Net-Works: Cultivating Biodiversity Through Grand Opportunity

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Creating a more sustainable world is quite possibly the most talked about topic as of late. But who’s really doing something about it? When it comes to making changes that will have a positive effect on both the environment and the communities who thrive within it, cooperation is just as vital a part as conservation. Fortunately, there’s a joint international effort happening that is finding such solutions to this very problem.

Net-Works is a keen alliance between Interface, Inc.—an American-based, world renown carpet tile manufacturer—and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which has found an innovative way to turn current ocean pollution in Asia into mutual opportunity. By cleaning up the marine ecosystem, i.e., ridding waters of discarded fishing nets that produce detrimental plastic waste, they are able to sell them into Interface’s global supply chain. This revolutionary concept reduces marine plastic, increases fish stocks and improves the lives of coastal communities.

Recently, RewardExpert had the privilege of speaking with Jon Khoo, Innovation Partner at Interface, about how Net-Works is changing the world through its pioneering sustainability solutions.

Less Plastic, More Fish

Presently, Net-Works operates out of the Philippines and Cameroon, as they are biodiversity hotspots in desperate need of maintaining their delicate marine ecosystems. Their groundbreaking business model links these communities to global brands and delivers a tried and true motto ‘less plastic, more fish.’

Net-Works description - it collects discarded fishing nets and recycles them into carpet tile
Image via net-works.com

“It began with the question: how could a carpet tile address inequality?” recalled Khoo. “Interface wanted to source material in a way that would benefit communities as well as the environment. ZSL wanted to develop a new model of community-led conservation, one that would bring immediate benefits to local people and break the traditional cycle of donor dependency. The result was Net-Works—an innovative business that empowers communities in the developing world to turn waste fishing nets into opportunity, by selling them into a global supply chain.”

Since its origin in 2012, Net-Works has made landmark strides in assisting these countries, having a positive influence on both the coasts and their fertile fishing communities. They have overall collected 208 metric tons of waste fishing nets, helping 2,200 families now have access to finance and an astonishing 64,000 people enjoying a healthier and happier environment.

“These nets were wreaking havoc with the marine ecosystem, causing pollution and threatening the livelihoods of fishing communities,” confirmed Khoo. “Net-Works is an example of a more systemic approach to tackling marine plastics and for Interface, it’s an example of creating a supply chain that benefits all.”

Fair Trade and Seaweed Solutions

In addition to the reducing plastic from oceans, Net-Works is in the process of facilitating a supply chain for carrageenan—a red edible seaweed extract that is primarily used in the food industry for gelling, thickening and stabilizing a wide array of products. This particular focus will help Net-Works expand its reach across Southeast Asia. In addition to food products, Carrageenan-bearing seaweed is used by the cosmetics, toothpaste and firefighting industries, and is estimated to have a global market value close to $1 billion by 2021.

Net-Works Infografics
Image via net-works.com

“Seaweed farming is a popular activity in coastal communities across Southeast Asia, with over 1 million people dependent on seaweed farming in the Philippines where it accounts for 35% of fisheries production,” confirmed Khoo. “Seaweed has potential to provide a valuable source of income to these communities. However, the current seaweed supply chain is fraught with inefficiencies and inequalities. As a result carrageenan is fast becoming the palm oil of the sea.”

Net-Works goal is to generate a sustainable income for the communities it assists. By employing the principles of fair trade and inclusive business, they form local supply chains for plastics, seaweed carrageenan and raw materials that are used to increase incomes and restore ecosystems.

“The fair-trade movement was one of the inspirations for Net-Works as it put community at the center of a supply chain,” stated Khoo. “The Net-Works team look to companies that engage with fair-trade for advice and we hope we’re able to share our experiences, too.”

On the whole, Net-Works gives several international brands the chance to source premium products, while garnering financial momentum within developing fishing communities. Not only does it make a viable impact on the environment, it also affords sustainable homegrown funding sources for important conservation and development actions.

“Net-Works is extending its sphere of influence through NextWave, a coalition of companies seeking to keep plastics in the economy and out of our ocean,” detailed Khoo. “We’re delighted to be sharing our experiences to help other companies tackle this pressing issue in an agile and impactful way. You can learn more here.”

Furthermore, you can discover more about how Net-Works is empowering communities and replenishing oceans by visiting net-works.com.