Eco Warriors: Laura Derry Southwood Of EcoDrive Hong Kong
Last year, 11 Hong Kong women from the Tatler community joined forces to fight one of our world’s most pressing issues: single-use plastics.
Known collectively as EcoDrive Hong Kong, they've been running outreach and education programmes at Hong Kong schools, private members clubs and local sports teams to reduce their plastic footprint (and that's just the start).
In our latest series, get to know these 11 inspirational women who are making Hong Kong a greener place. Up next is Laura Derry Southwood, founder and managing director of lifestyle PR agency, Prime and now, eco-warrior:
Why and how did you decide to become one of the founders of EcoDrive?
I was having lunch with Yolanda when we started talking about the plastic problem, as she had recently watched "A Plastic Ocean" and was compelled to do something. The next moment, we’d set up a breakfast with a board member of the Plastic Ocean Foundation. A month or so later, Yolanda had enlisted an army of talented women who all shared the same passion, and EcoDrive was born.
In less than a year, we've produced our own short documentary, "Start Small Start Now", thanks to Photo Escapes; bought the license for A Plastic Ocean and dubbed it into Cantonese so it can be shown in schools for free; educated 4,000 students on the problem, visited a number of corporates to reduce their single-use plastic waste; and set an example that leading an eco-conscious lifestyle can be aspirational.
Watch: "Start Small Start Now"
Tell us about your personal background when it comes to environmental issues.
To be really honest, I have not been a campaigner of environmental issues in the past; I am a recent convert. But once I woke up to the plastic problem, I could see it everywhere and that’s what motivated me into action. I am not someone that leads a zero waste lifestyle and I still make single-use plastic mistakes, but I try to be conscious about my consumerism.
Why are you passionate about reducing single-use plastics?
With Typhoon Mangkhut, the plastic problem cannot be ignored. The amount of styrofoam and single-use plastic waste that has washed up on our shores is a telling sign that we just cannot ignore the problem anymore. The ocean literally just spat our waste back at us. This recent event has made me even more eager to do what I can to educate and reduce single-use plastics in our city.
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to plastics usage in HK?
Oranges wrapped individually in plastic. Nature gave us peels for a reason!
What actions have you taken in your own life and/or business to help reduce plastic waste?
At work, I have given all of my employees reusable coffee cups. Cutlery and reusable takeout boxes are available in the canteen and we have HK Recycles collecting our paper and plastic. On a personal level at work, if I don’t bring in food then I make sure I choose a lunch option that isn’t packaged in plastic.
Running a PR company, I am fortunate that I can to talk to brands about their sustainability efforts and influence them in their choices to potentially chose a greener option or embark on a campaign to cut out their single-use plastics. It is really encouraging to see brands being receptive to genuinely making a difference. For example, a decision to choose glasses over plastic cups for a large-scale event can have a massive impact.
Plastic seems to be a necessary evil in our modern world. Given that, what do you think is the future of plastic? Can we really live without it?
Plastic is an amazing invention and no I don’t think we can ever live without it. There is certainly a need for it in a number of situations. Plastic can literally save lives, just think how much is used at hospitals to keep things clean and free from infection. However, plastic has become far too convenient and used far too unnecessarily.
What are some tips you have for everyone to reduce single-use plastics?
Rethink, Refuse, Reuse, Reduce. Apply this mantra every time you think about buying something.
Are there any other ways that we can protect the environment?
Over five million plastic bottles go into landfill every day here. There are seven million of us in Hong Kong. If we all refused that bottle, just imagine the difference that would make.
What other causes are you passionate about?
I am an ‘all or nothing’ person, so EcoDrive is getting my full attention.
See also: Start Small, Start Now: Introducing EcoDrive Hong Kong
Could you recommend some of your favourite anti-plastic products?
I never leave home without my reusable water bottle—The Lion Rock Press and S’well have great options. I really like what my fellow founder, Sherry said at a recent presentation: "Don’t go on a green shop; there is no shame in reusing what you already have at home."
When you are doing your weekly shop, think about the packaging. For example, olive Oil comes in both glass and plastic bottles—it is the same product but the glass option can be recycled more effectively. Choose butter wrapped in paper, not a plastic tub. A good old-fashioned bar of soap is a staple in my bathroom, it does the same job as shower gel and comes in a paper box.
See also: EcoDrive Private Screening: Start Small, Start Now