax pellets on a bain-marie. When thoroughly melted, remove from heat and add five drops of camphor essential oil, five drops of peppermint essential oil, and five drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Let cool completely. I felt the cream was too solid for me to use, so I melted it again to add coconut oil. I use it after my bike rides; it soothes my spent muscles and moisturizes my skin.
It’s easy to buy tomatoes at the store. I bet you can grow one that tastes better.
Over the years of my Waste Reduction Journey, I have found that there is little else that feels me with joy than the taste of homegrown vegetables. For the past four years, I have tested different vegetables and different methods: some that worked, some that didn’t. Here are some tips and tricks based on my experience to get you started on a little vegetable garden.
- Space. You don’t need much space. Just stay reasonable with the amount you can grow in the space you have. A thirty-liter pot will accommodate a tomato plant fine while an elongated 100-liter pot will host one or two cucumber plants with a basil plant or a nasturtium plant.
- No monoculture. Combining plants is usually a good idea as in nature, things a mixed together. Beware of the non-beneficial combinations. I found that tomato goes well with basil if the pot is large enough, and a nasturtium plant attracts ALL the bugs leaving your other plants basically bug-free.
- Watering. It’s important that you can keep some regularity in watering your plants. I have a morning ritual that includes watering and checking on my plants, doing some quick maintenance, and identifying the need for a more in-depth intervention. If you can’t commit to regular watering, maybe investigate automatic drop-by-drop watering system or test out a PET or terracotta slow watering system.
- Pressure. Take the pressure off your shoulder: you didn’t manage to grow your sprouts this year? Just find a market that sells them. I went to Zollinger last year and got high-quality, organic plants. The year before that, I had bought a tomato plant on the Sprouts Market in Bern that happens once a year in front of the Federal Palace of Switzerland. There are plenty of options around, you just have to look for them.
- Soil. Find out what kind of soil your crops need. I do a mix of 45% garden soil, 45% compost and 10% sand for most of my plants but I add much more sand to the soil I use for thyme and lavender because they need good drainage.
- It’s easy. It is actually really easy to grow your own veggies if you are not an over-achiever. You’ll get something out of those pots, and it will feel really rewarding, that’s a promise. There is no better way to eat food while producing less waste then growing your own and preserving the soil during the winter to reuse it from one year to the other.
- Fertilizer. I don’t fertilize that much, and my plants still grow. You can add compost liquid from some home composting systems. You can buy compost from your local green waste treatment facility -for example Ecorecyclage in Lavigny sells high-quality compost to local private individuals that ask for it.
- Hibernation. If you just leave the soil as-is, you’ll find it hard to get the garden going again the following year because the soil will have eroded during winter. At the end of a season, cut your plants and compost them, remove must of the root system and plant with a shovel while trying to keep as much soil as possible in your pots, and cover with wood chips or winter cover crops. I personally tried reed chips this winter and it worked really nicely despite it regularly flying all over my balcony.
Let me know how it goes and happy planting.
You plan on leaving for a short vacation, but nobody can come and water your plants? Don’t panic, there is a simple solution: transform a PET bottle into a slow watering system.
- Recover a PET bottle with its cap before it is crushed for recycling. Adapt the volume to your needs: one liter for seven days, two liters for 14 days and five liters for 21 days.
- Heat up a needle and make a hole at the top of the bottle about 3 cm away for the cap.
- Place a toothpick through the hole while leaving about 2/3 outside. This will channel the water out of the bottle.
- Fill up the bottle and close the cap.
- Push the bottle upside-down in a pot.
- Make a few more holes on the bottom of the bottle with the needle to allow for air to come into the bottle. The more holes, the faster the water will leave the bottle.
- Test your watering system to make sure your plants will have enough water until you make it back home.
Transform a Tetra Pak into a beautiful flowerpot:
- Open the top of the Tetra Pak and use scissors to cut along the top fold to remove the top all together.
- Cut down the four side folds to half of the height.
- Fold the sides down.
- Make a hole in each corner of the folded sides (eight holes total)
- Link the holes together with a string to hold the corners down.
- Optional: decorate your pot with paper or paint to your liking.
Your new pot is waterproof: no mess when watering. However, for plants that need drainage, make several holes at the bottom of the Tetra Pak with the tip of scissors.
- Create nice openings on the upper part of the sides of a Tetra Pak.
- Make a few holes with the tip of scissors through the bottom.
- Optional: place a loop of string through the cap before screwing it back on top to be able to hand the pot.
- Fill with soil, plant a seed and water generously to kickstart your new pot.
Speaking of watering, did you know that a PET bottle can easily be turned into a watering system?
Here are some contents you can download for free to help you with your waste reduction journey.
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