Interview: The United by Blue (Movement)

The Blue Movement begins with being conscious of the ocean’s vital importance.

United by Blue founder Brian Linton attributes “The Blue Movement” to deepwater explorers like Jacques Cousteau, “an avid diver whose own passion for the underwater world transformed a generation,” and to Dr. Sylvia Earle, “whose groundbreaking research continues to inspire a new generation of scientists and discoverers.”

With Cousteau an obvious pick for inspiring ocean love and research, who are the new Blue Movement pioneers? They’re people like Linton and his United by Blue team that not only sell sustainable apparel and jewelry that contribute and support their cause but they get down and dirty themselves and get cleaning. In fact, For every product sold, UBB removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company organized and hosted cleanups.

With the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches accumulating more plastic trash daily, (scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas), and beaches worldwide feeling the impact of plastic pollution, United by Blue has their work cut out for them.

We caught up with United by Blue founder Brian Linton to see what he had to say regarding the state of The Blue.

Did United by Blue start back in 2006 as a nautically themed clothing and jewelry line and morph into what it is today?

United By Blue evolved from another company called Sand Shack, which sold a line of jewelry and donated a percentage of sales to ocean non-profits. After working on that business for a few years, I realized that I couldn’t really pinpoint any tangible environmental benefit of my monetary donations. I got tired of feeling disconnected from the good work that my donations were going toward, and I decided to develop a business model that would enable me to do good work myself.

When did it change that it became more focused on grass roots cleanups?

United By Blue was officially founded in May 2010 with a line of nautically-inspired, 100% organic t-shirts, 100% organic canvas bags, sterling silver, and artisan-made jewelry. Instead of relying on donations, for every product United By Blue sells, we remove one pound of trash from oceans and waterways around the world through company organized and hosted cleanups. By associating each purchase with the concrete environmental action of removing one pound of trash, we were able to reap two huge benefits. On the one hand, we’re able to clean up a lot of trash. We’ve built the infrastructure to plan and host cleanups within the company, and so far we’ve hosted over 60 cleanups and, with the help of a few thousand volunteers, have removed over 80,000 pounds of trash from oceans and waterways. But one of the really cool benefits of our business model is that it puts the power to turn the tide of ocean pollution into the consumer’s hands. By associating the sale of every product with a concrete environmental action, the brand resonates with many more consumers than those that simply give donations.

So for every one product sold, you remove a pound of trash from oceans and waterways through company organized cleanups. Who are some of the companies that have sponsored you? Is it their company that comes out to clean up and why is it important to them to be aligned with your cause?

At United By Blue, we do our own dirty work. The company that hosts and organizes the cleanups is always United By Blue, and we never rely on sponsors to make our cleanups happen and never accept donations. We rely solely on the sale of our apparel and accessories to make our cleanups happen.

And while we’re not sponsored by any other organization, we’ll frequently partner with other groups. (The more volunteers, the merrier!) In fact, we have partnered with many of our retailers to host cleanups. At retailer and other partner cleanups, however, we’re still the planning and logistics force behind the operation and always have at least one (and usually multiple) UBB staffers present.

Water protection and conservation is for sure the biggest challenge for our planet. When you do these cleanups with partners, is it eye opening for them to see just how bad things are?

Regardless if we are cleaning up along a river in a bustling city or a quiet beach town, our volunteers have the same reaction: shock. We constantly hear volunteers say “I can’t believe how much Styrofoam is here” or “I will never look at a plastic bottle the same way.” We even made a video of volunteers talking about how many plastic bottles they find. People expect to find trees and wildlife along our waterways rather than disgusting amounts of plastic bottles and bags, cans, Styrofoam, food packaging or tires. Our volunteers are also shocked by some of the weird things we’ve discovered along the way like a stolen car in Baltimore or a 1998 Bachelor’s diploma in Brooklyn.

Our ocean conservation efforts aren’t just confined to our cleanups, we strive to be as ocean-friendly in everyday actions as possible. Our products are 100% organic, which means no pesticides or chemicals entered our waterways because of our products. Instead of shipping our products in plastic, we’ve opted to package our products in bags handcrafted from banana paper fibers, which has reduced plastic in our supply chain by 80%.

Tell us about some other ways you do outreach and education in communities where cleanups are.

We use the cleanups themselves as education vehicles, explaining to volunteers that 14 billion pounds of trash enters our oceans every year and then showing them the amount of bottles, plastic bags, take out containers and debris that litter our shores is quite the eye-opener. After the cleanups, our volunteers become blue movement ambassadors. Many of them return home and permanently change their habits.

After each cleanup, we post pictures and videos with volunteer testimonials to our facebookwebsite, and youtube to show examples of how much and the kind of stuff we find. For those who can’t make it to the cleanups, we offer a wide range of education opportunities about important ocean issues through our website. Frequently, our t-shirts themselves carry messages of nautical nostalgia as well as well as important ocean issues like sustainable seafood, alternative energy and our popular shark-finning design.

Tell us about the significance of your company’s name.

Whether we live on California beaches or Kansas plains, whether we spend our summers kayaking around the San Juan Islands or relaxing on rolling hills of Appalachia, all of our lives are directly dependent on the oceans. Oceans are the foundations for the eco-system that is planet earth. Geologically, gastronomically, biologically, and psychologically, we all depend on our oceans…we are all United By Blue.

Images: United by Blue

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