4ocean: The Entrepreneurs Who Clean Up Ocean Plastic Pollution When You Buy a Bracelet
Last month in the Community column, we featured the 5 Gyres Institute, which raises awareness of ocean plastic pollution and deals with root causes. One business that’s helping to make a difference is 4ocean, which has already removed 6.5 million pounds of trash from the ocean. 4ocean was founded in 2017 by college grads Andrew Cooper and Alex Shultz. On a surfing trip to Bali, Indonesia, they watched fishermen pull boats through mounds of ocean garbage and not catch enough fish to make a living. Andrew and Alex asked each other, what if there were a way for these fishermen to make a living by fishing the plastic out of the ocean instead? 4ocean now operates in Florida, Bali and Haiti, employs over 300 people, sells bracelets made in part from recovered plastic garbage, and is showing the world how a for-profit business can succeed and help create a cleaner, more sustainable future for the ocean.
Parvati Magazine: 4ocean is dedicated to cleaning up the garbage in the ocean, leading many to think you are a non-profit. Yet you are transparent about having a for-profit business model. Why have you chosen to be for-profit?
4ocean: When we started in 2017, to make the biggest impact we hired boat captains, fishermen and other local workers to clean the ocean full-time. We needed a way to pay these workers and found that using a for-profit model, selling the 4ocean bracelet, was the fastest way. We were able to follow the lead of successful lifestyle brands that built massive followings quickly. Grant writing or asking for donations, taking a non-profit route, would have been much slower.
Now we are funded by our own business results, giving us flexibility to quickly deploy our resources to generate long-term sustainable results. Being a corporation also gives us the option to raise investment capital in the future to help us scale operations even more quickly in ways not possible with a non-profit model.
We’re dedicated to finding the balance between cleaning the ocean and our financial success, and have applied to become a Certified B-Corporation. We are currently being audited to ensure we meet their high standards for balancing purpose and profit.
Parvati Magazine: What has it been like for former fishermen to become your employees and now go out in their boats to collect ocean plastic waste?
4ocean: Not only are our crews happy to clean the ocean, they are understanding the impact single-use plastic has on the ocean and the environment. In Haiti we also hired previously unemployed youth, who were on the streets with nothing to do. Now they have jobs with 4ocean and their families are cared for, making a big difference to the whole community, and reducing violence and hunger.
Parvati Magazine: You feature a new bracelet every month, raising awareness and donating funds to support different ocean animals or ecosystems. How did this start and what is the criteria for choosing non-profits for the program?
4ocean: We’re all in this together! 4ocean adopts non-profit organizations that are likeminded and support ocean health. Each month a new bracelet supports a different non-profit focused in marine conservation—and it also pulls a pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines!
Bracelet sales have helped us support non-profits working to protect the Florida Everglades, Hawaiian monk seals, sea otters, whale sharks, sea turtles and seabirds. This month we are partnered with Project Seahorse to help highlight the urgent need to protect the world’s coastal marine ecosystems.
We are pleased to announce that we have now also officially joined 1 percent for the Planet, committing to donate 1 percent of annual sales to support non-profit organizations focused on environmental causes, in addition to our One Pound Promise.
Parvati Magazine: One of the biggest challenges with ocean plastic pollution is finding ways to stop the plastic from reaching the ocean in the first place. Can you tell us about the innovative work 4ocean has been doing in this area?
4ocean: We are currently testing out new technology to collect plastic and trash more efficiently, as well as testing out boom systems at river mouths where plastic flows into the ocean. Haiti is one of the first places where we are testing a boom system and hiring local fisherman to use their nets and tools to service these barricades and stop the plastic before it has a chance to get into the ocean. Small changes can make a big impact. At 4ocean, we focus on education and awareness to highlight ocean plastic pollution and how everyone can do their part by reducing their single-use plastic consumption.
4ocean is a global company that actively removes trash from the ocean and coastlines, helps create sustainable economies around the world, and inspires individuals to work together for a cleaner ocean. Global cleanup operations are funded entirely through the sale of their products, building the first economy for ocean plastic.